An analysis of the most recent 10 years of national data presents a troubling picture of disinvestment in the higher education teaching profession—notably, a reduction in the proportion of full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty, and an increased reliance on employing "contingent" faculty and instructors such as part-time faculty, full-time nontenure track faculty and graduate employees. This is the primary finding of an new AFT report, "American Academic: The State of the Higher Education Workforce," released by the AFT on May 12.
The report finds that the higher education instructional workforce grew in the past decade, which is not surprising since college enrollments increased during that time by more than 3 million. But to meet the needs of a growing student population, colleges and universities overwhelmingly relied on hiring under-supported contingent faculty and instructors. Previous reports have demonstrated the problems created when colleges hire contingent faculty and instructors without fair wages, job security and professional support. This new report documents that, rather than working to reverse these trends and investing in a more secure higher education teaching workforce, colleges and universities are expanding their reliance on contingent faculty and instructors.
"This is a critical moment for our country, when we should focus on investing, not disinvesting, in our public higher education institutions," says AFT president Randi Weingarten. "Both President Obama and the Congress have recognized that higher education is essential to our country's economic recovery, and a fully supported higher education workforce is critical to strengthening our institutions."
Among the report's other key findings:
* From 1997 to 2007, the proportion of full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty members declined from approximately one-third of the instructional staff to slightly more than one-quarter.
* The increased reliance on contingent faculty and instructors was found in all sectors of higher education, with the most dramatic increase in community colleges.
"The faculty trends revealed in this report represent a staffing crisis that threatens the quality of our nation's colleges and universities," Weingarten says. "The truth is, disinvesting in faculty is unfair to contingent faculty, many of whom are miserably compensated. It also shortchanges students, who may have less access to a part-time professor who has to teach at several institutions to patch together a living."
At the same time, the study notes an increase in the number of professional staff who provide direct student services, such as registrars, counselors and financial aid officers. Professional staff grew by 50 percent from 1997 to 2007, and the vast majority of these positions were full-time.
This report is the first in a new series on the higher education workforce in colleges and universities. Each issue in the AFT's American Academic series will explore different aspects of trends in hiring, compensation and working conditions among the increasingly diverse higher education workforce. More higher education data can be found on the AFT's Higher Education Data Center Web site.
The AFT is committed to building a stronger higher education system for students, faculty and the community. The AFT's Faculty and College Excellence (FACE) campaign aims to achieve pay and professional equity for contingent faculty, and to ensure more full-time tenure-track faculty jobs through legislative action, collective bargaining and public education. A full copy of the new report, as well as previously released reports on higher education's staffing crisis, can be found on the FACE Web site.