Summary of Findings
National surveys have documented the decline in the share of full-time tenure and tenure track faculty members in American colleges and universities. During the spring and summer of 2003, the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute (CHERI) conducted a Survey of Economics Department Chairs (PDF, 431 KB) to document if similar changes were occurring in economics departments nationwide and to learn how the composition of the faculty teaching principles of economics and other undergraduate economics courses has been changing. This survey requested information on the composition of economics department faculty from 1982-1983 to 2002-2003 at five-year intervals, as well as more detailed information on the composition of the faculty teaching undergraduate classes in 1992-1993 and 2002-2003 by class levels and enrollments. We surveyed 799 economics departments at 4-year colleges and universities in the United States for which the American Economics Association was able to provide us with contact information.
Table_1.pdf (PDF, 29 KB) provides a breakdown of the 258 institutions that responded to the survey. While the overall response rate to the survey was about one-third, the response rate for departments located at institutions classified as Research I or Research II by the Carnegie Foundation in their 1994 classification of institutions of higher education was close to one-half.
The Composition of Faculty at Economic Departments
The Survey of Economics Department Chairs began by asking for information on the numbers of full-time tenured and tenure track faculty, lecturers, part-time faculty, emeritus faculty, and graduate students teaching their own classes (excluding discussion sections of large lecture classes) who taught courses for the departments at five-year intervals from 1982-1983 to 2002-2003. Table_2.pdf (PDF, 39 KB) summarizes our findings on the shares of faculty in the different categories for the sample as a whole and for public and private institutions. For the sample as a whole, the greatest share of faculty has been and continues to be full-time tenured and tenure track faculty, however this share declined from 75.2% in 1982-1983 to 57.6% in 2002-2003. All other categories of faculty experienced increases in their shares during the period. The largest percentage point increase occurred for part-time faculty, whose share rose from 12.0% in 1982-1983 to 22.1% in 2002-2003.
The shares of economics department faculty that were full-time tenured or tenure track faculty members at public and private institutions were roughly the same in 1982-1983. However, by 2002-2003, the percentage point drop in this share at public institutions was twice the drop that occurred at private institutions. Three other differences emerge in the faculty composition changes between these two types of institutions. First, the share of part-time faculty at public institutions rose by 13.9 percentage points to 24.6% during the 20-year period, while the share of part-time faculty at private institutions only rose by roughly 5 percentage points. The share of faculty teaching in economics departments who are emeritus faculty grew by almost 5 percentage points at public institutions but by less than 2 percentage points at private institutions. This may reflect the more frequent use of defined benefit retirement plans in public higher education; these plans provide greater incentives for faculty members to retire than do the defined contribution plans that are present at most private academic institutions. Finally, a greater share of the faculty members teaching classes in economics departments are graduate students at public institutions - (11.2% in 2002-2003) than at private institutions (1.5% in 2002-2003). However, many of the private institutions are liberal arts colleges that have no graduate programs.
In Table_3.pdf (PDF, 36 KB), we contrast faculty composition at Research Universities (I and II) with faculty composition at other institutions in the sample. The share of economics department faculty members that are either full-time tenured or on the tenure track declined by roughly the same amount at Research and other institutions. Economics departments at both types of institutions made increasing use of part-time faculty over the 20-year period. This share rose from 6.8% in 1982-1983 to 15.8% in 2002-2003 at the Research Universities and from 15.4% to 26.3% over the same period at the other institutions. The Research Universities, where the largest graduate economics program are located, are also much more likely to have graduate students teaching their classes, and the share of faculty members who are graduate students grew slightly during the period at these institutions.
In Table_4.pdf (PDF, 36 KB) we contrast faculty composition at Liberal Arts Colleges (I and II) with faculty composition at other institutions. Although the shares of faculty members that were full-time tenured or on the tenure track were similar across Liberal Arts and non-Liberal Arts Colleges in 1982-1983, the Liberal Arts Colleges were much more successful in maintaining this share during the 20 year period. By 2002-2003, the shares of faculty that were full-time tenured or tenure track had fallen to 70.3% for the Liberal Arts Colleges and 53.6% at other institutions. Liberal Arts Colleges did increase the shares of their economics department faculty who were lecturers by more than other institutions did. In contrast, Liberal Arts Colleges increased the share of their faculty members who are part-time faculty members by only 3.1 percentage points during the period, while other institutions increased this share by 12.4 percentage points.
