Retirement benefits for adjunct faculty

June 2020

Some adjuncts appear to be unaware of their eligibility to participate in a retirement savings plan at the college or university where they work.


Previous TIAA Institute research found that over a third of adjunct faculty had not saved for retirement in the previous year. Among these non-savers, 74% indicated they either had no plan available from their employer or were unsure whether they did, and 58% reported they likely would have contributed had a plan existed. To gauge the actual extent of retirement savings plan coverage for adjunct faculty, this report presents follow-up research on plan availability and eligibility requirements across higher education.  

Key Insights
The vast majority of U.S. colleges and universities let all or some adjunct faculty defer salary into a sponsored retirement savings plan.
Adjunct eligibility for plan participation is usually not contingent upon a minimum teaching load or a previous service requirement.
Plan-eligible adjuncts are generally not auto-enrolled in the plan.
Contributions by plan-eligible adjuncts—typically at a threshold employment level—are matched by 37% of institutions and 60% of systems.

The research findings are based on an online survey conducted in August and September 2019. Participants included 16 higher education systems and 105 institutions that are not part of a system. Private nonprofit colleges and universities accounted for 78 participating institutions. Public higher education accounted for the other 27 institutions, along with the 16 systems.