Study: Non-tenure-track faculty have little impact on student success, costs
Colleges and universities have substantially reduced their reliance on tenured faculty, instead favoring non-tenured-track (NTT) contingent faculty hired on fixed or part-time contracts with set end dates, according to a recent Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association study. However, the study showed the increased use of NTT faculty overall had little positive or negative impact on institutional outcomes.
Several potential benefits: Increased contingent faculty use was associated with lower student-faculty ratios, expanded course offerings and higher student-faculty engagement. But those had no discernable downstream effect on graduation rates or student enrollment.
The study points to some potential downsides, including the high administrative costs of recruitment, training and turnover; lessened attention to student development across the curriculum; and lower-quality instruction. Also, increasing NTT positions didn’t seem to reduce education costs. While adding NTT instructors allowed institutions to cut down on some expenses, it appeared as though those savings were shifted elsewhere.
Findings from the TIAA Institute study debunk some conventional arguments for and against the use of non-tenured-track faculty. For critics who purport that faculty job security is essential to student success, the study contradicted that assumption. Graduation rates were generally not impacted by institutions that increased their NTT commitments, except in the case of private universities.
Overall there might be a positive impact for students (smaller class sizes, more student-teacher engagement and expanded course availabilities). But the study contradicted those who say increased NTT faculty use reduces university expenditures, noting higher costs at public colleges and no impact for others.
As institutions experiment with cost-saving strategies and ways to better serve their students, the TIAA study suggests leaders should think more strategically about how NTT instructors can add value to their schools and help them stand out from competitors, as opposed to, an easy way to lower labor costs.