What You Do All Day

New data explore how professors at different kinds of institutions spend their time -- and how much time they spend on work.
December 22, 2005

People in academe constantly talk about the division of professors' time between teaching, research and service. But according to new data and a report released by the U.S. Education Department on Wednesday, the real triptych of higher education work activity is teaching, research, and administrative duties.

The figures were released in a study of faculty members' characteristics and work activities. The data were collected in 2003.

The Education Department's new analysis indicated that while doctoral faculty members spend much more time on research than do other professors, they report spending less than one-third of their total time at work focused on research.

Use of Time by Full-Time Faculty and Instructional Staff, by Sector

Institution Type Teaching Research Administrative Duties
Public doctoral 50.8% 28.2% 21.1%
Private doctoral 49.3% 28.5% 22.3%
Public master's 66.4% 14.3% 19.4%
Private master's 68.7% 10.9% 20.4%
Private baccalaureate 67.7% 12.0% 20.3%
Public community college 79.8%   3.5% 16.8%

When analyzed by disciplines, the data indicate that professors in the humanities and fine arts spend the most time teaching, while professors in the natural sciences and engineering spend the most time on research.

Use of Time by Full-Time Faculty and Instructional Staff, by Discipline

Discipline Teaching Research Administrative Duties
Agriculture/home economics 52.6% 24.0% 23.4%
Business 61.6% 20.9% 17.6%
Education 60.0% 15.0% 25.1%
Engineering 56.2% 26.2% 17.6%
Fine arts 67.1% 13.7% 19.2%
Health sciences 49.1% 19.1% 31.8%
Humanities 64.6% 17.5% 17.9%
Natural sciences 54.5% 29.7% 15.8%
Social sciences 55.4% 25.8% 18.8%

Another topic covered by the data is how much total time is spent with students -- in the classroom, and by "contact hours," which is a figure that multiplies the number of hours spent teaching by the number of students in those classes. Faculty members at community colleges lead -- substantially -- in both measures.

Average Weekly Hours Spent Teaching by Full-Time Faculty, by Sector

Institution Type Classroom Time Contact Hours
Public doctoral   8.1 287
Private doctoral   7.8 273
Public master's 10.9 294
Private master's 11.6 274
Private baccalaureate 10.6 223
Public community college 18.1 431

Analyzed by discipline, fine arts led in classroom hours while science fields -- with larger class sizes -- led in contact hours.

Average Weekly Hours Spent Teaching by Full-Time Faculty, by Discipline


Discipline Classroom Time Contact Hours
Agriculture/home economics   8.8 268
Business 10.0 318
Education 10.0 230
Engineering   7.9 197
Fine arts 11.0 244
Health sciences 10.5 344
Humanities   9.3 240
Natural sciences   9.1 323
Social sciences   8.2 279


The various splits of professorial time also raise the question of how much time professors spend on the job. Here the data indicate that the 40-hour week may be a reality for part-time professors (the data count hours spent on all jobs, including those outside academe), and that most full-time professors work well over a 40-hour week. Average Hours Worked Each Week, by Sector

Institution Type Full Time Part Time
Public doctoral 55.5 42.9
Private doctoral 55.2 42.4
Public master's 53.3 38.4
Private master's 51.8 42.4
Private baccalaureate 53.9 39.3
Public community college 49.3 39.0


Additional data in the report cover a wide variety of topics related to professors' demographics, but much of this data is similar to other data previously released by the department or other groups. Among the highlights of the other data:

  • Faculty positions are most likely to be full time at doctoral institutions and the least likely to be full time at community colleges.
  • Doctoral institutions and engineering departments were more likely than other institutions and departments to employ Asian-American faculty members.
  • Black faculty members were most likely to be employed at institutions where a bachelor's degree or lower was the highest degree awarded.
  • Women make up a larger share of the part-time faculty pool than of the full-time pool.


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