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Opportunities for humanists to earn a living through college teaching appear to be dwindling.

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Of 150 million adult Americans, not many more than 100,000 qualify as humanists. Anyone claiming the label probably does not deserve it. Few would even style themselves historians or critics or philosophers. Asked what they are, most answer "teacher" or "professor". For, in living memory, history, literature, and philosophy have been seriously studied in the United States chiefly by people teaching in colleges or universities. All but a handful of scholars in these fields are either teachers or students enrolled in doctoral programs.

In 1930 the number of full-time college teachers was approximately 82,000. The number of graduate students was 47,000. These statistics included teachers and graduate students in all academic fields-science, education, and business as well as the humanities. By 1950 the number of teachers had doubled and the number of graduate students had increased six fold. At the end of the 1970s, the Office of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported full-time college teachers numbering in the neighborhood of 450,000, and graduate students, full-time and part-time, numbering over a million.

The number of college teachers in the humanities had not grown at an equivalent rate. Twenty percent of the total in earlier years, they formed smaller proportions later. A survey of department heads conducted in the mid-1970s by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) found the number of full-time faculty teaching English, modern languages, history, and philosophy to be about 61,000, which was only 14% of the total full-time college faculty counted contemporaneously by the NCES. (See Table 1.1.) Though no comparable survey has been made since the mid-1970s, the American Historical Association estimates the number of full-time college teachers of history to have fallen from 12,900 in 1975 to 10,875 in 1980 - from 3% of all college teachers to about 2.4%.

The reason for the declining opportunities is the traditional link between college teaching and scholarship in the humanities, the first question to be asked concerns the number of such opportunities there are likely to be during the next decade or two. To estimate this number is not simple. To estimate openings in particular disciplines is harder still. Associations of engineers have regularly projected shortages and then after a few years had to say red-facedly that in actuality surpluses had developed. As Richard Freeman has explained, forecasts attracted college freshmen and sophomores to engineering and thus created a later glut. Anyone trying to project demand for college teachers has to take warning from this example and also to bear in mind the possible influence of some event not now foreseen.

Demand for college teachers, however, is not quite the same as demand for engineers. New jobs for engineers can be created by new technology, by shifts in public interest-as from clean air to energy-or by many other changes; however, new jobs for college teachers can develop from one of only three conditions: (a) more students; (b) fewer students per teacher; and (c) replacement needs created by deaths, retirements, and resignations.

Since most of the college-age population has already been born, the pool of potential students is known, and projections can be made of numbers likely to attend college. Extrapolation from historical evidence on student-teacher ratios, turnover rates, and proportions in particular fields can yield projections of numbers of openings for teachers. A review of what such extrapolation would have yielded in the past suggests that the projections deserve to be taken seriously.

It is instructive to consider projections that simple assumptions would have produced in the middle of 1957, with no intimation that Sputnik I would soon go into orbit. As of July 1957, Census Bureau data showed a national birthrate that had been rising on a gradient resembling the takeoff path of a jet plane. Junior high schools and elementary schools were aswarm. The freshmen for the first half of the 1970s, then in cradles and playpens, were even more plentiful. Over the preceding century, moreover, the proportions of youngsters graduating from high school and going on to college had been steadily going up. With a graph of these past trends and a volume of Vital Statistics, anyone able to use a slide rule could have projected mid-1970s college enrollments of between 8 and 10 million-the lower figure if the 1920-1956 curve were extrapolated, the higher if only the curve of 1946-1956 were extended. In actuality, enrollments were to total just under 10 million.

To go on to estimate demand for faculty would have involved more guesswork. Although historical data on population and enrollment trends might have been suspect, they were wonderfully precise as compared with data on faculty, for criteria used to distinguish full-timers from part-timers and senior faculty from junior faculty varied from institution to institution and year to year. (Who are considered faculty and who are not, how they are counted and by whom, it should be said, remain unclear.) As of 1957, one could have done no better than to assume that the ratio of faculty, full-time and part-time, to students, also full-time and part-time, would re-main around 1:10, as over most of the preceding century. Such an assumption would have yielded a projection that total college faculty by the mid-1970s would be between 800,000 and 1 million. And, in fact, official counts as of 1976 were to put total faculty at around 950,000. (See Table 1.2.)

A projection of full-time faculty would have been equally near the bull's-eye. As of the mid-1950s, more than a third of the total college faculty consisted of teaching assistants and others not filling the category of "faculty, instructor and above." Of those considered faculty, 3 out of 10 were employed part-time. Thus for practical purposes, full-time faculty represented about 44% of the total faculty. On an assumption that this proportion would remain constant, estimated numbers of full-time faculty as of the mid-1970s would have run between 350,000 and 440,000. The actual figure was to be around 430,000. (See Table 1.3.)

By assuming that the proportion of full-time faculty in the humanities would remain constant, at about 20%, one would have forecast an increase from 30,000 to about 80,000. In reality, as already noted, the proportion of faculty in these fields dipped to below 14%, with the resulting 1975 total almost 20,000 below what would have been projected.

Estimates made in 1957 from very crude assumptions and data, without foreknowledge of Sputnik, would thus have been inexact but not wholly detached from reality. What developed in aggregate enrollments, faculty, and even full-time faculty fell well within the range of what would have been projected. A guess as to faculty totals in the humanities would have been off by around 25%.
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