Enrollment drives many hiring decisions -- so prospective faculty members tend to watch trends in their disciplines. If students flock to departments, jobs follow -- at least in theory. And that explains job openings in fields as diverse as nursing, forensics and Spanish -- deans and department chairs need teachers for all the sections.
But new data and analysis  from the American Historical Association show the emergence of a sector-based gap in history positions. During the last decade, enrollment in history programs -- as measured by degrees awarded -- increased in public institutions at twice the rate as at private institutions. But while the addition of new full-time faculty slots at private institutions outpaced enrollment growth in the sector, the opposite was true for public institutions.
During the last decade, the number of history degrees awarded by public institutions was up by 28.4 percent, while the number of full-time faculty teaching history increased by 24.0 percent. At private institutions, the increase in degrees awarded was 14.4 percent while the number of full-time positions increased by 21.4 percent.
“The greater disparity between the growth in the number of history students and faculty members at public institutions (in contrast to the narrower gap between the respective increases at private institutions) may partially explain why faculty at state colleges and universities talk of increasingly burdensome class sizes and teaching loads,” Robert B. Townsend, assistant director for research and publications at the AHA, writes in his analysis of the data.
While undergraduate enrollments are expected to continue to increase, Townsend notes that the public-private gaps show that an increasing student population “can be something of a mixed blessing for the discipline.” He notes that “as faculty at the state schools know, institutions can respond to further enrollment increases by increasing class loads or adding to the number of part-time and adjunct faculty.”
Generally, the analysis found several healthy signs for the history discipline, with most data coming from the U.S. Department of Education and covering the 2005-6 academic year:
- American colleges and universities conferred 33,153 new baccalaureate degrees in history -- a 5.6 percent increase from the year before. This total was the largest number of degrees ever conferred in the discipline, except for a few years at the peak of the baby boom.
- While the increase took place in a year when the total number of all degrees conferred was up, history gained in market share because its percentage increase outpaced the total increase of 3.2 percent.
- Despite the popularity of history and its role in liberal education programs, history degrees accounted for only 2.2 percent of all degrees conferred.
- Degrees awarded also increased at the graduate level, with totals reaching 2,992 for master’s degrees (a 3.4 percent increase in a year) and 852 doctoral degrees (a 4.0 percent increase).