Can I Have Some Faculty With My College?

The growth of contingent faculty reflects the increasing tendency of higher education institutions to operate like businesses. It’s no secret that this is a major feature of for-profit colleges, most of which have effectively eliminated tenure on the grounds that this will help flexibility and innovation.

But what is the actual staff breakdown in traditional and for-profit colleges?

I examined data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) maintained by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) combined with data from the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability.

There were several surprises.

First, I was dismayed – given how critical some people are of the tenure system –  to realize that tenured faculty members are already a small minority among university staff, even in traditional public and private institutions - 7 percent in 2009, to be precise; about 22 percent if we include those in tenure-track positions. Thus, as seen in the breakout of faculty from chart below, about half of all faculty jobs in traditional universities are filled by adjuncts.

For-profit colleges rely on adjuncts even more. As the graph below illustrates, less that 1 percent of faculty in these institutions are tenured and about 9 percent are on a tenure track.

Although it was interesting to learn these precise numbers, they weren’t the real shock. What really surprised me was to discover that the faculty of for-profit colleges and universities represent only 18 percent of these institutions’ total staff.

How can an institution of higher education function when fewer than 2 out every 10 employees is engaged in the core activities of a university, namely the teaching of students and field-related research?

Journalists and bloggers have taken issue with the lack of credentials and lack of public information about faculty in for-profit colleges (see here and here). My question is simpler: Before we even consider if they are good or bad, are there enough of them?

- Esther Quintero