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Salary Information for an Online Professor

For several years, schools have reported an increase in online classroom attendance across the country. The majority of public schools offer distance learning programs and classes to students in nearly every field of study. Schools employ dedicated distance learning faculty, as well as existing tenured professors with the responsibility of keeping up with the demand for online education, often with significant rewards.

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There are a variety of factors that play into how much a professor can make, including their area of expertise, whether they are also employed at a tradition university and trends within online learning.

Online Professor Salary

Compensation for online professors can vary considerably based on a variety of factors, including:

  • School type
  • Experience level
  • Course format (fully or partially online)
  • Subject of interest

A survey conducted by the National Education Association (NEA) in June 2000 revealed compensation levels for distance learning faculty were close to the mid-range of on-campus faculty, with 20% earning under $40,000 annually and 20% securing salaries over $70,000 per year (www.nea.org). Overall, the national average salary for an online instructor in 2017 was $46,406, according to Glassdoor.com.

Traditional and Online Professors

Most distance learning professors also teach traditional on-campus classes. The majority of these consist of full-time, tenured teachers who hold a master's degree and typically offer an online course each semester. While nearly all fields of study are represented through online courses, the majority of distance learning teachers are employed by community college districts.

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not on-campus and online professors when measuring salaries, it estimates that the mean annual salary for all postsecondary instructors was $81,880, as of May 2016. Here are some specific salaries for professors who specialize in subjects where coursework is commonly offered online:

Postsecondary Teacher Subject Salary
Business $96,770
Computer Science $89,670
Economics $111,520
Psychology $84,440
Communications $74,360
History $80,880
Vocations (various) $55,730

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Distance Learning Education Popularity

According to a 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 27% of undergraduate students took an online course and 12% completed a fully online program. In light of the increasing interest and demand by students for convenient education, many colleges and universities provide incentives to faculty for online and hybrid course development. Additionally, new administrative positions have been established to coordinate the creation and promotion of online classes and distance learning, as well as provide technical support to faculty and students.

Course Reduction Concern

Many professors stated in the NEA survey that they feared online courses would affect their overall salaries negatively. They also reported that more time was required for online course preparation and delivery; however, there were a number of postsecondary instructors who provided online teaching and did not see a reduction in course schedules.

Copyright and Royalty Agreements

Universities that adopt online courses developed by faculty generally allow the course creator to retain royalties for courses that are distributed to other teaching institutions. However, some schools claim or share the rights to royalties for marketable courses developed with school resources or by the request of the school. In the latter case, the creator of the online course typically maintains the right to solicit the sale of and distribute the content while under the employ of the school, forfeiting the privilege after terminating employment.

As online courses become more popular, more on-campus professors are starting to teach on-campus courses, which can sometimes lead to higher pay. Royalty amounts for the development of online programs also vary.

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