The Shifting Academic Workforce: Where Are the Contingent Faculty?

Steven Hurlburt, Delta Cost Project/AIR
Michael McGarrah, AIR

Contingent faculty—that is, full- and part-time instructors not on the tenure track—now comprise the majority of all faculty at U.S. colleges and universities. This shift in the academic workforce is well documented; what is less understood is the concentration of contingent faculty at different institutional types, the nature of their contracts, and how student outcomes are affected by the shift.

There is widespread concern about job security, working conditions, and diminished future prospects for contingent faculty, particularly among part-time contingent (adjunct) faculty, as well as the potential effects of this trend upon student learning.

With the collaboration and support of the TIAA Institute, AIR presents a profile of the contingent workforce, examining the number and percentage of non-tenure-track faculty at colleges and universities based on a variety of institutional characteristics. The first of a two-part series, the goal of this brief, The Shifting Academic Workforce: Where Are the Contingent Faculty?, is to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the landscape surrounding changes to the academic workforce, and to identify whether contingent faculty are more likely to be employed in certain types of institutions.

The second brief will evaluate how the concentration of contingent faculty—and the changing concentration of these faculty—relate to various measures of institutional spending.

Key Findings

  • Contingent faculty have increasingly joined the academic workforce across all types of institutions. By 2013, contingent faculty accounted for at least half of all instructional faculty across all types of institutions.
  • Part-time positions of one year or less make up the largest share of non-tenure-track positions at all types of institutions. The employment status of these non-tenure-track contingent faculty is tenuous, allowing institutions to hire and relieve most of their contingent instructional staff relatively quickly over a short period of time.
  • Contingent faculty have substituted for tenure or tenure-track faculty in most types of institutions.
  • Colleges and universities with higher shares of students at risk of noncompletion also have higher shares of contingent faculty, particularly among private four-year institutions.