Should I Stay or Should I Go? The Faculty Retirement Decision

December 2011

Senior faculty fall into three groups—25% who expect to retire by a normal retirement age; 15% who expect to, but would prefer not to, work past normal retirement age; and 60% who would like to and expect to work past normal retirement age. Financial necessity is a major reason for most of those expecting to work past normal retirement age. By contrast, 90% of those expecting and hoping to work to an advanced age cite enjoyment of their work and the fulfillment it provides as a major reason. Many colleges and universities are institutionally challenged by senior faculty who remain “too long.” Addressing the challenge requires addressing the relevant barriers dependent upon whether faculty are reluctantly reluctant to retire or reluctant by choice to retire. In each case, unconfirmed assumptions often appear to underlie the barriers—assumptions regarding personal finances in the case of those reluctantly reluctant and assumptions regarding viable fulfilling alternatives to academe in the case of those reluctant by choice. Traditional strategies such as buyouts have primarily addressed financial barriers. But the reluctantly reluctant subset accounts for only 20% of reluctant retirees among senior faculty. Making a long-run breakthrough requires addressing the 80% who are reluctant by choice, and this requires the development of alternative strategies to complement existing ones.