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  • Writer's pictureSteven Lee

How Fierce is the Academic Job Market?

It has been known for many years--probably since 1986 when Congress passed legislation outlawing mandatory retirement--that academic jobs would continue to be in short supply and high demand. While a newly-minted PhD's general job prospects can be lackluster (depending on the field), opportunities in higher education, particularly History, English, Life Sciences & Engineering, and even Business, have remained scant for several years. This trend is strongest for full-time faculty positions (compared to full-time, non-faculty academic jobs), namely those seeking tenure.

As Michael Kitces notes, things may be different for financial planning in large part due to increased awareness and affirmation of its status as a bona fide discipline. Nevertheless, for budding academicians who may not be eligible for tenure, adjunct jobs may be used to fill the void until a full-time offer becomes available. However, even instructor positions are becoming increasingly competitive.

Colleges and universities are turning to online recruitment companies such as Indeed, Monster, Glassdoor, and HigherEd Jobs to help spread the word about new vacancies. Many of these vendors follow-up with the applicant to track various analytics such as percentage of candidates progressing to each stage of the job search, job seeker demographics, and other quantitative data.

Earlier this month, I applied to an adjunct position at a local university to fill a deficiency of in-person classroom teaching evaluations since most of my instruction over the past few years has been online. Two days ago, I received the following email from Indeed, through whom I applied for the part-time post:

One hundred ninety (190) applicants responding to an adjunct faculty position! Granted, the job's advertisement called for those in Business, broadly construed, which includes Finance, Marketing, Management, Accounting, Public Administration, and Information Decision Sciences. Nevertheless, nearly 200 applicants to enter a part-time faculty pool. The ad didn't specify the exact number of available positions. What is most shocking, however, is the number of applicants within the Southern California area that are, presumably, qualified. Qualifications included a graduate degree in a relevant field plus five year's of work experience. A terminal degree was preferred. It is safe to assume that most (if not all) of the applicants are SoCal residents; Despite CSUSB's* rate of $4,000 or so per course, it is difficult to imagine a person would relocate cross-country for that.

When it comes to business and finance, specifically financial planning, there are some upsides to academic employment. First, many of the requirements in the form of work experience will come from one's "day job" and not from prior teaching; This favors new professors who came up without teaching- and research assistant opportunities. Second, it is easier when you operate your own practice to accept part-time work until a more permanent position opens-up. This is true both in both scheduling and compensatory aspects. Finally, even if academe doesn't work out, you have something to fall back on, and due to your practical and pedagogical experiences, you may be an attractive candidate for other prospects such as a regulator.

As a whole, the sustainability of higher education is uncertain. Even when President Obama increased its access to more Americans, an explosion of professor jobs never followed (in fact, many felt the opposite effect). As tuition continues to outpace inflation, ultimately causing younger generations to lag behind in life, one wonders when we'll see a sudden, significant drop in demand for college degrees. If that occurs, it may render the entire discussion moot.

*Disclosure: Normally, I don't include identifying information in my graphics or text. However, in this case the job advertisement is public knowledge. Still, the reader shouldn't draw inferences about the institution, one way or the other, based on this blog post as it's not the topic of interest.

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