Report: Colleges Trim Costs by Hiring Part-Time Faculty But Savings Undercut by Increases in Benefits Costs and Hiring of Non-Instructional Staff

Washington, D.C. – Colleges and universities increasingly rely on part-time faculty to meet instructional demands and rein in costs, but rising benefit costs and increased hiring for other types of positions have undercut those savings, a new report by the Delta Cost Project at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) finds.

Labor Intensive or Labor Expensive? Changing Staffing and Compensation Patterns in Higher Education shows that part-time faculty and graduate assistants account for at least half of instructional staff at many colleges and universities. Institutions continue to hire full-time faculty, but the pace typically lags behind student enrollment at public colleges, and the new faculty often fill non-tenure track positions.

“The most striking change in higher education staffing over the past two decades has been the continuing increase in the use of part-time instructors,” says AIR researcher Donna Desrochers. “But even with these cost-saving staffing changes, total compensation costs per employee continued to rise steadily for most of the past decade.”

Delta Cost Report: Increased reliance on part-time college faculty

Researchers Desrochers and Rita Kirshstein found widespread increases in the number of administrative jobs – with mid-level professional positions like business analysts, human resource staff, counselors and health workers driving the growth. Professional staff increased twice as fast as executive and managerial positions and account for nearly 20 to 25 percent of all campus jobs. However, the authors found colleges and universities are investing in professional jobs that provide non-instructional student services – such as counseling, admissions, and financial aid and athletics – rather than just business-related services.

"Contrary to some public perceptions, faculty salaries are not the leading cause of rising spending or tuition increases in higher education. The average salary for full-time faculty has stayed flat from 2002 to 2010,” says Desrochers. “Additional hiring and benefits – including medical plans, Social Security taxes and retirement contributions – are driving much of the increase in overall compensation costs.”

Other notable findings:

  • Between 2000 and 2012, the public and private nonprofit higher education workforce grew by 28 percent, 50 percent faster than in the previous decade. Much of this growth is due to rising enrollment as the millennial generation entered college.
  • By 2012, public research universities and community colleges averaged 16 fewer employees per 1,000 full-time students than in 2000. Private colleges, on the other hand, employed 15 to 26 additional workers on average per 1,000 full-time students during the same period, as hiring outpaced enrollment growth.
  • Part-time faculty and graduate assistants provided additional capacity at well-funded research universities and private colleges, but replaced new full-time positions at broadly accessible public institutions.
  • The average number of faculty and nonprofessional staff per administrator declined by roughly 40 percent in most types of four-year colleges and universities between 1990 and 2012, and now averages 2.5 or fewer faculty and staff per administrator.

The report is available at and

In this video interview, AIR researcher Donna Desrochers explains how rising benefit costs and increased hiring for other types of positions has undercut those savings and what that means for rising college tuitions.

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce productivity. For more information, visit


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