Press Release

February 14, 2019

A Decade Later, Higher Education Still Seeing Impact of Economic Recession

A recent research report from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) focuses on the impact of the 2008 economic recession on higher education, specifically regarding faculty composition and student enrollment over the last decade.

The report, Impact of the Economic Recession on Student Enrollment and Faculty Composition in U.S. Higher Education: 2003-2018, found that institutions — particularly public ones — saw a spike in student enrollment during the recession. This spike was especially pronounced at public baccalaureate institutions. After the spike, however, all but doctoral institutions have seen a period of negative enrollment changes post-recession.

One possible response to the budget cuts of the recession was to hire more part-time, adjunct faculty relative to full-time faculty. The institutions that employed this response were mainly public and private non-religious doctoral institutions. On the other hand, baccalaureate institutions — particularly public ones — have maintained a low and steady proportion of part-time, adjunct faculty since before the recession.

Prior to 2008, new hires of full-time faculty were rapidly growing at public master’s and doctoral institutions. But 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. Again, the exception was in baccalaureate institutions, which maintained new assistant professor hires over this period.

Additional findings from the report include:

  • 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. Most private institutions were able to maintain or slightly increase their faculty-student ratio during and after the recession.
  • 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. In fact, more than half of faculty at private master’s institutions are part-time.
  • The three disciplines that had the most hiring growth from 2004 to 2018 were health-related professions, engineering, and business. In contrast, the disciplines that saw the greatest decline in new hires were foreign language/literature, social sciences, and English language/literature.

Read Impact of the Economic Recession on Student Enrollment and Faculty Composition in U.S. Higher Education: 2003-2018 and check out CUPA-HR’s other research publications.


CUPA-HR is higher ed HR. We serve higher education by providing the knowledge, resources, advocacy and connections to achieve organizational and workforce excellence. Headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, and serving over 30,000 HR professionals and other campus leaders at more than 2,000 member institutions and organizations around the country and abroad, the association offers learning and professional development programs, higher education salary and benefits data, extensive online resources and just-in-time regulatory and legislative information.

CUPA-HR is the recognized authority on compensation surveys for higher education, designed by higher ed HR professionals for higher ed HR professionals and other campus leaders. Learn more about CUPA-HR research.

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