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Full-time faculty members at four-year colleges are spending less time on teaching than they used to, according to a national study being released today by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles. Because the comparative data are for full-time faculty only, it is not clear if this trend is because more courses are being taught by part-timers, because more sections have been canceled due to budget cuts, or for other reasons.

But the results show a long term decline in those who spend at least nine hours a week in teaching (defined by actual time, not credit hour) and a significant increase in those spending only one to four hours in teaching.

The data come from a national survey conducted every three years by the UCLA center, which covers a range of issues about faculty activities and attitudes. The new survey is based on responses from 23,824 faculty members. This year the institute also collected data on part-time faculty members, documenting the (limited) services they receive from their employers.

Highlights of the survey over all include:

  • Faculty members appear to be moving toward embracing more "student-centered" learning approaches (such as more group work and less lecturing). But the shift in this direction is uneven, with female faculty members far ahead of their male counterparts in this regard.
  • Faculty members have many sources of stress, and some related to institutional budget cuts or red tape are more prevalent among those in the public sector than in the private sector.
  • Despite various sources of stress, faculty members still want to be college professors.
  • While part-time faculty members report high levels of respect from their full-time colleagues, that doesn't necessarily translate into resources they need or consideration for full-time jobs.

Time in the Classroom

The figures on time spent in the classroom, when compared to past years, show a significant decline. The proportion of full-time faculty reporting that they spend nine or more hours a week teaching is 43.6 percent, down from 56.5 percent 10 years ago, and 63.4 percent 20 years ago. Much of the drop appears to have taken place in the last three years. There also has been a decline in the last decade in the percentage of faculty members reporting that they spend nine or more hours preparing for teaching (a time category that includes grading), from 65.6 to 59.1 percent.

Leaning (Further) to the Left
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While the percentages reporting nine or more hours a week of actual teaching declined, there was more than a doubling in the last decade of the percentage reporting one to four hours a week in teaching: from 7 percent to 15.8 percent.

While there is much talk about a push in higher education toward increased valuing of research contributions, the vast majority of those surveyed were not at research universities, but at a range of other four-year colleges and universities. And time spent on research isn't up notably from the survey three years ago. The survey shows many faculty members spend small but regular chunks of time each week on committee work, advising, research and other activities. Predictably, research universities' faculty members report spending more time on research than do professors at four-year institutions. Note that the table below doesn't include activities (such as consulting and seeing patients) of professional responsibilities for some faculty members.

How Faculty Members Report Spending Time, in Hours per Week, 2010-11

  0 1-4 5-8 9-12 13-16 17-20 21+
Schedule teaching 5.8 15.8 34.6 28.6 9.2 3.7 2.1
Preparing for teaching (including grading) 4.9 11.5 24.4 22.4 13.9 12.1 10.7
Advising and counseling students 4.4 56.7 27.1 7.8 2.2 1.1 0.7
Committee work and meetings 7.6 58.0 23.7 6.8 2.2 1.3 0.4
Other administration 30.6 39.7 13.8 6.6 3.4 2.7 3.2
Research 13.1 30.3 19.2 12.9 6.9 6.0 11.7

Sylvia Hurtado, professor of education at UCLA and director of the Higher Education Research Institute, said she was concerned by the drop in the hours spent teaching, but not certain about the cause. One possibility is that more part-timers are being assigned sections (which wouldn't show up in the survey), but many campuses starting in the fall of 2008 scaled back their use of part-timers. Hurtado said that, regardless of who is teaching, the decline may be a result of colleges and universities eliminating sections.

Another possibility, she said, is that the data reflect the move by many colleges and universities to increase class size. In such scenarios, with faculty members teaching more students in the same number of hours, there may be sacrifices in number of assignments, or time spent grading each assignment, Hurtado said, as the faculty members are unable to devote the same amount of attention per assignment with smaller classes.

It is likely that the drop in teaching hours "is a combination of things," she said, "but something really odd is happening."

What Goes On in the Classroom

The new study looks at the extent to which men and women were using traditional or more "student-centered" approaches to teaching in 2010-11 and a decade prior, and compares those in science and technology fields to those in other fields. The results show that, over all, there have been gains in the use of student-centered teaching, with women more likely to embrace such approaches. Further, the gap between men and women in teaching techniques is greater in STEM fields than in other disciplines.

One set of questions in the new survey (matched with one 10 years ago) focused on whether faculty members used a traditional approach (lecturing) and student-centered approaches (such as class discussions, cooperative learning and student presentations). Men and women showed slight declines in the use of lecturing, although a majority of men (but not women) rely on it. For the other approaches, women are more likely than men to make use of the technique.

