Employment volatility in the academic workforce: Implications for faculty financial and retirement plans

June 2021

Short-term appointments in the academic workforce account for roughly two thirds of all faculty positions. Yet little is known about this segment’s financial needs, experiences and professional stability.


This study examines how faculty with volatile and insecure appointments (“adjunct faculty”) navigate their financial planning and retirement needs. The findings are intended to inform programs and strategies that financial firms and employing institutions can implement to help these individuals improve their saving and retirement prospects.

Key Insights
55% of adjuncts participating in the study report feeling comfortable with their knowledge of retirement plans and the retirement process in general.
60% of those who are employed at multiple institutions have participated in a retirement plan, while 46% of those employed at one institution have done so.
45% of those employed at multiple institutions currently have employer health insurance, while 27% of those employed at one institution have it.
45% of faculty employed at multiple institutions expressed concern about their ability to retire, compared to 36% of those employed at one institution.

The researchers collected data on a wide array of faculty holding volatile appointments at a diverse set of institutions and interviewed 40 faculty members. Responses provided by each participant were contextualized by relying on data mining and visualization techniques. The evolution of participants’ responses are shown.