Published on 2013/03/12
The Role of Faculty in 10 Years
By 2023, the roles played by higher education faculty will be completely different than they are today. Competency will be a critical outcome for most programs, and instructors will have a greater responsibility to ensure they are effective teachers.

If the past is the prologue, we need only to survey some of the recent critical issues of debate and emerging trends that have had the greatest impact on the educational landscape for indicators of the role of postsecondary faculty in 2023. While traditionalists may be worried, many of the changes upon us challenge a system of elitism and exclusivity, makes room for greater equity among traditional and non-traditional faculty and pushes us to be more accountable for and to our students and accrediting bodies.

Reduction of the Tenure System

The reduction of the tenure system and move toward institutions increasing the number of nontraditional faculty (non-tenured, part-time and those on annual or short-term contracts) has been evident over the last ten years. This paragraph from the Digest of Education Statistics, 2010 displays the trend:

“The percentage of faculty with tenure has declined in recent years. Of those faculty at institutions with tenure systems, about 49 percent of full-time instructional faculty had tenure in 2009–10, compared with 56 percent in 1993–94 (table 274). Also, the percentage of institutions with tenure systems in 2009–10 (48 percent) was lower than in 1993–94 (63 percent). Part of this change was due to the expansion in the number of for-profit institutions, relatively few of which have tenure systems (1.5 percent in 2009–10). … On average, full-time instructional faculty and staff spent 58 percent of their time teaching in 2003 (table 261). Research and scholarship accounted for 20 percent of their time, and 22 percent was spent on other activities (administration, professional growth, etc.).” [1]

Public vs. Private Institutions and Student Populations

In 1970, 75 percent of students were enrolled in public and 25 percent were enrolled in private institutions.  In 2009, of the total enrollments in private institutions, approximately 3,765,000 were in nonprofit institutions and 1,852,000 were in for-profits, for a breakout of 9 percent in private for-profits, 19 percent in private nonprofits and 72 percent in public institutions.[2] As you can see, the numbers shifted only slightly in terms of percentages,[3] but a parallel analysis of the student population is telling. In 1970, 72 percent of the total student population was in age ranges spanning 14-24 and 27 percent were in ranges 25 and older. In 2009, the percentage had shifted so that approximately 58 percent of students fell into the younger range, and about 41 percent was in the older age range. Further, these data [4] project that, in 2019, the percentages will remain the same as those in 2009, but that there will be slight increases in the 20- and 21-year-old population (traditional undergraduate), and in the 30-34-year-old and 35+ populations (graduate and nontraditional undergraduate students). What this indicates is that the learning population is increasingly older. Because age is a surrogate variable for a number of features in this student demographic, such as employment, marital and parental status, to name a few, we can conclude that these adult students tend to be more focused on career changes and advancement, will need flexible schedules and modalities and will seek institutions and programs with demonstrated ability to aid their career trajectories and support busy adults and working professionals.

A seven-percent drop in tenured faculty over the past six years and a 15-percent drop in the percentage of institutions with tenure in the same period clearly mark a trend that will continue. The issue of tenure vs. contracts, and who makes the decisions about them (an administration that is comprised of faculty, that includes faculty or that excludes faculty), will evolve quickly in the next 10 years.

Institutions must balance stability with the need for specific programs and disciplines, and ensure quality in all. The increase in the adult student population in undergraduate and graduate programs has led to a demand for professionally-oriented programs, often with scholar-practitioner faculty who can teach applied models and who hold more credibility with this learning population than career academic researchers.

Nontraditional faculty allow institutions greater flexibility to support growing disciplines and create new programs to respond to trends in a region or industry. For example, many institutions across the nation have seen a dramatic decline in enrollments in such programs as classics, philosophy and certain foreign languages. These are important disciplines in the fabric of a liberal arts program and for a literate society, and all students should be (or have the opportunity to be) well-versed in this literature. However, how many PhDs in philosophy should state legislatures be expected to fund (albeit indirectly, through E&G budgets) if there is little to no market demand for them?[5] By hiring nontraditional faculty, institutions also offer courses and programs in emerging fields that may be unfamiliar to tenured or tenure-track faculty.

Online vs. F2F Delivery

Technology-mediated education, both distance education and using technology innovatively in the classroom, will continue to evolve and improve and consequently elevate the quality of education. There may still be a few hold outs, but I assert that most of us agree the large lecture hall format is the most disengaging of current pedagogical tools, yet remains widely used due to the 20th century classroom structures and faculty comfort level with, and expectation of, being on the stage.

