Another Telling Report on the Increase in Contingent Faculty


What follows is a news release from the American Institutes for Research. It turns out (1) that hiring more adjunct and full-time non-tenure-eligible faculty has reduced instructional budgets but has not reduced institutional budgets and (2) that the reliance on contingent faculty has an inverse correlation with the compensation of tenure-eligible faculty—that is, the money not being spent on tenure-track positions is not going into the pockets of those who continue to hold such positions.

Colleges are increasingly hiring lower-paid part-time and limited-term contingent faculty, who in 2013 made up more than half of all instructors in higher education, finds an American Institutes for Research (AIR) study for the TIAA Institute. This trend has led to cost savings in salaries and benefits for instructors, but hasn’t translated to the same level of savings when looking at the total compensation of all employees.  

Part-time, also known as adjunct, contingent faculty working on contract, range from half of instructors at public bachelor’s degree-granting institutions to 83 percent at public community colleges. At public flagship universities, they account for 68 percent of faculty at the University of Washington-Seattle and about 40 percent of instructors at the University of California-Berkeley, the University of North Carolina and the University of Texas.

Between 2003 and 2013, the share of all faculty who were contingent increased from:

— 45 to 62 percent at public bachelor’s degree-granting institutions,

— 52 to 60 percent at private bachelor’s-granting schools,

— 44 to 50 percent at public research universities and

— 80 to 83 percent at community colleges. [My note: I wonder if those promoting baccalaureate degrees at community colleges have any concept of the implications of these numbers.] . . .

The AIR study shows that although hiring more contingent faculty helped schools tighten instructional compensation costs, total savings for all types of employees were more modest. When looking at total compensation per full-time faculty at private four-year schools, those with high shares of contingent instructors spent 37 percent less than those with small shares. But when looking at total compensation per full-time employee, this difference narrows to 19 percent. At public four-year schools, those with large shares of contingent instructors spent 24 percent less on total compensation per full-time faculty over those with small shares, with the difference dropping to 14 percent when accounting for total compensation per full-time employee.

Public four-year institutions appear to use savings in instructional costs to increase spending on maintenance [My note: I doubt that “maintenance” is the primary place to which the “savings” on the instructional side are being redirected], administrative and student-services staff in areas such as recruiting, admissions, counseling, student organizations and athletics. While community colleges and private four-year colleges also reduced instructional costs, they showed little cost-shifting.

The study, using data from AIR’s Delta Cost Project, is published in two reports, The Shifting Academic Workforce: Where Are the Contingent Faculty? and Cost Savings or Cost Shifting? The Relationship Between Part-Time and Contingent Faculty and Institutional SpendingBoth can be found at

17 thoughts on “Another Telling Report on the Increase in Contingent Faculty

  1. It is statistically misleading to conflate adjuncts and non-tenure track full time faculty under the single heading of “contingent” as this report does. The two types of faculty face very different labor market issues, and reporting them as if they were the same thing obscures the reality of what is happening in each.

    You would not know it from this report, but total adjunct numbers have actually been on the DECLINE since 2011 due to the for-profit college implosion. Non-TT full time faculty have increased.

    The AAUP’s own lack of clarity when addressing the labor markets of each group has not helped the confused state of reporting we are now witnessing in this study.

    • What are these “very different labor market issues” you refer to? My understanding is that the contingent faculty movement does not use the word “adjunct” because it means “non-essential.” Whether we are full-time or part-time, community college, public or private university faculty, we all are non-tenure eligible and are united by our contingency from year to year, poor compensation, restricted academic freedom, and being shut out of faculty governance. This report from Martin Kich shows us that American higher ed is still in sharp decline.

      • For one, there’s a substantial difference in salary. The median salary for a non-TT full timer is $50K + benefits. Adjuncts get about $3K per class.

        Second, there’s also a substantial difference in job expectations. Most non-TT full time faculty are also required to do university service and many have research expectations. Adjuncts are only paid to teach.

        Third, the minimal qualifications differ. Most non-TT full time positions expect the applicant to have a PhD. By contrast, greater than 60% of adjuncts do not have anything higher than a master’s degree. That makes them unlikely to be considered for non-TT full time positions.

        It’s not a matter of what each group prefers to be called that is essential, but rather what the job market stats for each tell us. Non-TT full time positions are increasing in number, but adjunct positions have been on the decline since 2011.

  2. As these shifts occur, has anyone done a parallel analysis as to what is happening to the academic programs and the distribution of the faculty in these programs from the sciences to the humanities, from undergraduate programs/requirements to research programs and the degrees being granted as well as changes in employment of graduates at all levels?

      • Thanks for the graph. Now that you have clearly pointed out the difference between tenure-track and adjunct positions and note the decline in adjunct positions, the question is whether the faculty, particularly both tenure track and non T-T are seeing a shift in the balance between undergraduate teaching and the upper division for research and graduate level programs. On any measure, numbers and percentages, are we seeing a decrease in those whose focus is in the research (pub/perish) and those whose responsibilities are more in the teaching arena.

        Particularly in public institutions, is there a shift in the teleology of the university and a rebalance in the emphasis on undergraduate (and some grad) programs with a focus on “competencies” not just in the economic arena but for civic participation? Perhaps a sharpening of the focus on the traditional research leading to reallocation support?

