- Higher education institutions employed 5% fewer adjunct faculty during the current academic year compared to the year before, according to the latest annual data from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.
- All faculty groups experienced job losses during the year, though adjuncts were hit the hardest. The cuts didn’t affect the share of women and people from racial and ethnic minority groups among tenure-track faculty.
- Salaries for full-time faculty posted the lowest median annual increase since 2010, at less than 1%, as colleges grappled with budget cuts and revenue loss.
CUPA-HR's survey, which includes data from more than 260,000 full-time faculty and some 57,000 adjuncts, illuminates the pandemic's impact on employment and salaries. The instructors come from public and private schools across the country. Nearly two-thirds of responding schools are doctoral or master's institutions.
The number of tenure track, non-tenure track and part-time/adjunct faculty decreased across the sector in 2020-21. The biggest drop occurred among part-time/adjunct faculty. Their losses surpassed 6% at master's, bachelor's and associate institutions. Only at associate institutions did tenure-track faculty report a similar decrease as adjuncts, with a drop of nearly 8%.
These findings reflect reports of layoffs and furloughs throughout the year. Institutions looking to trim overhead costs because of the pandemic have often focused cuts on part-time and adjunct instructors. Such losses were expected, with surveys early in the pandemic indicating administrators were considering employee reductions.
The cuts have been a blow to the sector, however. Contingent faculty are "essential" and "the tiny and invisible lines of connection" between students and their schools, the American Association of University Professors wrote in August. The faculty advocacy group published ideas for supporting those instructors, who it defines as nontenured, part-time and graduate student employees.
Those suggestions include providing paid sick leave during the pandemic, making it easier for them to qualify for unemployment benefits, and extending rehire or promotion opportunities to contingent faculty whose work was negatively affected by the pandemic.
Cuts to tenured positions tend to draw scrutiny, while layoffs among lower-ranking instructors don't get as much attention. However, contingent faculty have made up a growing share of the higher ed workforce in recent decades. Of that group, part-time faculty have increased the most, from 24% of the academic labor force in 1975 to 40% in 2015. Meanwhile, the share of tenured and tenure track faculty has shrunk.
As a sector, colleges shed about 13% of their employees between February and December 2020, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.