As I stated in an earlier article, “The role of the instructor shifts in the technology-mediated modalities from authoritative, knowledgeable presenter to an expert whose knowledge is transmitted or channeled through various media: text, visual and auditory. The shift in space, time and channel necessarily changes the interaction. … When learners interact with one another, with an instructor and with ideas, new information is acquired, interpreted and made meaningful. Such interactions form the foundation of a community of learners. If students feel they are part of a community of learners, they are more apt to be motivated to seek solutions to their problems and to succeed. The challenge for distance educators is to develop strategies and techniques for establishing and maintaining ‘learning communities’ among learners separated by space and/or time.”[6]

Recently, a colleague who is a mathematician and vice provost at a major state-related institution said that only in the classroom can you see students’ eyes and read their faces.  “That,” he said, “is interaction, which cannot be replicated online.” He added that “college is not for everyone.” These beliefs and attitudes maintain a stronghold in our educational system, despite the trends and innovations that are pushing them back.

Further, by 2023, the following notions will be obsolete:

1) “access,” that is, having schools with low admission standards and online courses that are different from quality schools;

2) “online,” meaning courses designed and treated as correspondence courses;

3) “interaction,” that students and faculty must share time and space for learning to take place, will all be obsolete in 2023.


Academic institutions and accrediting bodies are in close collaboration to articulate the results of educational programs. For example, the traditional notion of the credit hour was used to measure how much instruction and learning took place in a specified number of hours per week. However, online education has new models of teaching that transcend time and space, pushing the need to measure learning through skills and competencies developed sequentially or iteratively, rather than simply through amount of time in class.

Competencies in undergraduate and graduate curricula are far more in alignment with competencies required in the workforce than many in the traditional academy are willing to acknowledge. Employers demand individuals who have strong writing, analytical, quantitative and problem-solving skills. Most liberal arts and professional programs similarly require students to develop and demonstrate these competencies as part of mastering a course or area of knowledge.

Further, military competencies (leadership, intercultural communication, working in teams, etc.) are similarly transferrable to those taught, and expected, in many undergraduate and graduate curricula.


Faculty roles in the next 10 years will shift in the following directions:

1) An increasing number of faculty will participate in and create innovative contract models, and an increasing number will engage in collective bargaining movements;

2) Contract and other non-tenured faculty will press for the opportunity to participate in college and university governance and current models will adapt to become more inclusive of nontraditional faculty;

3) Faculty will be more engaged with the improvements in technology-mediated pedagogies and, by  collaborating more closely with assessment experts, will embed and consistently evaluate metrics in their courses;

4) We will disambiguate the terms 1) access, 2) online, and 3) interaction, through improved technologies-mediated teaching strategies and assessments and, by doing so, the current stigmas will erode;

5) An increasing number of faculty will be knowledgeable and skillful in defining course and program competencies and outcomes and will routinely design teaching strategies that aim to cultivate those abilities;

6) Students will increasingly become more sophisticated and selective, choosing schools and programs with demonstrated value and faculty who have professional experience and who conduct applied research;

7) There will be a shift in the programs and departments in traditional colleges and universities to those that reflect student interests and support student academic and career goals.  E.g.: there will be fewer programs in philosophy and the classics and more in social sciences, technologies and health care.

– – – –


[1] Digest of Education Statistics, 2010, Chapter 3: Postsecondary Education Enrollment, pg. 283,

[2] Digest of Education Statistics, 2010, Chapter 3: Postsecondary Education Enrollment, Table 198.

[3] The data for private for profits in 1970 was unattainable from this table.

[4] Digest of Education Statistics, 2010, Chapter 3: Postsecondary Education Enrollment, Table 199.

[5] As someone who has a humanities-based PhD, I hope to establish myself as one who may credibly argue this point.


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Readers Comments

Natasha Rubin 2013/03/12 at 9:37 am

I certainly hope that your third prediction will come true. The data available today are giving faculty unprecedented ability to assess their effectiveness as teachers at both the macro and micro levels. It is important for them to make use of these data to improve their courses/programs; as you rightly point out, students of today are pickier about which schools they choose, and the ones with a track record of improving courses/programs stand to benefit the most.

Frank Gowen 2013/03/12 at 10:36 am

This article presents some solid points for discussion. Moving forward, I think it is important to consider what some of the strategies to better highlight the alignment you say exists between curriculum and workforce competencies may be. This is an area I would like to read more about.

Jason Bennett 2013/03/12 at 8:49 pm

It’s interesting to see the trend among institutions to lower the number of tenured positions for faculty. While this makes room for nontraditional faculty (e.g. practitioner-guides), who may have the skill sets and workforce acuity sought by the adult students who will comprise the main student demographic in the near future, this also places faculty positions overall in a precarious situation. How sad.

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