  3. Prof. Magness, it sounds like what you are talking about is the difference between FT and PT contingent faculty. We may have a language conflict here. Many of my PT colleagues nationwide have PhDs. Also many of my FT NTT colleagues do not have expectations for service, nor are they included in governance, and many do not have the PhD. I can accept your research on the decreasing numbers of PT faculty, but your description of faculty differences seems too cut and dried. We are all faculty, we should all be treated fairly, and the word “adjunct” should no longer be used in my opinion.

    • My description was based directly on a statistical depiction of a typical adjunct faculty profile. While there are absolutely exceptions (esp. among adjuncts who moonlight in the classroom in addition to their full time careers), the typical adjunct in the US:

      1. Does not have a terminal degree (surveys show 60-70% of adjuncts have no higher than a masters)
      2. Makes about $3K/class on a contract that includes no service and no research
      3. Teaches 1-2 classes a semester
      4. Self-reports spending less than 20 hours/week for the academic part of their income

      • Gosh, I guess the faculty I know just don’t fit your “statistical profile” as an “adjunct.” And I am a national activist. Their profiles are much more diverse than you describe, and most of them are highly committed to their work. Here is a thought: why don’t we as faculty advocate for each other in every institution, rather than seeing each other simply as members of a statistical class and competitors for resources. We are ALL in this together, our institutions cannot function without all of us, and the whole enterprise of higher ed is at stake.

  4. So basically your position is this:

    “Here’s an unverifiable anecdote about my anonymous friend who’s an adjunct and faces different circumstances than the statistically attested profile of the average adjunct in the U.S. Those stats are therefore wrong, and you have no choice but to accept my unverifiable anecdote in their place.”

    With critical thinking skills like that, it is little wonder why the full time job market remains uninterested in the people who exhibit them.

    • C’mon Man! (Our new national political mantra). I am seeing faculty all over the country who don’t fit this profile, not just an “anonymous friend.” Certainly you have a choice, but it is whether to accept one set of stats (that necessarily involves some subjective analysis) or you look more deeply into the population that has been surveyed. My POV is that you look at the faculty who are struggling, and there are plenty of them, and you try to help them to the extent that you can.

  5. Martin cites the two AIR studies. One of these looks at the shift in faculty, TT, full time non-TT and adjuncts (or other term). And it breaks this down by types of institutions from 4 year pvt to 2 yr or cc’s. Basically it shows a shift from full time T-T’s in the pub/perish to those focused on teaching. The nature of the post secondary universe, as suggested in the first study is changing from the scholarly faculty/student oriented idea of “the University” a la Berlin to the more recent bachelor/grad-rsch institution. And the faculty are caught in this shifting (disruption?). Thus both Phil and classical warrior are concerned about the “faculty” which the institutions are happy to allow when one looks at the second study

    The second study tries to understand what is happening with the cost savings resulting from this shift in distribution in types of faculty. What that report shows is that while there is a savings, a large portion, varying by type of institution, is absorbed in what is termed E&R, education and related which can run the gamut from admin to athletics to student services. Unfortunately that level of detail is not made transparent in this report.

    The over arching question now seems to be what is the teleology of these universities, that which is written on the frieze at the gate or over “old main”? And, does this hold whether it is a private research I institution or a 2 year institution? Who determines this? students in choosing where to matriculate, administration or, in the case of public institutions the governor and legislature. It doesn’t seem to be the faculty who are scrambling, or keeping their heads down and marching to the drummer for their daily bread.

    • You raise a very good point tabeles. Who indeed is setting the teleology as you refer to it? To your list of suspects I would add “dark money” donors who fund endowed chairs to support their political or economic agenda. I think you are right about the faculty (in all our myriad kinds of positions). We are hunkered down in our foxholes, trying to do our best to teach what we know without getting marginalized or terminated. It seems to me the way out is through strongly asserting our “shared governance,” even though many of us are kept out. What is your opinion?

      • At this present time and space, I think it is time that AAUP as a union and members as members enter into this conversation. This is a “union” moment for the United States. If one looks at the first AIR report on shifts in faculty positions it is clear that much of this has occurred with the tacit “consent” of the faculty on the various campuses and the faculty compliance. Academics are not the only ones that are not risk takers as early union organizers in industry have found out. When one spends, perhaps 20 years to Ph.D., it is very hard to abandon that investment at all levels. And, as in the early days, when one miner fell there were “n” willing to step into this hole. The same holds for non T-T and adjuncts who may be one paycheck away from sitting with their possessions and family on the curb- professional careers not withstanding.

        On the other hand, there are now entrepreneurial paths towards obtaining academic objectives for students who, with the creative inventiveness of the private sector are finding ways of bypassing the system. Slow but gaining understanding. Much to explore here for all parties and, perhaps visit some past efforts that still persist.

  6. Tabeles, thank you for your visionary statement about this being a “union moment” for the United States. I so hope that you are right and that faculty and the AAUP can step up in solidarity with all ranks of academics. Our problems are not that different, and we should abandon our Darwinian approach to success in academia.

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