Tenure Decline: Inside Higher Ed Survey Finds Provosts Relying On Non-Tenured Faculty

College administrators will continue to rely heavily on adjunct instructors and faculty who won't be eligible for tenure, according to a new poll of higher education officials.

A survey conducted for Inside Higher Ed by Gallup found 65 percent of provosts at public and private schools said their college relies "significantly on non-tenure-track faculty for instruction." Almost all of for-profit colleges (93 percent) said they rely on non-tenured faculty.

Most provosts said in the survey they believe their institutions will continue at about the same pace for reliance on non-tenured faculty, and twice as many "expect greater reliance" on non-tenured instructors. For public universities, 58 percent said "future generations of faculty in this country should not expect tenure to be a factor in their employment at higher education institutions," and 68 percent of community colleges said that to be true. The picture was slightly rosier at private nonprofit colleges, where 53 percent agreed with that statement about future faculty.

The Inside Higher Ed poll is based on responses from 1,081 college and university provosts, with a margin of error at 2.4 percentage points. Respondents were given complete anonymity, but institutional characteristics were collected.

Even though colleges are relying more on non-tenured faculty, 70 percent of provosts at public and private four-year institutions said tenure "remains important and viable at my institution." Part of the growth in reliance on part-time and non-tenured faculty members is due to loss of state support for public colleges, and a dip in private college endowments, but many provosts indicated they don't think their instructors understand just how difficult their financial constraints are.

Only 8 percent of provosts strongly agree that their faculty members understand the financial challenges facing their institutions, the Inside Higher Ed survey found.

In 1980, non-tenured part-time faculty comprised 32 percent of the total teaching force in higher education, according to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics. Today, non-tenured faculty now make up two-thirds of the higher ed workforce, although the American Association of University Professors recommends no more than 15 percent of instruction within any institution be made up of non-tenure-track positions.

Adjunct and non-tenured faculty typically make much less than a tenured professor.