One way of tackling the increasing cost of higher education would be to turn back trend of declining teaching loads as described in a recent report from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and Education Sector. Titled Selling Students Short: Declining Teaching Loads at Universites and colleges, the report argues that while faculty salaries compromise the largest part of college spending, their workload has consistently gone down for decades.
It’s nearly impossible to find accurate information about teaching loads since the only recent survey conducted around the issue by the Department of Education provides no detail and just has aggregate data open to the public via its Data Analysis System. Not just is the information for the university impossible to acquire, there’s additionally a simple paucity of information since the survey has only been conducted 4 times since 1987 and not once since 2004.
The DAS figures reveal that across all tenured and tenure-track faculty, the average number of classes taught per term declined from 3.6 in 1987-1988 to 2.7 in 2003-2004, a 25 % decline. The national averages obscure significant differences among various universities, but as Figure 1 shows, teaching loads (defined as the average number of courses taught in the fall term [semester or quarter]) have fallen substantially across the board. Indeed, the decline continues to be so widespread that, typically, professors at liberal arts colleges, which traditionally prioritized teaching, taught less in 2003-2004 than professors at research universities did in 1987-1988.
The authors speculate that the decline arrives in part to universites and colleges prioritizing research and publication over teaching. This assertion is borne by the data released through the Modern Language Association, which found that the number of departments that rank scholarship as a primary motivator in hiring decisions has more than doubled between 1968 and 2007.
Tenured and tenure-track faculty doing less teaching compared to what they used to has an impact on the school’s main point here. Lectures, in the end, still have to be delivered, and schools spend additional money hiring adjuncts or increasing section sizes to accommodate all the students.
Without better data, we can\’t tell how often colleges and universities choose these different options, nor are we able to tell exactly what the total effect of a decline in teaching loads is around the institution\’s budget. But using DAS and IPEDS data, we can examine one aspect of the total effect: option (d), getting a full-time professor to show the course. This is likely to be a reasonable and conservative estimate of the total rise in costs since options (a) and (b) do not increase costs at all, and option (c) increases costs only marginally because adjuncts are usually paid a low salary.