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Aging faculty: workforce challenges and issues facing higher education.

Higher education institutions, like all large employers, must face the issues of the turnover and retirement of its employees. Turnover and retirement require that institutions and organizations replace outgoing talent with individuals having comparable experience, knowledge, skills, and abilities (Foot, 1998). To accomplish this task, organizations must have appropriate policies and procedures in place to hire replacements who have knowledge and skills equal or superior to those of previous employees, recognizing that each rotation occurs at an increased cost to the institution. This means that organizations must have the ability to recruit, train, and retain qualified workers which will soon become an even bigger concern as employers face the prospect of large numbers of baby boomers anticipating retirement, compounding expected turnover and retirement rates.

With the large number of retiring baby boomers, labor markets in the near future will begin to tighten. Currently, there are approximately 60 million workers between the ages of 41 and 59 who are approaching retirement, which will have an impact on the labor force for the next three decades (Holzer, 2005). With such a large number of impending retirements occurring over a short period of time, the U.S. must find ways to meet the upcoming demand for labor.

The federal government has estimated that there will be a shortage of 10 million workers by 2010 (Loofbourrow, 2004), largely due to the fact that baby boomers greatly outnumber subsequent generations. This issue will affect other industrialized nations as well, including Canada, since half of Canada's labor force is approaching retirement age (MacKenzie & Dryburgh, 2003). All industries will be affected, with the only difference being the magnitude of the effect felt by each individual organization.

As institutions of higher education strive to provide their students with quality instruction, it is important for them to recruit and retain excellent faculty, which is done by offering competitive salaries and benefits, research support and resources, as well as quality working conditions. The mechanisms that facilitate this process are recruitment and retention. Recruitment and retention are important, ongoing processes that should be a top priority for higher-level institutions.

Routinely, recruitment and retention are important as institutions experience typical faculty turnover, but they are becoming increasingly critical since a sizeable proportion of faculty members across the nation are aging and nearing retirement. Replacing aging faculty is a primary issue facing various types of higher education institutions, including community colleges, four-year colleges, universities, and medical schools. The dilemma is that baby boomers are beginning to retire at a faster rate than they can be replaced by qualified faculty. It seems that previous patterns of hiring, along with low turnover and retirement rates, have led to an increase in the aging of faculty at the college and university levels. The aging of university faculty members is also a result of the 1994 elimination of mandatory retirement (Allen, 2004). This led to a slowing of promotions, a reduction in the number of new hires. an increase in labor costs (Clark & d'Ambrosio, 2005). Currently, the average age of retiring faculty members is between 60 and 70 years (Berberet, Bland, Brown, & Risbey, 2005).

Compounding this concern is a reduction in financial support to public institutions from both state and federal governments. Budget deficits are accelerating the retirement of a number of faculty members through early retirement benefits (Dee, 2004). In return, institutions save money by decreasing the number of faculty members. This poses a challenge to future recruiting, retention, and retirement policies and procedures as colleges and universities are faced with replacing the large number of faculty and administrators who plan to retire in the near future. Accompanying this challenge is apprehension about the growth of student populations, both in size and diversity. Colleges and universities are seeing enrollment rates increase from year to year, bringing about the need for more qualified and diverse professors.

The retirement of a large number of faculty members in addition to typical turnover in a short period threatens to be costly to both the reputation of an institution and the quality of its instruction (McBride, Munday, & Tunnell, 1992). Overall institutional effectiveness will be reduced if courses cannot be offered and projects cannot be completed as the number of qualified faculty declines.

Also, this condition poses a threat to faculty morale which, in turn, may affect student and faculty interaction. This effect can have an impact on student retention--particularly at the doctoral level (Braxton & McClendon, 2002). There are also practical concerns with these issues that may present further negative organizational consequences. This includes the costs required to recruit replacement faculty, as well as the potential disruption in workflow (Murray & Murray, 1998). These consequences threaten to compromise both the effectiveness and productivity of higher education institutions.

In 2000, a study was conducted to estimate the magnitude of concerns over the aging faculty population at the 16 University of North Carolina campuses. It was projected that approximately 10,000 faculty members would need to be hired by 2010 to replace retiring faculty and to meet the demands caused by the growth in enrollments (Brown & Trotman, 2005). The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada estimated that 3,000 new faculty members would need to be hired each year until 2010 (Elliott, 2000). This indicates that the concern is not limited to the U.S. Together, these projections suggest that institutions of higher education need to take the recruitment and retention processes seriously and engage in discussions to determine the action needed to obviate or minimize these issues.

Obviously, the need to fill future vacancies will require an adequate supply of doctoral graduates who are qualified and ready to take on a faculty position. There is no current evidence of an increase in doctoral program admissions, and recent surveys have shown that academic positions are not as attractive to doctoral students as are other careers (Berberet et al., 2005). To be competitive and attract more doctoral students, it is apparent that academic institutions must provide competitive salaries and benefits.

Another challenge facing the academic world is the dramatic annual increase in the cost of health insurance (Clark & d'Ambrosio, 2005). As a significant number of faculty retire, institutions will find that the cost of providing health insurance to retirees may become overwhelming. It will be important to find affordable and sufficient health insurance to cover the needs of retiring employees.

To combat the pressures associated with the increasing number of aging employees at institutions across the nation, it will be imperative that academic administrators begin to alter and improve personnel policies as well as engage in serious and sustained strategic planning (Clark & d'Ambrosio, 2005). Changes in personnel policies are needed to create policies and procedures for recruiting and retaining employees, as well as for faculty retirement. Strategic planning will need to be implemented to make long-term decisions about institutional objectives and selection strategies and to create policies and procedures that meet the challenges associated with an aging workforce.

