Academic Labor Markets
Supply and Demand, Gender and Ethnicity, Salary Issues
The process by which colleges and universities acquire qualified applicants and hire faculty members, and by which academics seek and gain academic employment, is known as the academic labor market. Few general elements characterize the academic labor market. Depending on their mission, colleges and universities seek faculty with diverse backgrounds to perform different institutional roles. Likewise academics seek different positions depending upon their aspirations and education. The academic labor market fluctuates by demographics, the demands created by student preferences, and alterations in society's employment opportunities. Finally, the academic labor market is also influenced by social norms.
In the mid-nineteenth century American colleges tended to look very much the same. Led by an academic president, colleges employed a handful of faculty members who taught several subjects. In the twenty-first century postsecondary institutions range from community colleges that offer two-year associate degrees in the liberal arts and technical and pre-professional fields to research universities (often called multiversities) that provide baccalaureate through doctoral education, as well as televised football games. The distinction among these diverse institutions resides in their missions. Many colleges and smaller universities are dedicated primarily to teaching, whereas others attach great significance to their research output. Thus, the institutional mission defines the role of the faculty at a particular institution.
Teaching institutions search for and hire faculty members who are oriented primarily to the student and the classroom. In community colleges, instructors teach approximately fifteen hours, or five courses, per semester. At liberal arts (only baccalaureate degrees) and comprehensive (both baccalaureate and master's degrees) colleges, faculty members teach three or four courses per term. At the other end of the spectrum research universities seek academics who spend as much, if not more, of their time producing scholarship as they do in instructional activities. Since research university faculty members are expected to conduct and publish research results regularly, their teaching load generally consists of two courses each term.
Community colleges, therefore, tend to hire faculty members who are more interested in teaching than in research. Approximately two-thirds of the faculty in these two-year colleges have earned master's degrees, while only 15 percent possess the doctorate. In almost all other types of collegiate institutions, the doctorate, which educates recipients to a life of research, is a requirement for entry. Most four-year and master's degree institutions seek faculty members for their interest in teaching. As a result of their doctoral education, these faculty also often engage in research and publication. However, except for prestigious liberal arts colleges, most do not exist in a "publish or perish" environment.
The competition for faculty appointments at research universities extends beyond the possession of the doctorate. Those aspiring to a faculty position are rarely selected for an interview if they have not published several articles and given several presentations at professional meetings. In days gone by the prestige of a particular dissertation mentor brought a young scholar to the attention of a research university department seeking a new hire. Today, however, while a renowned mentor may still be helpful, an applicant's publishing career is just as important.
Supply and Demand
The institutional demands and professional preferences of faculty applicants are compounded by issues of supply and demand. The faculty supply depends in part on the output of graduate programs across the nation. When faculty positions are plentiful, students flock to graduate school–as they did in the late 1960s, when college enrollments soared. However, faculty members are not interchangeable across their specialties. If enrollment demands shift away from or towards certain academic programs, as they did in the mid-1970s, colleges and universities must respond by adjusting the distribution of faculty positions. By 1975 the supply of liberal arts faculty overwhelmed demand; thus many new Ph.D.s had to seek nonacademic employment and institutions hired instructors with more prestigious credentials than previously.
The supply of potential faculty members also depends on the professional interests and aspirations of graduate students. In 2000 there were 41,368 doctoral degrees awarded across the various fields, but these were not evenly distributed. Twenty-one percent of the doctorates were awarded in the life sciences, including biology and zoology, while only 2.5 percent were awarded in business. The number of graduates is only half the equation, however. The graduates' aspirations and the availability of nonacademic professional employment further reduce the supply. In engineering, for example, 5,330 doctorates were awarded in 2000, but 70 percent of these graduates intended to enter industry research positions rather than education. Nonacademic employment opportunities are uneven across fields, and thus create either expanded or limited career choices for doctoral graduates. Of all doctoral graduates in 2000, only 38 percent intended to seek a teaching position. The rest planned to enter research and development (31 percent), administration (12 percent), or professional services, such as counseling (12.5 percent). By field, graduates in the humanities aspired to teaching positions most often (74 percent), while only 11 percent of doctoral engineers planned to teach.
Gender and Ethnicity
The supply of faculty also involves gender and ethnicity differentials. Fields differ in attracting men and women, as well as members of various ethnic groups. In the early twenty-first century men continued to dominate some fields, such as engineering, physical science, and, to a lesser degree, business. In the year 2000 women earned 65 percent of the doctorates in education. Some other fields, such as humanities, social sciences, and life sciences, awarded doctorates in even proportions. All fields attract predominately white aspirants, but some fields appear to be slightly more attractive (or receptive) to members of certain ethnic groups. African Americans are slightly more likely to enter education (12.4 %) than other fields, while Asian Americans lean more toward engineering (17.5%).
On the demand side, social norms have affected the hiring of women and ethnic minorities in colleges and universities. The proportion of women within American faculties increased throughout the 1990s. By 1997, women composed 36 percent of all full-time instructional faculty; however, women are more likely to be employed as full-time faculty members within two-year (47%), rather than four-year (33%), colleges. The gender distribution among all part-time faculty gives a slight advantage to men (53%).
