A Tree Falls in the Woods
If all tenure-track faculty members left academia tomorrow, would anyone notice? Of course the question is mostly, but not entirely tongue in cheek. Here are some facts to consider:
- Of the $273 billion that was spent by public higher education institutions in 2008-9, only $75 billion was dedicated to “instruction.” In other words, about 1/4 of what goes on at colleges is said to be for instruction. I understand that lots of other “education” happens on campus and that some portion of the capital budget must be allocated toward instruction as well. I’d also suggest that these figures are generously calling 100% of what happens in the classroom, “instruction.” That wouldn’t even characterize 100% of what I do in my classrooms. And I try hard to instruct. In the private sector, $46 billion out of the $141 billion spent is nominally in support of instruction (1/3).
- Across all institutions, of the 3.7 million people working in higher education directly (part time and full time), only 1.44 million are faculty (and these are not all instructional, this figure includes research faculty and public service faculty – more on that for another post). So, 39% of the staff on college campuses are on the educational side, directly.
- Of these faculty, about half are part-timers. And I’ve read a recent paper (can’t remember the citation right now) that estimated that non-tenure track faculty teach roughly 75% of all college students.
I’ve been both on the tenure-track and not on the tenure-track. My work was not really different across the two because I happen to choose teaching over much formal research. And I highly value research too, don’t take this post to suggest otherwise. But it might be the case that if we really do care about educational outcomes for undergrads, the current structure of higher ed is, to put it politely, a little inefficient.