The Shifting Academic Workforce: Where Are the Contingent Faculty?

Full Report

The shift toward contingent faculty in the academic workforce is well documented; what’s less clear is the concentration of contingent faculty at different types of institutions, the nature of contingent faculty contracts, and the effect on student outcomes.


This report, the first in a two-part series based on data provided by the Delta Cost Project at American Institutes for Research, profiles the contingent faculty workforce, examining the number and percentage of full- and part-time instructors not on the tenure track at a variety of colleges and universities. By exploring the relationships between those characteristics and the concentration of contingent faculty, the researchers seek to define the landscape upon which today’s academic workforce operates, and to identify whether contingent faculty are more likely to be employed in certain types of institutions.

Key Insights

  • Contingent faculty have increasingly joined the academic workforce across all types of institutions.
  • Part-time positions of one year or less make up the largest share of nontenure-track positions at all types of institutions.
  • Contingent faculty have substituted for tenure or tenure-track faculty in most types of institutions.
  • Colleges and universities with higher shares of students at risk of non-completion also have higher shares of contingent faculty, particularly at private four-year institutions.

Contingent faculty now comprise the majority of all faculty at U.S. colleges and universities.


The information used in this study comes from the Delta Cost Project Database, 1987–2013, which includes data reported by institutions to the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. These data have been harmonized (when possible) to account for survey changes over time. Staffing data from the 2002 Fall Employees by Assigned Position Survey (i.e., 2002–03 school year, or 2003 academic year) were appended to the Delta Cost Project Database to provide more detailed staffing information. The study focuses primarily on the 2012–13 academic year, with select analyses examining the 10-year period from 2003 to 2013.

The Shifting Academic Workforce: Where Are the Contingent Faculty?

By 2013, contingent faculty accounted for at least half of instructional positions across all institutional types.


Steven Hurlburt
Michael McGarrah
Sign up for the TIAA Institute newsletter

Get the latest research and insights straight in your inbox

We are sorry.

The service that receives your request is unavailable at the moment. Please try again.

Related Publications