A Satisfied Full-Time Faculty

National survey of 4-year-college professors finds that they are happier with their jobs than other Americans are with theirs -- but some areas of dissatisfaction jump out.
November 1, 2007

Many administrators complain about the many complaints of their faculty members, but it turns out that most professors (at least full timers at four-year colleges) are pretty happy with their jobs.

A new national survey by TIAA-CREF found that 53 percent of faculty members are "very satisfied" with their jobs and another 43 percent are "somewhat satisfied." Only 2 percent were "not at all satisfied." By comparison, a recent national survey of Americans in all fields found that only 42 percent reported being "very satisfied," with another 38 percent "somewhat satisfied."

TIAA-CREF's analysis included breakdowns by age groups, and it found that the youngest faculty members (Generation X) reported about the same level of job satisfaction as their older colleagues. But in certain areas -- work/life balance and salary -- the Xers were significantly less satisfied than were others. The younger generation also appears to have some different motivations for entering academe and different career goals (hardly any are contemplating administrative careers, although that may be a reflection of their age and not having yet had the sorts of committee chair positions that frequently are launching pads to the administration building).

Faculty members across generations see academic careers as something they would recommend to promising students, with 54 percent saying that they would be "very likely" to encourage a student who asked about becoming a professor and 34 percent said that they were "somewhat likely" to do so.

Not surprisingly given TIAA-CREF's role in the retirement industry, a number of questions in the survey focused on retirement issues and here the survey found many professors planning to work well past traditional retirement age -- but also strong interest in early retirement incentives and phased retirements.

A key caveat about the survey results are that they exclude community colleges, as well as part timers at all kinds of institutions. Given that community college faculty are paid less on average than their four-year counterparts and focus much more on teaching, and that part timers have a range of salary, benefits and job security issues that in many cases bring down job satisfaction, some of the data would probably be significantly different if based on a broader pool of professors. That doesn't diminish the value of the data, however, in examining the full-time, four-year college professoriate.

"There's very good news for the senior administration in that faculty are very satisfied in general," said Paul J. Yakoboski, principal research fellow at TIAA-CREF. While some areas of dissatisfaction can't be a huge surprise -- "everybody would like to be paid more money," he noted -- others should give administrators pause. There appear to be areas where administrators at the very least should be asking professors why they are dissatisfied with certain parts of their duties. And when they do, he noted, the answers will differ based on age group.

For the purposes of the survey, faculty members were divided into three groups: Generation X (ages 27-42), Late Baby Boomers (ages 43-52) and Early Baby Boomers (ages 53-61). Other ages were excluded. In all age groups, asked if their careers had met their expectations, the dominant answer was "generally," but not "completely." All those who didn't answer completely were asked about the ways in which expectations were not met, with multiple answers accepted. Pay was more of an issue for older academics. And while the total figure was small, the only significant responses about lack of respect were from Early Boomers. Generation Xers were somewhat more likely to cite concerns about work/family balance and were much more likely to cite administrative responsibilities as a concern.

Yakoboski said he was struck by the high percentage expressing qualms about administrative responsibilities and suggested that colleges might want to explore with faculty members what kinds of things they were talking about.

Ways in Which Faculty Careers Haven't Met Expectations

Factor Total % Gen X % Late Boomer % Early Boomer %
Pay not high enough 25% 9% 30% 34%
Too many administrative responsibilities 22% 39% 12% 17%
Inadequate time for research 16% 22% 7% 21%
Unsatisfactory relationships with colleagues 14% 13% 17% 10%
Politics involved/too much of a business 13% 8% 19% 10%
No work/life balance 10% 13% 8% 10%
Not spending time how I want 8% 4% 12% 8%
Don't enjoy teaching or students 7% 4% 13% 4%
Inadequate funding for research/resources 4% 3% 4% 6%
Dissatisfied with administration, institution 3% 4% 2% 4%
Underappreciated, lack of respect 2% 0% 0% 6%
Excessive pressure to publish 2% 1% 1% 3%
Lack of advancement or tenure 1% 0% 0% 3%

In terms of their goals for their careers, some are generational and expected (Gen Xers are more focused than others on winning tenure, and Early Boomers are more focused on saving money for retirement). One notable difference is that there is little Gen X interest in administrative careers. Asked their primary career goal, only 1 percent of Gen Xers cited administration, compared to 3 percent and 4 percent, respectively, for Late and Early Boomers.

Asked what goals they had after achieving their primary goal, Gen Xers still don't want to be administrators. Only 2 percent cited that as a goal, compared to 6 and 7 percent of the Boomer groups.

Finance and Retirement

The data on retirement show that many professors expect to work in their current jobs past 65, and to find new paid employment after they retire from their academic positions. Early Boomers, the group closest to retirement, are less likely than others to envision a late retirement date. Except for Early Boomers, 70 appears to be a more likely age at which to ponder retirement than does 65.

Expected Age of Retirement

Age Total % Gen X % Late Boomer % Early Boomer %
Before 60 2 3 2 2
60-64 12 10 11 14
65 27 23 31 25
66-69 15 16 10 21
70 28 32 34 16
Over 70 9 6 11 10
Never 1 2 0 0
Don't know 6 7 1 11

If given options, many appear interested in incentive programs that move away from a traditional retirement transition. Majorities across age groups would be "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to consider phased-in retirement programs, in which faculty members gradually reduce hours worked. Majorities across age groups would also be interested in early retirement incentive programs.

Yakoboski said that these findings were significant for college administrators, many of whom are concerned about an aging faculty, but aren't certain about which options may be most effective at opening up some slots.

Once they retire, more than 70 percent of faculty members expect to work for pay. Of that group, 29 percent expect to work as teachers, 41 percent in some other role in education, and 35 percent to do something completely different.

Significant numbers of faculty members earn money from sources other than their primary employer throughout their careers, the survey suggests. Sixty-eight percent of faculty members said that they had earned money from other sources in the last two years. For most of those, the share of total income was relatively modest, with 58 percent reporting it was less than 10 percent. But for 31 percent, the total was 10-24 percent, and for 8 percent, it was 25-49 percent.


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