Who Generates Undergraduate Credit Hours at Economics Departments?
We next asked department chairs to provide detailed information on the undergraduate courses their departments offered in 1992-1993 and 2002-2003. For each course offered, we asked them to tell us the type of faculty teaching the course (full-time tenured or tenure track, full-time lecturer, part-time faculty member, emeritus faculty member, graduate student), whether the course was a principles or other course, and the course enrollment. These questions allowed us to determine the shares of undergraduate students taught by each type of faculty members.
Table_5.pdf (PDF, 34 KB) suggests that the share of undergraduate students taught by tenured and tenure track faculty has declined over the ten-year period by less than the share of faculty that are tenured or tenure track has declined (Table_2.pdf (PDF, 39 KB)) data. Between 1992-1993 and 2002-2003, the share of undergraduate economics students being taught by full-time tenured or tenure track faculty declined slightly from 76.8% to 71.2%. While the share of faculty who are emeritus faculty was 6.5% in 2002-2003 (Table_2.pdf (PDF, 39 KB)), emeritus faculty teach only 0.3% of the students enrolled in economics classes.
When we separately analyze principles and non-principles classes, we find a much larger decline in the share of students taught by full-time tenured and tenure track faculty members at the principles level. By 2002-2003, 67.6% of the students in principles of economics classes were taught by full-time tenured or tenure track faculty members, in contrast to 77.8% of the students in other undergraduate economics classes.
There are, however, substantial differences in the roles of full-time tenured and tenure track faculty members at public and private institutions. The share of students taught by full-time tenured and tenure track faculty members at public institutions declined from 74.7% to 66.2% over the ten-year period, while the share at private institutions declined from 78.9% to 76.2% (Table_6.pdf (PDF, 37 KB)). In both types of institutions, the share of students taught by tenured and tenure track faculty members are higher at the private institutions than it is at the public institutions. Undergraduate students are more likely to be taught by lecturers, part-time faculty and graduate students at the public institutions than they are at the private institutions.
Table_7.pdf (PDF, 38 KB) presents similar data when the sample is stratified into Research Universities and other institutions. The share of undergraduates being taught by full-time tenured and tenure track faculty is much lower at the Research Universities than it is at the other institutions. From 1992-1993 to 2002-2003, the share of students taught by full-time tenured and tenure track faculty declined from 61.0% to 54.5% at the Research Universities and from 81.4% to 76.2% at the other institutions. Smaller shares of the students in principles classes are taught by tenure and tenure track faculty at both types of institutions than are the shares of undergraduate students in other undergraduate economics classes.
Finally, when we stratify the sample into Liberal Arts Colleges and other institutions, the share of students taught by full-time tenured and tenure track faculty is higher at Liberal Arts Colleges and has declined by fewer percentage points over the ten-year period. The share only declined from 85.6% to 83.9% at the Liberal Arts Colleges but from 72.3% to 65.3% at other institutions (Table_8.pdf (PDF, 37 KB)). For both types of institutions, the decline in the share of students taught by tenured and tenure track faculty members are larger at the principles level.
We must caution that because of our low survey response rate, generalizing our findings to the population of all economics departments in the United States should be done with caution. Nonetheless, our findings suggest that the decline in the usage of full-time tenured and tenure track faculty in economics departments has been larger in public institutions than in private institutions and in Research Universities than in other institutions in our sample. While these changes can be explained by the increasing financial pressures faced by public higher education and an increased emphasis on research (at the expense of undergraduate education) by full-time tenured and tenure track faculty at the Research Universities (which requires increased usage of other types of faculty for undergraduate teaching), research is just beginning to address whether the substitution of non-tenure track faculty for full-time tenured and tenure track faculty has perverse impacts on undergraduate students.
 See, for example, Edward L. Anderson, The New Professoriate: Characteristics, Contributions and Compensation (Washington DC: American Council on Education, 2002).
 See Ronald G. Ehrenberg, "Careers End: A Survey of Faculty Retirement Policies", Academe (July/August 2001).
 We must caution that the shares in this table do not add up to 100% because of the failure of some institutions to report faculty type for each class.