Colleges have responded to the economic downturn by slowing their rates of hiring, although only in the for-profit sector of higher education is the number of workers actually declining, a new federal study finds.
The report, an annual study  by the U.S. Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics, provides data on the number, type and employment status of staff members working in fall 2011 at colleges and universities that qualify to award federal financial aid. (The report also contains information on student financial aid, and another NCES report  released Tuesday provides preliminary data on 12-month enrollment and degrees conferred in 2010-11.)
There were 7,398 institutions eligible to award U.S. financial aid in the 2011-12 academic year, 2,039 of which were public, 1,890 private nonprofit, and 3,469 for-profit. The total is up 3.1 percent from 2010-11, with all of that growth coming among for-profit colleges (the number of public and private nonprofit institutions actually declined slightly from 2010-11 to 2011-12).
As seen in the table below, those nearly 7,400 institutions employed 3,920,836 employees in fall 2011, edging up slightly from just under 3.9 million the year before. That was the smallest increase in postsecondary employees since at least 2003.
Staff at Federal Financial Aid-Eligible Colleges, 2007-2011, by Type of Employee
|% Change, 2010 to 2011||
|% Change, 2007 to 2011|
research, public service
|--Primarily public service||25,381||24,679||2.8%||22,353||13.5%|
|Other professional (support)||816,166||807,770||1.0%||720,990||13.2%|
The number of employees at public colleges and universities barely budged, to 2,508,820 from 2,500,796 in fall 2010. Private nonprofit colleges saw their collective work force grow by 2.6 percent, to 1,123,126 from 1,097,283.
And despite the growth in the number of for-profit institutions from 2010-11 to 2011-12, the number of people they employed dipped, to 288,890 in fall 2011 from 295,495 in 2010.
Who the workers were varied by sector as well. At public colleges and universities, the small amount of growth in employees was driven by an increase in the number of instructors, while the number of executive and administrative employees declined slightly.
At private nonprofit colleges, the number of employees engaged primarily in instruction or research grew, but so too (by slightly larger amounts) did the number of executives and other professional staff.
And while the number of for-profit employees fell, the number of employees in the executive/administrative/managerial category actually edged up a bit.