While other jobs have significantly decreased in the past few years, jobs in higher education have remained stable.
In the fourth quarter of 2009, higher education jobs grew 1.3 percent according to HigherEdJobs.com, a national job postings Web site for universities and colleges.
This was below their average growth rate since 2005 of 1.8 percent. At the same time, the number of overall jobs in the US economy declined by four percent.
“Higher education tends to be a countercyclical industry,” said Dr. Phillip Robins, UM Professor of Economics. “Which means when the economy is low the industry is high.”
This is because when people are having trouble finding jobs, the tendency is to go back to school to hone their skills or get a new degree. In turn, more faculty must be hired to accommodate this increase in students.
“As an investment, a college degree has a high rate of return,” Robins said. “People with college degrees tend to be ok during a recession.”
Robins said another factor is that at some universities the majority of professors are baby boomers who are starting to retire. He said this is more common at state schools and is not really the case at UM.
UM put a freeze on hiring faculty in November 2008, at the peak of the economic crisis.
“We basically said we have to manage our resources very carefully,” provost Thomas LeBlanc said, “so as of now we’re not going to hire unless it’s an absolutely critical appointment. We did hire a few people.”
This year the university is operating more normally, LeBlanc said, as searching and hiring has been resumed. He noted that UM’s recent hiring is more a matter of replacement of retirees and maintenance of the usual faculty size, but while some institutions have been cutting down on faculty UM has not.
“Over the last 10 years or so the number of full-time faculty on the Coral Gables campus has grown by 10-12 percent while the student body has been relatively stable,” LeBlanc said.
HigherEdJobs.com’s study reveals that schools suffering from tight budgets have focused their funds on hiring faculty and away from hiring for administrative positions.
“It’s the faculty that ultimately determines the quality of the institution,” Robins said.
Many of the jobs offered to faculty right now are part-time, adjunct positions. Adjunct professors are not offered tenure or a permanent position. According to HigherEdJobs.com, in 2006 about 7.9 percent of posts listed were for part-time jobs while in 2009 this increased to 12 percent.
“This is another way institutions are trying to do more with less,” said Dr. John Ikenberry, president and co-founder of HigherEdJobs.com. “Unfortunately for many faculty members these are not the ideal positions they are looking for, but this is increasingly the state of higher education today.”
Regardless of the market, graduate students seeking jobs in higher education should understand the importance of networking, Edward Cruz, assistant director of graduate student and alumni programs at UM’s Toppel Career Center said. Cruz, who graduated four years ago from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s student affairs and higher education program, found his job at UM through networking. His graduate program also sends out a listserv with job openings to its alumni.
“There are opportunities out there,” Cruz said. “It’s just going to take more effort to get them. You can’t just rely on online resources anymore. It’s all about personal connections you make. There’s a hidden job market. Positions are getting filled before they even appear online.”
Nina Ruggiero may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.