WASHINGTON -- Given how broad the data are and the fact that they represent a moment before the economy fully hit the skids late last year, it's hard to know exactly how much to read into them. But a report issued by the Education Department on Wednesday shows a decline in the proportion of instructional staff at degree-granting colleges who were working part time in fall 2008.
The report,  "Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2008, and Salaries of Full-Time Instructional Staff, 2008-09," is an annual study from the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the department's Institute for Education Sciences. It provides a 30,000-foot look at the composition of the higher education work force, offering breakdowns by position type, type of institution, etc. While the report itself does not contain comparative data to previous years, some trends can be gleaned by comparing it to similar reports from 2007  and 2006 .
Over all, the report for 2008 shows an academic work force that was continuing to expand through last fall. As seen in the table below, the number of employees at colleges and universities that award federal financial aid grew to 3.71 million in fall 2008, up 2 percent from 3.63 million in 2007, and 5.0 percent greater than the 3.54 million in 2006.
Staff at Colleges That Award Federal Student Aid, 2008 and 2007
|2008||2007||% Change, 2007 to 2008|
|Staff focused on instruction, research, public service||1,419,142||1,407,467||0.8%|
|--Primarily public service||22,868||22,353||2.3%|
|Other professional (support)||755,079||720,990||4.7%|
Proportionally, the growth occurred more among administrators and support staff than among instructional staff -- consistent with recent studies,  including several by the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability, suggesting that colleges have increased spending disproportionately on non-classroom programs.
Among instructional staff, though, the numbers appear to suggest a pause in what has been a steady increase in the proportion of faculty members working part time -- through a continued uptick in the proportion of those working off the tenure track.
In 2008, according to the report released Wednesday, 594,325, or 56.4 percent, of the 1,089,572 non-medical school employees whose responsibility was defined as "primarily instruction" were working part time, down from 57.5 percent of the 1,076,434 such employees in 2007.
(One caveat: the 2008 numbers showed a decline in the pure number of employees at for-profit colleges from the year before, which seems unlikely given the enrollment growth in that sector. Instructors at for-profit colleges are more likely than their peers in other sectors to be part timers, so if for-profit institutions underreported in the survey, the part time figures and some others could be off.)
Other data in the 2008 report suggest continuing declines in the proportion of faculty members working off the tenure track. Of the 640,361 full-time employees with faculty status, 286,873, or 64.1 percent, either had tenure or were working on the tenure track. That's down from a comparable figure of 64.6 percent, in 2007.