Because I Am Apparently a Masochist

Phil Magness keeps attributing the growth in the percentage of part-time faculty to the rise of the for-profit universities. But his own chart seems to show that that impact has been less than one might expect.

Magness's Chart

Notice that the percentage of part-time faculty at all institutions is 47%, only .4% higher than the total for public institutions and only 4.8% higher than the percentage for private non-profit institutions.

Notice, too, that at associate-degree colleges, the percentage at public institutions is exactly the average for all institutions. Likewise, notice that in the top three categories, either the public institutions or the private non-profit institutions employ a higher percentage of part-time faculty than the average for all institutions.

Readers of this blog know that I am clearly not a statistician, but if there was some dramatic skewing of the numbers, wouldn’t it be more readily apparent?

And I will reiterate what I said in the previous post–that this phenomenon is percolating upward, a fact that seems to be reflected in the chart on which Magness is relying.

Furthermore, as I indicate previously, that movement upward would almost certainly be reflected more pointedly if each category were broken down to reflect the various tiers of institutions within each group and/or the distribution of part-time faculty across disciplines, which would almost certainly show a concentration in the humanities and social sciences and in the teaching of the core or general-education courses in those disciplines—or a hollowing out of many of those departments.

It is also worth noting that the numbers on the for-profit institutions are also misleading because almost the very large online for-profits often advertised as if they were designed to meet the needs of graduate and baccalaureate students, almost all of their enrollment has been in associates and certificate programs. So, if the chart reflected the level of courses typically offered at those institutions, their numbers in the top three tiers would be lower than they are in this chart.

But let’s say that Magness is right and the statistics have been skewed by hiring at the for-profit institutions. Then we should be seeing very changed numbers as soon as the data for the last three years becomes available since there has been very dramatic declines in the enrollments at all of the largest online for-profit institutions—and the complete elimination of one of the largest of those institutions, Corinthian Colleges.

But, beyond what those numbers will show, in highlighting the impact of the for-profit institutions on these employment numbers, Magness seems to be asserting that it is a problem largely contained to a sub-standard sector of higher education. I think that he is very much mistaken to dismiss the profound impact that those institutions have had over the past two decades on higher education—on the priorities within all of our institutions. And that impact has included the supposed “necessity” of hiring more part-time and full-time contingent faculty, especially in disciplines for which the corporatizers have little regard, if not outright disdain.

For more on that broader impact, see my previous posts:

“The Meaning of the Failure of the Online For-Profit Institutions” https://academeblog.org/2015/03/28/the-meaning-of-the-failure-of-the-online-for-profit-universities/

and

“Now That We Have Transformed Our Institutions to Compete with the University of Phoenix, It’s on Life Support”

https://academeblog.org/2015/08/01/now-that-we-have-transformed-our-institutions-to-compete-with-the-university-of-phoenix-its-on-life-support/.

6 thoughts on “Because I Am Apparently a Masochist

  1. Look a little closer at the stats, Martin. As I’ve been saying from day one, adjunct growth is coming from For-Profits AND Community Colleges (listed as 2 year colleges on this chart). Both use disproportionately high %’s of adjuncts – about 90% for For-Profits and in the 60s for 2-year colleges.

    Most community colleges are public institutions, so – yes – including them in the overall count will also skew the total adjunct rates upward for all public institutions.

    Now compare those numbers to Doctoral & Research Universities. The adjunct rates there are a significantly smaller 23.5% for Public and 37% for Private. The same is true for undergrad-only colleges, which are 40% for Public and 33.2% for Private. Those two categories are a much closer representation of what people typically think of as “college.”

    Note that I am not saying there is something “bad” about community colleges (on the other hand, I would argue that for-profits have done a lot of harm). But community colleges are priced significantly lower than regular 4-year institutions, are they not? Would it also not stand to reason that you should expect to see more adjuncts at a heavily discounted 2-year college than at a higher ranked and more rigorous full college or university?

    You do make one interesting observation in your post: “But let’s say that Magness is right and the statistics have been skewed by hiring at the for-profit institutions. Then we should be seeing very changed numbers as soon as the data for the last three years becomes available since there has been very dramatic declines in the enrollments at all of the largest online for-profit institutions—and the complete elimination of one of the largest of those institutions, Corinthian Colleges.”

    And guess what? We already have seen that exact trend bearing out in the latest evidence! The community college phenomenon peaked in 2011 at just shy of 140,000 faculty. In 2013 – the latest available number – they began to decline.

    http://philmagness.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/ForProfitFacultyNumbers.jpg

    This decline also directly carried over to the total number of adjuncts, which also went down in the most recent set of numbers even as full time positions continued to increase.

    http://philmagness.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/fulltimefaculty-number.jpg

  2. Even more telling that this is indeed a For-Profit driven phenomenon is this:

    Since we have solid data indicating that upwards of 90% of For-Profit faculty are adjuncts, it’s also possible to estimate the adjunct growth that came from For-Profit colleges. Between 1991 (the first year the US Dept of Ed tracked for-profit hiring) and 2011, I estimate that For-Profits alone added almost 120,000 adjuncts to the employment ranks of U.S. higher ed. This number accounts for a whopping 25% of the adjunct growth in the same years – all despite For-Profits only accounting for a tenth of the US higher ed system at its peak.

    When only 1/10th of the education system contributes a full quarter of the adjunct phenomenon, it’s going to skew the totals upward.

  3. For profit or not, it still changes the make-up of the faculty as a whole–especially as for-profit models are still (even in the face of for-profit collapse) changing the way higher education is managed and how faculty are viewed. Impact, as they say, goes far beyond the silo. You can’t simply exclude the for-profits any more than you can divide types of contingent hires. So, even if you were right, your argument would have no relevance.

    • I’m not excluding the for-profits, Aaron. I’m simply breaking down their very pronounced and disproportionate role in the overall “adjunctification” phenomenon.

      Speaking of which, Martin notes above: “But let’s say that Magness is right and the statistics have been skewed by hiring at the for-profit institutions. Then we should be seeing very changed numbers as soon as the data for the last three years becomes available since there has been very dramatic declines in the enrollments at all of the largest online for-profit institutions—and the complete elimination of one of the largest of those institutions, Corinthian Colleges.”

      But we actually need not wait as those data are already starting to come out. Guess what they show – a decline in overall for-profit faculty numbers in 2013 and a corresponding decline in the total number of adjuncts since around 2010/11. In other words, my theory about the central role of the for-profits has come true.

      • If anything, the role of for-profits is underplayed. The model they use is incrementally becoming the model for higher education everywhere, one that reduces faculty on “as needed” hires with no share in governance.

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