To battle the problem of the aging institutional workforce, universities and other places of higher education should focus on recruiting high-quality faculty through competitive compensation and benefits and attractive working conditions (Clark & d'ambrosio, 2005). When recruiting new faculty, it is important that an institution have sufficient knowledge of its economic condition (e.g., current funding status), know which area(s) are most in need and have the highest demand for new faculty, and have long-term staffing plans. Part of the recruitment process, besides attracting qualified workers, is knowing the available funding level required for numbers of new hires. This, in turn, will affect whether or not an institution can hire full-time or part-time employees. It is also important to know what area(s) have the highest demand for a professor. It may not be necessary to fill a position in the same area in which a retiring faculty member taught. Finally, it is important to acknowledge the future staffing plans of the institution. Knowledge of future staffing plans will be crucial in deciding whether to hire tenure-track faculty, a full-time contract instructor, or a post-doctoral fellow. This decision will be a function of the institution's current funding and long-term employment plans (Clark & d'Ambrosio, 2005).

One way to ease the upcoming challenges of an aging institutional workforce is to retain current high-quality faculty members who provide value-added performance to the institution. This, too, can be accomplished by offering competitive salaries and benefits. In a time when health costs are on the rise, institutions are finding that faculty are leaving to take jobs at other institutions or in other careers because they are being offered greater health benefits (Clark & d'Ambrosio, 2005). By developing policies and processes to offer competitive benefits, an institution can better assure higher rates of retention among its faculty. The basis for developing future compensation and employment policies can be established by first understanding the preferences and attitudes of current faculty (Brown & Trotman, 2005; Clark & d'Ambrosio, 2005).

Many retirees report being concerned about rising health care costs (Clark & d'Ambrosio, 2005). With increased budget cuts, universities need to strategically plan for the retirement of employees and for the types of retirement plans that can be offered. The quality of retirement plans and policies offered by an institution can affect both faculty recruitment and retirement decisions and have a significant impact on the budget of a college or university.

One effective approach to successfully meeting retirement issues has been to offer a phased retirement plan (Allen, 2004; Clark & d'Ambrosio, 2005). A phased arrangement offers benefits to both retiring faculty and the institution. Two benefits to retiring employees include more opportunities for part-time work and the chance to transition more easily into the retirement lifestyle (Allen, 2004). Phased retirement is also potentially beneficial to an institution as low-performing faculty are encouraged to retire earlier, opening opportunities for employees who can provide more value-added performance. This enables the institution to advance the overall intellectual potential of its faculty at a decreased cost (Allen, 2004). Phased retirement can be attractive to newly hired faculty as well. It has been suggested that the retention of some aging faculty for part-time work will enable newly hired faculty to transition more easily into the academic world as the older faculty members provide mentoring to the new hires.

As the challenges of replacing the aging institutional workforce approach, there is an obvious need to match supply and demand. In other words, to build demand to an adequate level, academic administrators and state policymakers need research findings that pinpoint factors that motivate individuals to choose a career in academics. If the supply of qualified doctorates cannot match the need to fill academic faculty positions, then institutions will be in serious trouble as aging faculty members retire. It is also just as important to determine what factors motivate an individual to continue a career in academics as it is to determine the best incentives for retirement (Clark & d'Ambrosio, 2005). By identifying these motivators and incentives, policymakers and administrators will be able create the most appropriate policies and procedures for handling retirement and its impact upon an institution.

Overall, retirement may become a tool for reshaping an institutional workforce to meet the ever-changing needs and demands of its diverse and growing student population. To do so, it is imperative that colleges and universities begin to explore ways to deal with the upcoming retirement boom of the aging faculty. Institutions should employ strategic planning and appropriate policies and procedures to ensure replacement of retiring faculty, as well as retention of highly-productive ones. Competitive pay, benefits, and working conditions should be in place to assure recruitment and retention of qualified employees. It is also just as important that competitive retirement policies and plans are provided. Administrators continue research on the motivation of potential employees to choose careers in higher education as well as incentives that encourage the best faculty to continue a career in academe. Through strategic planning and reformed policies and procedures based upon the needs and concerns of current and retiring employees, institutions can put the worry of the aging workforce to rest.


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by Haskel D. Harrison, Ed.D., Senior Research Associate, Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research and Matthew J. Hargrove, M.S., Experimental Psychology Program, The University of Memphis

Dr. Haskel D. Harrison serves as a Senior Research Associate and received his Ed.D. in Education (Personnel Services from The University of Memphis. Dr. Harrison has over 25 years of experience directing and managing a variety of research and evaluation projects. He has produced over 50 research reports and monographs, published 27 articles and editorials in refereed journals or by invitation, and has presented at dozens of conferences and professional association meetings. Dr. Harrison's expertise includes quality performance evaluations, economic impact studies, applied research, agency assessments, and applied behavior analysis.

Matthew J. Hargrove is currently a student in the M.S./Ph.D. Experimental Psychology program (with a concentration in I-O Psychology) at the University of Memphis. He has completed all of the requirements for his M.S., which he will receive in May of 2007. He recently defended his master's thesis which studied strategies for surveying Navy personnel on their attitudes about Navy climate. He currently conducts research on Naval Officers for the United States Navy Bureau of Personnel in the Institute for Selection and Classification. He has a background in organizational assessment, selection and classification, and industrial safety. His interests include using behavior-based safety techniques to improve safety, survey research, behavior management, and organizational development.
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Author:Harrison, Haskel D.; Hargrove, Matthew J.
Publication:Business Perspectives
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2006
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