The Shrinking Academic Workforce

As enrollments dip, so too do the number of college and university employees -- but disproportionately at for-profit institutions.

November 14, 2014

The academic workforce is shrinking.

Not by much, mind you: the number of faculty members and administrators at colleges eligible to award federal financial aid declined by a mere 7,500 from 2012 to 2013, according to new Education Department statistics.

But the dip, however small, is the first in many years. And it comes after a period of steady and at times sharp expansion of college staffs, which often accompanied sizable increases in student enrollments.

The percentage drop in the number of employees, which the National Center for Education Statistics puts at 0.19 percent, to 3,969,396 in 2013 from 3,976,803 in 2012, is actually larger than the enrollment decline that the report also documents. Overall enrollments fell by about 300,000 (to 20.85 million from 21.15 million) in 2013, about evenly split between for-profit institutions and public two-year institutions.

But while for-profit colleges shed more than 38,000 jobs alongside their enrollment losses, staffing at two-year institutions remained stable, actually edging up slightly, to 652,492 staff members in 2013 from 649,982 in 2012.

Staffing at public colleges over all grew slightly from 2012 to 2013, edging up to 2,549,850 from 2,534,848, a half-percentage-point increase. The number of administrators and instructors at private nonprofit colleges grew more, by 1.4 percent, to 1,161,424 in 2013 from 1,145,340 in 2012. 

While the number of employees overall dipped, the number and proportion of campus staff members on the academic side of the house appears to have risen from 2012 to 2013. Saying for sure is difficult because the definitions used by education statistics center changed from one year to the next, but the number of employees who provide instruction, research and public service rose to 1,580,932 in 2013, up from 1,565,493 in 2012.

The numbers by sector were 519,690 (up from 510,871 in 2012) for public four-year colleges and universities, 372,762 for community colleges (equivalent to 372,698 in 2012), and 385,379 for four-year private colleges (up from 376,916 in 2012). The number of for-profit faculty members dipped by about 4,000, to 104,319.

Employees at Postsecondary Institutions Eligible for Title IV Aid

  1993 2003 2008 2012 2013
All  2,545,920 3,108,301 3,710,011 3,976,803 3,969,396
Public 1,783,028 2,128,733 2,440,511 2,534,848 2,548,850
Private Nonprofit 741,471 926,068 1,061,946 1,145,340 1,161,424
For-Profit 19,916 50,782 207,554 296,615 258,122

Source: U.S. Education Department

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Doug Lederman

Doug Lederman is editor and co-founder of Inside Higher Ed. He helps lead the news organization's editorial operations, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Doug speaks widely about higher education, including on C-Span and National Public Radio and at meetings and on campuses around the country, and his work has appeared in The New York Times and USA Today, among other publications. Doug was managing editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education from 1999 to 2003. Before that, Doug had worked at The Chronicle since 1986 in a variety of roles, first as an athletics reporter and editor. He has won three National Awards for Education Reporting from the Education Writers Association, including one in 2009 for a series of Inside Higher Ed articles he co-wrote on college rankings. He began his career as a news clerk at The New York Times. He grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and graduated in 1984 from Princeton University. Doug lives with his wife, Kate Scharff, in Bethesda, Md.

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