Retirement benefits for adjunct faculty

Insights Report

Some adjuncts appear to be unaware of their eligibility to participate in a retirement savings plan at the college or university where they work.


Previous TIAA Institute research found that over a third of adjunct faculty had not saved for retirement in the previous year. Among these non-savers, 74% indicated they either had no plan available from their employer or were unsure whether they did, and 58% reported they likely would have contributed had a plan existed. To gauge the actual extent of retirement savings plan coverage for adjunct faculty, this report presents follow-up research on plan availability and eligibility requirements across higher education.

Key Insights

  • The vast majority of U.S. colleges and universities let all or some adjunct faculty defer salary into a sponsored retirement savings plan.
  • Adjunct eligibility for plan participation is usually not contingent upon a minimum teaching load or a previous service requirement.
  • Plan-eligible adjuncts are generally not auto-enrolled in the plan.
  • Contributions by plan-eligible adjuncts—typically at a threshold employment level—are matched by 37% of institutions and 60% of systems.

By not participating in an available retirement savings plan, some adjuncts may be forgoing matching contributions.


The research findings are based on an online survey conducted in August and September 2019. Participants included 16 higher education systems and 105 institutions that are not part of a system. Private nonprofit colleges and universities accounted for 78 participating institutions. Public higher education accounted for the other 27 institutions, along with the 16 systems.


Paul Yakoboski

TIAA Institute

Paul DiCesare

TIAA Financial Solutions

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