Here Today, Gone Tomorrow? The Increasingly Contingent Faculty Workforce

March 2013
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The use of non-tenure-track and part-time faculty in U.S. colleges and universities is on the rise, altering the composition of the academic workforce in fundamental ways. This project investigated the “contingency movement” using a variety of analytic approaches, including extensive literature review, quantitative analysis of over two decades of national institutional data, and onsite interviews with contingent and non-contingent faculty at a research university, a private liberal arts college, and a public masters-level institution. Examining descriptive trend data, we found that for-profit colleges have been especially committed since the 1980s to contingent hiring, while the more “elite” liberal arts and research university sectors have been slower to make such moves. The move to contingency has been virtually universal across postsecondary education, however. To investigate these trends more systematically, we undertook longitudinal quantitative modeling of our panel data. These analyses produced several striking findings. First, less historically “institutionalized” postsecondary sectors have been the most likely to adopt contingent hiring, but barriers to such hiring have been eroding progressively over recent years. Second, different kinds of contingent employment have somewhat differing roots. For example, research universities have aggressively begun employing full-time non-tenure-track faculty in recent years, but have not been nearly as committed to part-time hiring as institutions in other sectors. And finally, private institutions are moving more speedily than their public counterparts toward resembling for-profit institutions in their employment profiles.