The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

The Recession and Its Aftermath: How Higher Ed Responded

Many colleges and universities, particularly master’s and doctoral institutions, have seen an increase in the numbers of part-time and adjunct faculty over the past decade — a trend that has likely been driven in part by the 2008 economic recession and institutions’ responses to financial challenges in its aftermath.

New research from CUPA-HR on how the recession impacted student enrollment and faculty composition in higher ed found that many institutions responded to the spike in student enrollment during the recession by hiring more part-time and adjunct faculty relative to full-time faculty. The notable exception is baccalaureate institutions, particularly public ones, which have maintained a low and steady proportion of part-time faculty since before the recession.

According to the research report, prior to 2008, new hires of full-time faculty were rapidly growing at public master’s and doctoral institutions. But during and after the recession, there was a notable decline in new assistant professor hires — a decline that continued until 2016, when institutions began to increase new hires.

Other findings from the research:

  • Public doctoral institutions have continued to increase the utilization of part-time faculty post-recession.
  • Master’s institutions — particularly private ones — have the highest percentage of part-time faculty.
  • During the economic downturn, institutions — particularly public ones — saw a spike in student enrollment. This spike was especially pronounced at public baccalaureate institutions. After the spike, institutions experienced a precipitous decrease in student enrollment change.
  • During the recession, public institutions decreased the number of faculty they retained or hired in proportion to their student size, and recovery of pre-recession faculty-student ratios has been slow.

Read the full report: Impact of the Economic Recession on Student Enrollment and Faculty Composition in U.S. Higher Education: 2003-2018, and read more about the “gig” economy in higher ed in the current issue of CUPA-HR’s The Higher Education Workplace magazine.

Check out CUPA-HR’s other research reports on the makeup of the staff workforce in community colleges, the challenges facing student affairs, representation and pay of women of color in the higher ed workforce and more.