Online Teaching Pay – Part 1

I don’t want to name names or to provide any unrealistic expectations (good or bad), but I’m sure that a lot of people are curious about the actual compensation that online college professors, course developers/writers, etc. receive.


To be honest, it’s a bit complicated.

As we all know, different institutions and different online teaching jobs have different tuition rates and, in theory, some of this tuition trickles down to the professors.  However, I wouldn’t make any assumptions that a more expensive college is generally a better-paying college.  These disparities do exist, though and also exist in regards to the level of the course (undergraduate vs. graduate), course length (4, 6, 8, 11, 15-week courses), whether the institution maintains a per-student or per-course pay schedule, and whether an instructor/professor is a full-time or part-time employee.  With so many variables to consider, I’ll attempt to consolidate a few conclusion that stem from my own personal anecdotes as an online professor, this time covering compensation for online teaching.

Per-course beats Per-student

With a per-course structure, as long as there is a certain number of students enrolled in the online course (generally, 3 or 4), you will receive the full course rate.  Obviously, the ideal situation is having a per-course class with only a few students, guaranteeing a high pay rate for relatively low hours.  However, as the class “fills out”, you’re pay-per-student becomes less and less.  That being said, you at least know your pay going into the course and if it happens to be a small course, you have icing on the cake.  If students drop or fail out throughout the term, your workload goes down in tandem.

I’ve worked with universities that have offered $2,200 (8-week course) and $4,200 (10-week course) under this model.

With per-student courses, the more students that are enrolled, the better your pay ends up being.  Pretty simple, actually.  With little control over the course enrollments, you never quite know how large or small the course will be and in cases with low enrollments, pay is minimal, although certain course tasks (responding to discussions, etc.) must still be completed.  Because students may drop at any time, there is a good chance that your expected compensation will drop as well.  Big courses obviously pay more…but…they’re big.

I’ve worked with universities that have paid $85 per student (8-week course) and $220 per student (8-week course) under this model.

Shorter courses are generally preferable

Because most online courses still utilize an asynchronous environment (not live), the discussion board serves as the “class participation” component.  Students generally have to respond to discussion boards multiple times each week while also completing course assignments.  While the number of assignments will generally be “set” whether the course is 5 or 12 weeks (shorter classes are consolidated) discussions will generally only occur once each week.  Less weeks, less discussions to participate in and grade.  Although the pay is normally a bit lower, it is generally still better relative to what longer online courses would pay and require.

Graduate courses pay more

Graduate courses always pay at least as much, if not more than undergraduate courses pay.  Additionally, in cases where professors are “qualified” or have achieved “status” to teach graduate courses, this pay increase oftentimes applies to undergraduate courses that they teach i.e. receive graduate pay for teaching undergraduate courses.

I worked with a university where the pay disparity was $70 per-student between graduate and undergraduate courses!


Full-time vs. Part-time…both have advantages

This one’s tricky because of the time vs. pay discrepancies that often times exist with these positions.  Generally speaking, a full-time online professor will receive better compensation for completely comparable work i.e. a full-time professor will receive X amount more for teaching Y classes or Z students than a part-time professor will receive for the same number of classes or students.  Full-time workers also usually receive benefits that part-time workers do not.

However, the downside of full-time work is that these faculty members are often times “asked” (required) to serve on committees, advise students, and design courses…without extra compensation.  To be fair, these requirements are usually stated during interviews and shouldn’t be too surprising, but the possibility of having extra duties pile up can really mess up work-pay calculations, especially if these aren’t duties one is interested in.  Also, full-time online faculty members can be limited to the number of courses taught at their “main” institution and at other institutions, limiting pay, to an extent.

Part-time online faculty will generally not receive comparable pay for comparable work, if they even have the opportunity to teach as many classes as full-time faculty do.  However, the ability to make extra pay via course development and related undertakings adds to earning potential.  Also, don’t feel like working for a few months as you train Muay Thai in Phuket or lounge by the pool for a month in Maracaibo?  No problem…don’t teach that term.  Being more in control of your time and pay also has its perks!


Full-time faculty members will generally garner at least $45-50k (sometimes more…sometimes A LOT more) with between 25-30 hours of work each week.

I’ll cover my total yearly earning estimates from teaching online in a later post in this series, but this should provide a basic idea of salary ranges and time/work expectations.  Next time, I’ll discuss pay for “related activities”.

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