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With The Changing Economy–How Many Can Teach?

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When prices and wages go up in the economy as a whole, costs in colleges and universities go up at an even faster rate; most of what is spent falls in sectors most sensitive to inflation. Historically, services, fuel, and food lead price advances, whereas producer durables and consumer durables trail, and colleges and universities spend more for of colleges already accepting almost all applicants, many are likely to lose enrollments.

Even among colleges that have had difficulty filling classrooms during the years of expansion, faculty shrinkage would not necessarily match shrinkage in student numbers. Many such colleges exist for reasons other than simple demand for educational services. Two decades from now, there may be a revived demand for higher education. On the basis of this possibility, civic leaders in small towns and suburbs might keep local colleges operating no matter how few young people attend them. Similar decisions might be made by clergymen and laymen responsible for church-related schools. In some instances colleges may be kept alive by loyal alumni.

In demand for college teachers, the more selective and the less selective institutions could, during a long-swing decline, form different markets, virtually walled off from one another. The more selective group could continue to have more or less constant enrollments and hence constant need for replacement faculty, regardless of what happened in the less selective institutions. In Pennsylvania, for example, West Chester State and Gettysburg College, each of which reports turning away one applicant in three, could still need teachers even if Harrisburg Community College and Waynesburg College, which appear to accept nearly all applicants, run short of students and have to lay off faculty. As labor markets, one sector could be merely sluggish, whereas the other could feel most of the effects of ups and downs in enrollments.

If the enrollment decline were 20% or more, somewhat less than one-quarter of colleges and universities would not be affected. If the decline were only 10% or so, as many as half could be in that position. Employing disproportionate numbers of faculty and steadily replacing professors who died or retired, these institutions would have between 4000 and 7000 new career openings every year. On the other hand, people not lucky enough to get jobs in selective schools would find themselves competing for a handful of jobs, many in institutions whose own survival might well be in question. (See Table 1.11.)

Of course, however much total faculty numbers may fall, conditions for teachers of English; modern languages, history, and philosophy could be different from conditions for teachers as a whole. During the decades of expansion, proportions in these fields dropped. In part, this shift can be traced to the growth of 2-year colleges, where teachers in the humanities are less in demand. In still larger part, the shift was due to the abandonment or modification of requirements in English, modern languages, and history. Philosophy, a required subject in only a few schools, suffered less of a falling off. (See Table 1.1.)

On the other hand, some forces that worked during the 1960s and 1970s to preserve demand for humanities faculty are likely to have less effect in the future. Undergraduates used to be able to indulge their interest in literature or history by rationalizing their studies as possible preparation for a teaching career. The Higher Education Research Institute surveys found a decrease in college freshmen planning to major in the humanities, from 22% in 1970 to below 5% in 1980. Although this situation may change, nothing in the occupational outlook is likely to make it do so. Fragmentary evidence from a few universities suggests that faculty hiring is more a function of numbers of majors than numbers of course enrollments. Except in English composition and elementary foreign language, the return of requirements could bring larger classes without any added demand for faculty.

If there are fewer graduate students in the humanities that, too, will have a depressing effect, especially at universities where graduate programs kept proportions of faculty in the humanities high when national trends ran otherwise.

Whatever the trend, there will be some openings for college teachers. To be sure, many young professors were hired during the boom of the 1960s and early 1970s. Less than two-fifths of the faculty members given life tenure before 1978 will die or retire before the year 2000; at least in 4-year colleges and universities, more than three-quarters of the Ph.D.'s teaching humanities have such tenure. (See Tables 1.12 and 1.13.) For practical purposes, tenured faculty can be fired only if their schools can prove in court inability to pay their salaries. Even so, their numbers do not seriously constrain possibilities for replacement appointments on college and university faculties. In the worst foreseeable circumstance, they do not tie down more than 40% of all faculty posts in English, modern languages, history, and philosophy. (See Table 1.14.)

The key question, both for students contemplating graduate work and for all people concerned about humanistic scholarship, has to do with numbers of additional people who can hope to acquire tenure-to spend their lives on college faculties. These projections, even if one adopts optimistic assumptions about total faculty numbers and hypothesizes a sharp upward trend in the proportions of professors in the major humanities, are disquieting. Until the last years of the century, they do not approach the levels of the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, the most optimistic estimate of the average number of new openings, full-time and part-time, in 1981-2000, is less than half the average for 1956-1980. That for new full-time openings is about a third the average for the earlier period. (Compare Table 1.15 with Table 1.8).

