Faculty Careers and Flexible Employment

January 2006

Major changes in the faculty labor market are pushing colleges and universities to consider more flexible policies. As more young women enter the academic marketplace during their prime childbearing years, and as large numbers of faculty enter their 60’s, colleges and universities are exploring ways to negotiate these unprecedented work force changes. This report, based on research undertaken with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, explores why as many as half of all colleges and universities now offer flexible employment options. New data from a federal survey of faculty shows that just over half – 50.3% – of all faculty hired in the 5 years preceding 2004 were female. And the mean age of all faculty, who are now free to choose when they retire, has increased from 46 to 49 since 1988. Consequently, more support is being developed for young faculty with families and early retirement, phased retirement, and retirement incentives are helping older faculty step away from careers as they approach traditional retirement age. This report concludes with a series of recommendations, including: Accommodations for spousal employment. Provisions for campus childcare (or compensation for options like a nanny). Providing resources such as grant funds to conduct research, hire graduate assistants, and hire home help when family obligations compete. Making goals of policies explicit, e.g., encouraging more retirements or retaining more senior faculty. Adopting policies that provide faculty transitioning into retirement with adequate income, health insurance, access to professional colleagues, and support for teaching and research. Allowing individuals to negotiate retirement options that consider both their needs and their institutions’ needs. Flexibility is important because there will be fewer qualified applicants for more faculty jobs in the foreseeable future. The competition from opportunities in other fields will be strong. Colleges and universities may have little choice as competition for talent increases and as other employers make their jobs more attractive to the best and brightest.