The Academic Work Force, 2007

The economic downturn may portend contraction of college staffs in the offing. But an annual federal report finds continued growth, particularly in instructional staff and administrative professionals.
December 12, 2008

It's hard to predict what's ahead in terms of the economics of higher education -- whether a long-term downturn will force colleges and universities to prune their expenditures, their academic and extracurricular offerings, and/or their staffs.

But one thing is for certain: The base from which colleges will be making staffing decisions, if they are forthcoming, has continued its steady expansion, with the number of faculty members and professional staff rising faster than other sorts of campus employees, a new report from the U.S. Education Department shows.

The annual study, "Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2007, and Salaries of Full-Time Instructional Faculty, 2007-08," comes from the Institute for Education Sciences' National Center for Education Statistics, and it is the primary source of information about the size, scope and shape of the academic work force.

In 2007, it reveals, colleges and universities that are qualified to award federal financial aid (as well as system and other administrative offices) had 3.63 million employees, about 5 percent more than they did two years earlier.

The bulk of the growth occurred among instructional faculty members, executives and professional staff members, with negligible increases and even some decreases in some other job categories, as seen in the table below:

Staff at Colleges Eligible for Federal Financial Aid and Administrative Offices, 2007 and 2005

  2007 2005  
  Number of Employees Percentage of total Number of Employees Percentage of total Percentage change, 2005 to 2007
Total 3,630,956 100.0% 3,453,461 100.0% 5.14%
Staff involved in:          
--Primarily instruction 1,076,467 29.6% 1,009,858 29.2% 6.60%
--Instruction/research/public service 251,466 6.9% 238,228 6.9% 5.56%
--Research 57,214 1.6% 59,972 1.7% -4.60%
--Public service 22,253 0.6% 22,503 0.7% -1.11%
Executive/managerial 225,778 6.2% 205,163 5.9% 10.05%
Other professional 720,990 19.9% 664,821 19.3% 8.45%
Graduate assistants 328,979 9.1% 317,207 9.2% 3.71%
Technical/paraprofessional 195,502 5.4% 196,485 5.7% -0.50%
Clerical/secretarial 453,798 12.5% 448,406 13.0% 1.20%
Skilled crafts 62,342 1.7% 61,838 1.8% 0.82%
Service/maintenance 236,100 6.5% 228,980 6.6% 3.11%

The proportion of higher education employees who worked full time continued a slow decline, dropping to 64.1 percent in 2007 from 64.5 percent in 2005. The report does not directly separate faculty members from administrators, per se, but for those employees primarily involved in teaching, research or other functions traditionally conducted by professors, the proportion of full timers is significantly lower (51.3 percent) and descending faster (down a full percentage point from 52.3 percent in 2005). That figure reinforces data put forward in several reports in recent weeks about the growing use of adjunct instructors in various disciplines.

Reinforcing recent data about enrollment trends by sector, it is little surprise that the biggest proportional growth in higher education staff comes in the for-profit sector of higher education, as seen in the table below:

  2007 2005 Percentage change  
Public colleges 2,384,000 2,293,866 3.9%  
Private nonprofit colleges 1,033,557 980,934 5.4%  
For-profit colleges 213,399 178,661 19.4%  

Among other key findings in the report:

  • Women made up 53.9 percent of the 3.6 million employees at the institutions that qualify to award federal financial aid, and while they outnumbered men in most categories, including executive/managerial, women made up 46 percent of staff members (largely faculty) who were primarily involved in teaching, research and public service.
  • Of about 700,000 full-time staff members at degree-granting institutions who reported having faculty status, about 41 percent had tenure, 19 percent were on the tenure track, 24 percent were not on the tenure track, and about 11 percent reported that their institutions did not have a tenure system. About half of those who said their institutions did not have tenure systems were at public two-year colleges, about a quarter were at private four-year colleges, and about a quarter were at for-profit institutions.
  • Of the 149,392 new full-time hires made by degree-granting institutions and administrative offices with 15 or more full-time employees between July and October 2007, 50,041, or about 1 in 3, were in faculty-related jobs.
  • The report also contains some salary data for those with faculty status, and based on adjusted nine-month average salaries at degree-granting institutions that award financial aid, full professors earned $98,020, associate professors $70,744, assistant professors $59,283, instructors $51,633, lecturers $51,552, and those with no academic rank earned $51,966.


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