The Ever-Shrinking Role of Tenured College Professors (in 1 Chart)

For almost 40 years, we've been witnessing the rise of the adjuncts.
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(Reuters)

Once, being a college professor was a career. Today, it's a gig. 

That, broadly speaking, is the transformation captured in the graph below from a new report by the American Association of University Professors. Since 1975, tenure and tenure-track professors have gone from roughly 45 percent of all teaching staff to less than a quarter. Meanwhile, part-time faculty are now more than 40 percent of college instructors, as shown by the line soaring towards the top of the graph. 

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This doesn't actually mean that there are fewer full-time professors today than four-decades ago. College faculties have grown considerably over the years, and as the AAUP notes, the ranks of the tenured and tenure-track professoriate are up 26 percent since 1975. Part-time appointments, however, have exploded by 300 percent. The proportions vary depending on the kind of school you're talking about. At public four-year colleges, about 64 percent of teaching staff were full-time as of 2009. At private four-year schools, about 49 percent were, and at community colleges, only about 30 percent were. But the big story across academia is more or less the same: if it were a movie, it'd be called "Rise of the Adjuncts."  

Why should you care? For one, it's damn tough making a living as a freelance professor (full disclosure: my mother was one for many years). The AAUP reports that the median pay for teaching a single course was $3,200 at a public research university, and just $2,250 at a community college. It's also a reminder that rising college costs aren't necessarily paying for a better quality (or better compensated) faculty. Moreover, unless the burgeoning ed-tech industry finds ways to remake at least parts of college teaching, this chart shows us how schools will attempt to do more with less resources over time. It's not a particularly pretty picture. 
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Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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