The job outlook for university professors is a bundle of contradictions, confusing — and threatening — even the most prestigious of teachers. While a generation of professors is retiring and leaving new job openings, the economy is still crumbling, and slashed state budgets and diminished endowments make it difficult for schools to pay competitive salaries, or keep full-time professors on staff. Part-time and online positions are increasing, however, and professors now need to be even savvier about how they track their careers, just like professionals in other fields.
Here are 10 telling employment trends for academics.
- Young employees are leaving universities: Higher education is bracing itself for a major hit as big-name and long-tenured professors are about to retire. Young teachers are needed to not only fill basic teaching needs but to take on new leadership responsibilities at their universities, but schools aren’t able to hang on to their new talent. Higher Ed Live reports that young professionals are leaving jobs in all industries within two years in hopes of trading up for something better. Even within higher ed, qualified young professionals are finding more profitable opportunities in the private sector, or leaving altogether. Until colleges and universities become more innovative in terms of retaining talent and cultivating exciting opportunities for their employees, colleges are going to be scrambling to hold on to any teachers — at any age.
- Vocational teachers hold more jobs than professors at traditional colleges: Out of over 1.5 million jobs that postsecondary teachers held in 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that vocational educators held 120,000 positions, the third biggest group of teachers (graduate teaching assistants was number one). This trend points to an increase in online education and a boost to the vocational-oriented education sector as a whole. While jobs still exist at traditional four-year universities, more and more professors are noticing better employment opportunities at community colleges, through distance learning platforms and at technical schools.
- Adjuncts have less support from academic institutions: Comparable to an independent contractor or a freelancer, adjunct professors are compensated for each class they teach, but don’t benefit from the same support as tenured or even full-time professors, like paid sabbatical or other forms of research sponsorship. Susan de la Vergne wrote for The Chronicle of Higher Education that while the flexibility of an adjunct’s life is desirable, adjunct professors aren’t being trained to become better mentors or teachers. Conferences, memberships to networks and associations, and other teaching development opportunities simply don’t exist for adjuncts.
- Even tenured professors are getting the boot: State budget crises are cutting into higher education spending so deeply that even full-time, tenured professors are losing their jobs. MSBNC reported in March that 43 states have cut their higher ed budgets since late 2007, and whole departments and campuses are in danger of disappearing. And even community colleges are laying off teachers, even though enrollment at those institutions is on the rise across the nation. There’s a desperate need for professors, but little money to pay for them.
- Professors in fields with more competitive employment alternatives earn more: It isn’t fair, but professors in fields like business, medicine, engineering and the sciences consistently earn more than teachers in other fields, as they’re considered a greater “catch” by universities. Because the pay scale for professionals in those disciplines is extremely competitive if they were to leave academia and find jobs in the corporate world, government or the private sector, they’re able to demand higher salaries for the same types of contracts at their colleges. Professors in the humanities don’t have as many options when it comes to employment, and higher ed institutions take advantage of these limitations.
- Social networking is part of the job description: Professors at all types of universities — including campus-based and online schools — are savvier than ever when it comes to social media and connecting with students via tech tools. A recent survey reviewed by SocialShield’s blog found that 59% of college faculty members maintain more than one social networking account and 52% use some kind of digital tools — wikis, podcasts, blogs and videos — as teaching supplements. To be competitive in the job market and to keep up with the expectations of students and administrators, it’s imperative that professors develop creative strategies for using social networking and multimedia with students and colleagues.
- The best opportunities lie with part-time and non-tenure positions: Bad news for professors looking for full-time work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the best opportunities for teaching jobs will be in part-time and non-tenure positions, over the next seven years at least. Expect major competition for full-time jobs, especially as colleges continue to cut budgets.
- Academia will see growth in the online education sector: Instructors and professors should take advantage of the significant shift towards online education and the teaching opportunities it provides. The University of California is even training volunteer professors to lead online classes, preparing for a budget-friendly trend that allows them to hold on to their talent.
- For-profit positions have doubled in recent years: A 2009 survey conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education revealed that faculty positions at for-profit institutions leapt from 4% to 8% between 2003 and 2007. During the same period, positions at nonprofit universities stayed exactly the same, at 28%. Full-time positions began to decline, while part-time employment is gradually increasing.
- Student evaluations could kill your career: Students appear to be punishing their professors — or at least the ones who make them think. An Ohio State University study conducted by three economists found that college students value good looks and easy graders on evaluations, and are harshly critical of professors who challenge them intellectually and are less straightforward in their teaching style. Women and foreign-born professors are also more likely to receive poor evaluations, giving those professors an unfair disadvantage when official tenure evaluations come along.