Although the numbers of professors with tenure are not large enough to close off all openings, they are sufficient to stir concern among university and college administrators. A tenured teacher usually costs more than a new hire, and administrators will surely try to keep down the proportion of replacement appointees given long-term appointments. The prospect is thus that, in the best of circumstances, comparatively few critics, historians, or philosophers can expect opportunities to spend their lives in college teaching. 'Figures are based on Table 1.12, assuming retirement 40 years after receipt of Ph.D. and constant mortality rates for age-groups.

For people interested in doing graduate work, teaching for a few years but not making a career of it, openings are likely to be abundant. In fact, the number of short-term vacancies could be much higher than in the past because the proportion of resignations could greatly increase the turnover rate. At the end of the 1970s, academic pay was increasing at 6% a year, but pay in other occupations was going up at an average of 8% a year. Though rates of increase improved at the end of the 1970s, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) estimated that, in constant dollars, professors' incomes had fallen 20% during the 1970s.If that trend should continue, a professor netting the same income as a craftsman in 1980 would by the 1990s be taking home less than three-quarters as much. To be sure, the reported figures are deceptive, for at least four out of five faculty members in 4-year colleges and universities supplement their salaries through summer school or extension teaching or other means. With the total student population shrinking, government agencies more selective and relatively less generous in employing professors as consultants, and publishers less free with contracts and advances, opportunities for outside earnings, however, have also waned. The actual economic condition of professors may therefore be even worse than the AAUP reckons.

In consequence, more college teachers may quit for the sake of higher income in some other line of work; humanities professors may not lag behind professors in other fields, for survey data suggest that they are only a little less interested than

Chronicle of Higher Education, 17 November 1980, pp. 1, 8.Teachers in other fields in the size of their paychecks. The standard turnover rate could rise above 2%.

It is even possible to develop a plausible argument that numbers of college teachers will remain as high as in the 1960s and 1970s but their salaries will constantly worsen. The basic assumption would be that, although enrollments might trigger an increase in faculty numbers during periods of expansion, revenues would be a more powerful determinant during any long period of contraction.

Enrollment declines would have immediate impact only on the 15-20% of college and university income that is drawn from tuition and fees. Although the 50% or so that comes from the federal government and state and local governments would be affected, lobbying by college administrators, teachers' unions, alumni groups, and civic leaders would prevent reductions from keeping pace with reductions in enrollments. The 30% of income from gifts, interest or endowment, auxiliary enterprises, and so on would not necessarily be affected. Indeed, it might rise. (A college with a smaller number of students could, for example, have more space to rent out for conventions or exhibitions.)

The decline in college and university revenues might thus proceed at less than half the rate of decline in enrollments. Depending on the extent to which operating costs could be held constant and the extent to which faculty members will accept a decline in real wages, total numbers of faculty could remain relatively high. Even with very low enrollments, there could be as many college teaching jobs by the end of the 1990s as at the beginning of the 1980s.

Members would settle for real wages up to 15% below the average of 1980. Alternatively, they could keep the average wage of 1980 but see total numbers of job openings vary.12 (See Table 1.16.)

Despite evidence that demand for faculty in the 1970s could have been reasonably estimated during the late 1950s, the confidence level for any projection is low. The more disaggregated the projection, the lower that level. Hence no one can say with assurance that the 1980s and 1990s will see a certain number of professorships open up in English or history. On the other hand, it is apparent that the forces at work during those decades could well reduce to relatively small numbers the career openings in college teaching suitable for people whose true vocation is humanistic scholarship.

If there is an increase in enrollments, the teaching jobs opened will be chiefly in 2-year colleges and nonselective 4-year colleges where schedules and other demands often preclude scholarly research and writing. If faculty numbers are sustained because average faculty wages go down, even professorships in select colleges and universities could lose attractiveness in the eyes of all would-be scholars except those with private means. Hence, without presuming actually to forecast any numbers, we suggest that prudent planning by graduate departments, by counselors of graduating seniors, and by anyone contemplating graduate work should assume that, at least through the mid-1990s, the average number of career openings in college teaching suitable for people intent on scholarship will, give or take 50%, be in the neighborhood of 300 in English, 150 each in modern languages and history, and 50-60 in philosophy. (See Table 1.15.)
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