The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Unique Succession and Diversity Challenges Ahead: The Aging Faculty Workforce

Higher ed faculty require years of education but often work beyond typical retirement ages; jobs are stable, and turnover is very low; the pipeline for new hires is fundamentally limited; and competition for positions occurs nationally. As the workforce ages, this may create unique challenges for the management of a faculty workforce.

To help higher ed institutions plan for the upcoming wave of faculty retirements, CUPA-HR examined the current state of tenure-track faculty. The report, The Aging of Tenure-Track Faculty in Higher Education: Implications for Succession and Diversity, made possible with support from Fidelity Investments, examines how tenure-track faculty are distributed by age, how age and rank intersect with salary, and the representation of women and racial/ethnic minorities by age and rank.

Since higher ed tenure-track faculty require advanced training, they are naturally older than typical U.S. workers when they start their careers. The median age in the U.S. labor force is 42 years compared to the median tenure-track faculty age of 49. Also, compared to the general workforce, significantly more faculty are age 55 or older compared to the general workforce. Only 23 percent of all U.S. workers are 55 or older, compared to 37 percent of faculty.

Women and racial/ethnic minorities are not adequately represented among faculty in higher ed, particularly in the more senior academic ranks. Women make up just 25 percent of tenure-track faculty older than 55, while racial/ethnic minorities comprise only 16 percent. With each increase in rank, from assistant to full professor, the percentage of minorities decreases. Since this decrease occurs in relatively recent promotions (i.e., from assistant to associate professor), it likely reflects a lack of promotion of women and minorities.

The report also evaluates variations of age across faculty discipline, noting that retirements are likely to vary considerably. Communications technologies, a relatively young field, has the lowest percentage of faculty older than 55 and few full professors. The opposite is seen in legal professions and studies, which has both a large percentage of older faculty and a large percentage of full professors.

The report concludes by advising HR leaders to be aware of the trends and collaborate with other leaders at their institutions to plan for the future of their faculty workforce, especially as enrollment is expected to decline at many colleges and universities.

Read The Aging of Tenure-Track Faculty in Higher Education: Implications for Succession and Diversity, and check out CUPA-HR’s other research publications.


Related resources:

The Higher Ed Staff Workforce Is Aging (The Higher Ed Workplace Blog)

Associate’s Institutions Lead in Representation and Pay Equity for Women and Minority Faculty (The Higher Ed Workplace Blog)

The Faculty Workforce Is Aging … Is the Pipeline More Diverse? (The Higher Ed Workplace Blog)

Who’s Next? A Model for Developing an Internal Talent Pipeline (Higher Ed HR Magazine)

“Who? No Seriously, Who?” Implementing Succession Planning in Higher Ed (Webinar)

Succession Planning Toolkit

Tenure Toolkit