Men, Women and Teaching Methods in Used in All or Most Courses

Method Men, 2001-2 Women, 2001-2 Men, 2010-11 Women, 2010-11
Extensive lecturing 54.6% 34.1% 52.7% 33.8%
Class discussions 68.3% 78.9% 78.3% 88.0%
Cooperative learning 32.6% 55.8% 48.5% 68.8%
Student presentations 30.4% 45.2% 36.9% 53.8%

While men increased use of all of those techniques (except lecturing) over the decade, they were still behind (at the end of the decade) where women were at the beginning of it.

In science and technology fields in particular, female faculty members appear less likely than men to rely on lecturing and grading on a curve (two approaches that aren't generally considered student-centered), but are more likely than men to embrace a range of other techniques.

Methods Used in All or Most Courses, 2010-11, STEM and Non-STEM Fields

Method Men in  STEM Women in STEM Men in Other Fields Women in Other Fields
Extensive lecturing 69.7% 50.4% 43.7% 27.8%
Grading on a curve 30.6% 16.6% 16.2% 9.8%
Student presentations 25.5% 42.8% 42.9% 57.7%
Student evaluations of each others' work 9.7% 17.5% 20.5% 30.5%
Class discussions 55.9% 72.5% 90.0% 93.7%
Cooperative learning (small groups) 40.7% 60.3% 52.6% 71.8%
Experiential learning/field studies 22.9% 33.1% 21.2% 30.6%
Group projects 27.1% 36.0% 28.7% 38.1%
Student-selected topics for course content 10.8% 13.9% 20.5% 27.0%
Reflective writing/journaling 4.1% 16.7% 17.1% 27.9%
Using student inquiry to drive learning 32.9% 43.3% 46.9% 54.2%

Hurtado said that while gender patterns are clear for teaching techniques, there may be an overlap with age, given that many faculties (particularly in STEM fields) have only relatively recently been bringing on significant numbers of female faculty members. And those who are women are likely to embrace new techniques, she said. "I think students respond to what they see as an ethic of care, and it's common for women to convey this ethic of care."

Public Stress, Private Stress

One of the topics that the survey questions address is stress, and it's clear that faculty members have plenty that they worry about. The top areas of stress -- such as self-imposed high expectations and lack of personal time, as well as household responsibilities -- appear to afflict professors equally at public and private institutions. So do some areas of stress that are further down on their lists, such as committee work. But in a number of areas, public college faculty members are more likely to report serious stress, and several of these (dealing with budget cuts, personal finances) may relate to the ongoing tight budgets in much of public higher education.

Most Common Sources of Stress for Faculty Members, by Institution Type, 2010-11

  Public Universities Private Universities Public Colleges Private Colleges
Self-imposed, high expectations 85.1% 86.1% 83.5% 84.2%
Lack of personal time 81.5% 83.1% 82.4% 82.8%
Working with underprepared students 78.1% 58.1% 83.5% 77.1%
Managing household responsibilities 74.4% 72.7% 75.1% 77.3%
Institutional budget cuts 86.1% 47.2% 83.4% 62.5%
Institutional procedures and "red tape" 75.5% 66.8% 73.6% 63.5%
Research or publishing demands 74.5% 77.7% 64.1% 61.8%
Personal finances 65.5% 58.5% 70.1% 68.7%
Teaching load 61.9% 50.5% 71.2% 67.4%
Committee work 60.9% 56.0% 67.4% 64.6%

Despite all of those areas (and others) of stress, the faculty members in the survey indicated (with only modest changes by sector) general satisfaction with their careers. Asked if they still want to be college professors, 64.6 percent said "definitely yes" and another 24.1 percent said "probably yes." Asked if they could restart their careers, would they work at the same institution, 36.7 percent said that they definitely would, and another 33.5 percent said that they probably would.

Part-Time Perspectives

While the survey focuses on full-time, primarily tenure-track faculty members, the new version also included a national survey of part-timers. The responses likely will not surprise adjuncts and those who work on their behalf.

Asked about the resources they receive to help with their work, an e-mail account was the only item identified by a majority of the part-timers (in this case 89.9 percent). Only 47.7 percent had access to shared office space (and only 18.4 percent had access to a private office). Colleges were providing 42.1 percent of adjuncts with a phone/voicemail account, and 42 percent with use of a personal computer.

For some questions, the UCLA center grouped part-timer answers into "voluntary" and "involuntary" part-time status to reflect that some people seek part-time teaching positions (voluntary) and others take these positions because of the lack of availability of jobs on the tenure track. Adjuncts in both groups believe that their full-time colleagues respect them (83.1 percent for voluntary and 77.2 percent for involuntary).

But on a key issue for many adjuncts -- whether they are considered for full-time, tenure-track positions that open up -- there is a split. Among voluntary adjuncts, only 52.6 percent believe that part-timers are rarely hired. But among involuntary adjuncts, the figure is 67.8 percent.


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