In Selling Students Short, a new report released today in conjunction with the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, I examine the trend of declining teaching loads at American universities and I address three questions: What, why, and so what?
Professors are spending less time teaching. From 1987-1988 to 2003-2004, the average number of courses tenured and tenure-track faculty taught per term (commonly called the teaching load) declined 25 percent. It is hard to overstate how dramatic this decline has been. For example, liberal arts colleges tend to specialize in teaching, and yet professors at liberal arts colleges taught less in 2003-2004 than professors at research universities did in 1987-1988.
Universities are shifting their priorities. Teaching loads have been declining primarily because research has been increasingly prioritized by both universities and faculty. For faculty, publish or perish has come to dominate tenure and promotion decisions; for institutions, bringing in research dollars is a mark of prestige. As a result, both colleges and their faculty are putting more emphasis on research … at the cost of teaching.
All of this matters because low teaching loads are extremely costly. At four-year universities, the decline in teaching loads has increased costs by $2,598 per student. By point of comparison, over that same time period, tuition increased by $4,805. This means that if teaching loads had not declined, and the savings was used to offset tuition increases, more than half of the increase in tuition from 1987-1988 to 2003-2004 could have been avoided.
There is much more in the report, including estimates of how much additional revenue colleges could generate by increasing teaching loads—a potential solution to many colleges’ current financial strain—so download the full study here.
Photo Credit: ACTA
Update: We recently learned that some of the information in Selling Students Short, a policy paper written by ES Research Director Andrew Gillen, was based on incorrect information. As a result we have withdrawn the paper from our website. We regret the error. Read our full statement here, and a longer explanation here.