Institutions of higher education attempted to recruit faculty of color to campuses throughout the 1980s and the 1990s through affirmative action programs. However, the ethnic distribution still does not reflect national demographics. In 1998, 85 percent of the faculty were white, 6 percent were Asian, 5 percent were African American, and 3 percent were Hispanic. Colleges and universities with enrollments consisting predominantly of one ethnic group (e.g., African American, Hispanic, Native American) tend to employ higher percentages of that ethnic group than other institutions. Approximately 16 percent of African-American faculty members teach in historically black institutions. This pattern reduces the distribution of faculty of color within the general labor market. Finally, high-demand labor markets support the hiring of minorities, whereas a high-supply market merely creates more competition across ethnic lines and seems to favor white candidates.
Salaries offered to faculty recruits largely depend on the type of institution, the rank at which a faculty member is hired, the field, and, to some degree, gender and ethnicity. Faculty members in public institutions receive 22 percent less compensation than their private-institution colleagues. On the whole, faculty members earn an average of $8,600 more at four-year institutions than at two-year institutions, and two-year college faculty average 55 percent less than doctoral university faculty. Those who work in research earn higher salaries than faculty in teaching institutions. The salary differentials between institutional types largely spring from the imperative to recruit and retain faculty members who are at the forefront of knowledge in their fields.
Although 69 percent of American faculty teach in four-year colleges, 82 percent of Asian-American faculty members are employed at these institutions. Two-thirds of the Asian-American faculty are men. Not surprisingly then, Asian-American faculty average higher salaries than any other ethnic group. Full-time Hispanic faculty members earn slightly below-average salaries, in part because 43 percent of all Hispanic faculty teach in two-year colleges and 48 percent are part-time faculty.
Men still take home more money than women do, regardless of rank. The gender differentiation in salary is sometimes explained by the short length of time women have served as faculty, or by their lower publication rates, resulting in employment at lower ranks. Indeed, only 16 percent of all full-time women faculty are full professors, while 32 percent of all full-time men have attained this rank. However, men comprise 80 percent of all full professors. In 1998 the average female professor earned $8,500 less than her male counterpart. This pay inequity crosses ethnic lines as well. Seventy-one percent of all professors are white men. Within the other ethnic groups, men also dominate the highest rank: 63 percent of all black professors, 85 percent of all Asian professors, and 73 percent of all Hispanic professors are men. Thus, women across all ethnic groups have yet to emerge proportionately into the highest ranks, and thus receive higher salaries.
Salary is also associated with field differentiation. Humanities and education, which attract significant numbers of women, are among the lower-paying fields, whereas engineering, law, and business, fields still dominated by men, produce higher salaries. In the 1999–2000 academic year, the salary difference between high-paying fields and low-paying fields, on average, was $24,000 for professors and $16,000 for assistant professors.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century few institutions are experiencing the rapid growth in enrollment, and thus the massive faculty hiring, of the late 1960s. Tight institutional finances and the need for flexibility have also changed the demand for faculty. As states cut back their support of public institutions, and as private institutions attempt to hold down escalating tuition costs, the sizable group of retiring faculty has enabled institutions to establish new hiring patterns. Rather than automatically replacing retirees with tenure-track assistant professors, many institutions have instituted non-tenure-track positions or hired part-time faculty to fill the classrooms. In 1997 only 73 percent of the faculty in public four-year colleges were full-time employees, while 59 percent of those at private four-year colleges were full-time. Students are more likely to be taught by part-time faculty at community colleges, where 66 percent of the faculty have part-time status. Private colleges and universities appear to have more opportunity to experiment with non-tenure-track and part-time positions than public institutions. Only 58 percent of their faculty are tenured, as opposed to 66 percent in public colleges and universities.
In ways similar to other labor markets, academe is composed of various types of organizations with differing needs. Its academic staff and its hiring patterns are changing as society changes its demands for education and its norms for equality.
BALDWIN, ROGER, and CHRONISTER, JAY. 2001. Teaching without Tenure: Policies and Practices for a New Era. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.
FAIRWEATHER, JAMES S. 1996. Faculty Work and Public Trust: Restoring the Value of Teaching and Public Service in American Academic Life. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
FINKELSTEIN, MARTIN J., and SCHUSTER, JACK H. 2001. "Assessing the Silent Revolution." AAHE Bulletin 54 (2):3–7.
FINKELSTEIN, MARTIN J.; SEAL, ROBERT K.; and SCHUSTER, JACK H. 1998. The New Academic Generation: A Profession in Transformation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
FINNEGAN, DOROTHY E.; WEBSTER, DAVID; and GAMSON, ZELDA F., eds. 1996. Faculty and Faculty Issues in Colleges and Universities. ASHE Reader Series. Needham Heights, MA: Simon and Schuster Custom Publishing.
GLAZER-RAYMO, JUDITH. 1999. Shattering the Myths: Women in Academe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
MANRIQUE, CECILIA G., and MANRIQUE, GABRIEL G. 1999. The Multicultural or Immigrant Family in American Society. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press.
NATIONAL CENTER FOR EDUCATIONAL STATISTICS. 1997–1998. Integrated Postsecondary Data System. <www.nces.ed.gov/ipeds>.
DOROTHY E. FINNEGAN
- The Academic Major - The Rise of the Disciplines and Majors, Structure, Interdisciplinary Majors, Academic Majors Students and Disciplinary Knowledge
- Academic Freedom and Tenure - Roots of Academic Freedom, Restrictions on Academic Freedom, Tenure