Graduate Student - Sociology and Statistics - University of Pennsylvania
Every year, thousands of academic faculty retire or leave the profession. To replace them, thousands of new instructors are hired in their place. If staffing challenges were not enough, postsecondary administrators must also balance in enrollments of students to make sure that all courses are covered. Postsecondary enrollment has steadily climbed for decades, now. In the graph below, we see see that undergraduate enrollment increased by around 50% in the last two decades. About 22 million undergraduates were enrolled in postsecondary instututions in the fall of 2016.
In the graph on the right, we see that postsecondary institutions have continued to regularly hire full-time faculty. There has been linear growth of these faculty for at least the last decade. A growing percentage of these faculty members, however, are now working off the tenure track. This graph does not contain information on part-time faculty, who we know are also growing in numbers and percentages. Assuming that postsecondary institutions wish to maintain a student-teaching faculty ratio of about 34:1, they will need to hire another 50,000 full-time faculty members in the next five years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the hiring rate of academic faculty will be higher than most professions over the next decade.
An important question is "how might these changes impact students?" The student-teacher ratio is commonly viewed as a good measure of academic quality. When ratios are lower, students experience improved classroom environments and more learning. Some have challenged this assumption, but the consensus is that this ratio is important. In the graph below, we see that the hiring of faculty has failed to keep pace with the growing enrollment of undergraduates. This has lead to a jump in the student-teacher ratio from approximatley 32:1 to 35:1. Most of this slippage occured around the time of the financial crisis and the great recession. In the aftermath of the recovery, it does not seem as though postsecondary institutions have tried to catch up and increase faculty staffing.