You Want Fries With That Degree?

March 28, 2007

The McDonaldization of higher education proceeds apace:

New data from the U.S. Education Department confirm what faculty leaders increasingly bemoan: The full-time, tenure-track faculty member is becoming an endangered species in American higher education.

A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that of the 1,314,506 faculty members at colleges that award federal financial aid in fall 2005, 624,753, or 47.5 percent, were in part-time positions. That represents an increase in number and proportion from 2003, the last full survey of institutions, when 543,137 of the 1,173,556 professors (or 46.3 percent) at degree-granting institutions were part timers. (The statistics may not be directly comparable because the department reported part-time/full-time figures only for degree-granting institutions in 2003, and for all Title IV institutions in 2005.)

The new report, “Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2005, and Salaries of Full-Time Instructional Faculty, 2005-06,” also finds the proportion of all professors who are tenured or on the tenure track to be shrinking. Of the 675,624 full-time faculty members at degree-granting colleges and universities in 2005, 414,574, or 61.4 percent, were either tenured or on the tenure track. That is down from the 411,031 of 630,419 (or 65.2 percent) of professors at degree-granting institutions who were tenured or tenure track in 2003.

I once gave very serious consideration to the idea of a career in academe, but even then the handwriting was on the wall: adjuncts were doing more and more teaching, and the future held out the none-too-enticing prospect of having to crisscross the state from one part-time teaching job to another in the quest for a subsistence living. (I was already in newspapers, so I knew all about subsistence living.)

I write, of course, as an alumnus of Rutgers University, which recently made its head football coach the highest-paid state employee.

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