The Pros and Cons of Aging Professors in Higher Education
The effects of higher education faculty delaying retirement
University faculty are putting off retirement longer than they ever have, causing a dramatic stir within higher education. According to a 2012 study conducted by TIAA, a leading retirement company for education professionals, the proportion of professors ages 65 and older doubled between 2000 and 2010.* This is in large part due to the 1994 congressional elimination of mandatory retirement of tenured faculty and staff.†
The number of professors delaying retirement has swelled due to many factors, such as a weakened economy, increased life expectancy, and overall job satisfaction. These are valid reasons to remain in the workforce and are representative of many seasoned professors. However, this situation is also impeding the hiring and advancement of younger staff, especially those who graduate with a higher education degree.
So what should be done about this situation? There is no clear answer; however, here are just a few of the pros and cons of an aging professoriate.
- All tenured staff past the retirement age bring years of experience to graduate programs in higher education that their younger counterparts simply do not have.
- With tenure and age comes academic freedom to study, explore, and master their passions—leading to fulfilling outcomes both personally and professionally. Students benefit from this passion as it transfers to the classroom.‡
- Far-reaching institutional memory (e.g., perspective and historical view).§
- The college or university benefits by retaining passionate, dedicated professors who value their careers in higher education.
- It minimizes the opportunities for institutions to reorganize and diversify to keep pace with changing times.**
- It increases financial stress on students as tuitions rise to keep pace with the highest-paid employees staying on staff.*
- When employees do not retire, it potentially blocks younger faculty and staff from bringing in fresh ideas and being eligible for tenure themselves.‡
- Younger and middle-aged faculty consistently had higher scores of research productivity, monies awarded, and ratio of enrollment capacity to the actual number of students taught.*
Fortunately, even with the issue of retirement, employment of postsecondary teachers, such as those graduating from higher education master’s programs, is projected to grow 13% from 2014–2024.†† If you’re interested in a career in higher education, consider the convenience an online university provides. When you earn your MS in Higher Education from Walden, you can rest assured that you’re earning a degree from a high-quality university.
*TIAA-CREF Institute, An Age of Opportunity, Aging Workforce Series, on the Internet at www.tiaa.org/public/pdf/aging_workforce_part1.pdf.
†A. Franke, Supporting the Culminating Stages of Faculty Careers: Legal Issues, American Council on Education, on the Internet at www.acenet.edu/leadership/programs/Documents/SLOAN-report-FINAL-legal.pdf.
‡Times Higher Education, Are Older Academics Past Their Productive Peak?, on the Internet at www.timeshighereducation.com/features/are-older-academics-past-their-productive-peak.
§J. Marcus, Aging Faculty Who Won’t Leave Thwart Universities’ Attempts to Cut Costs, The Hechinger Report, 9 October 2015, on the Internet www.hechingerreport.org/aging-faculty-who-wont-leave-thwart-universities-attempts-to-cut-costs.
**C. Flaherty, Working Way Past 65, Inside Higher Ed, on the Internet at www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/06/17/data-suggest-baby-boomer-faculty-are-putting-retirement.
††Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016–17 Edition, Postsecondary Teachers, on the Internet at www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm.
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