Inexorable March to a Part-Time Faculty

Adjuncts nearing half of all professors, and proportion off the tenure track grows, latest U.S. data show.
March 28, 2007

New data from the U.S. Education Department confirm what faculty leaders increasingly bemoan: The full-time, tenure-track faculty member is becoming an endangered species in American higher education.

A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that of the 1,314,506 faculty members at colleges that award federal financial aid in fall 2005, 624,753, or 47.5 percent, were in part-time positions. That represents an increase in number and proportion from 2003, the last full survey of institutions, when 543,137 of the 1,173,556 professors (or 46.3 percent) at degree-granting institutions were part timers. (The statistics may not be directly comparable because the department reported part-time/full-time figures only for degree-granting institutions in 2003, and for all Title IV institutions in 2005.)

The new report, "Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2005, and Salaries of Full-Time Instructional Faculty, 2005-06," also finds the proportion of all professors who are tenured or on the tenure track to be shrinking. Of the 675,624 full-time faculty members at degree-granting colleges and universities in 2005, 414,574, or 61.4 percent, were either tenured or on the tenure track. That is down from the 411,031 of 630,419 (or 65.2 percent) of professors at degree-granting institutions who were tenured or tenure track in 2003.

Full-time Faculty at Degree-Granting Institutions, 2005 and 2003

  Fall 2005 Fall 2003 % Change
All faculty 675,624* 630,419 7.1%
With tenure 283,434 282,429 0.4%
Tenure track 131,140 128,602 1.9%
Not on tenure track/
no tenure system
235,171 219,388 7.2%

*Figure includes 25,879 staff members with faculty status.

The NCES report contains a wealth of other information about faculty and staff members at colleges and universities. Among the other highlights:

  • The proportion of full-time faculty members at degree-granting institutions who are women rose slightly, to 40.6 percent in 2005 from 39.4 percent in 2003.
  • The proportion of full-time faculty members who are white dropped slightly, to 78.1 percent in 2005 from 80.2 percent in 2003. The biggest gain was among Asian/Pacific Islanders, whose share of the full-time professoriate rose to 7.2 percent from 6.5 percent. The proportion who are black dipped by a tenth of percentage point (from 5.3 percent to 5.2 percent), while the share who are Hispanic rose to 3.4 percent from 3.2 percent.
  • Men were significantly more likely to be tenured or tenure track than were women. Of full-time male professors, 47.5 percent were tenured and 18.1 percent were tenure track, while 33.9 percent of women were tenured and 21.3 percent were tenure track.


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