Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Modeling Supply and Demand for Arts and Sciences Faculty

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Modeling Supply and Demand for Arts and Sciences Faculty

Article excerpt

What Ten Years of Data Tell Us About the Labor Market Projections of Bowen and Sosa

Introduction: Labor Market Models, Data, and Critiques

In 1989 William Bowen and Julie Sosa published Prospects for Faculty in the Arts & Sciences, attempting to project the balance of faculty supply and demand over a 25-year span, from 1987 through 2012. The book was the last of a number of similar reports and studies (e.g., Bowen & Schuster, 1986; Lozier & Dooris, 1987; McGuire & Price, 1989), all of which predicted, from the depths of a recession in the academic labor markets, that a rapid turnaround was in sight. Although the supply of new PhDs had far exceeded the demand for new faculty throughout the eighties, these works were intended as wake-up calls to the fact that the large numbers of faculty who had been hired during higher education's expansion in the sixties would soon retire, creating a swelling demand for new faculty that would be difficult to fill at the then current rate of PhD production. The intent was to spur action on the part of institutions and policymakers to increase the flow of students into graduate programs and rebuild the supply of faculty.

All of these works relied on "fixed-coefficient" models for calculating future supply and demand. That is, they projected current trends mathematically, without attempting to account for feedback loops or adjustment mechanisms of the marketplace. Yet, there is a range of different levels of sophistication. Whereas much of the previous work had been based upon relatively simple assumptions, Bowen and Sosa took a much more detailed approach, making Prospects for Faculty extremely rich in hard data. Indeed, its authors had access to levels of detail in their data that had been almost unimaginable just a few years earlier. Bowen and Schuster (1986), for example, were unapologetic in their work's aggregation of the entire national academic labor market, explaining that "the necessary data...[to break the totals down into components such as geographic regions, types of institutions, or academic disciplines] ... are not available and we do not have the resources to gather them" (p. 195). In their defense, Bowen and Schuster were primarily concerned with the quality of faculty, not quantity. Bowen and Sosa, on the other hand, focusing almost entirely on quantity, were able to obtain finer data and disaggregate their figures, both for faculty and for graduate degrees, by individual academic fields and by type of institution. Although their model required them to make many assumptions about the future values of various factors and coefficients, the majority of these assumptions are carefully supported by detailed analyses of data trends.

Out of a universe of, at one count, 96 distinct scenarios that might be played out over the quarter century of their vision, Bowen and Sosa eventually narrowed their projections down to four main models that they considered most likely to occur. With only slight variation, each of those models projected significant shortages of PhDs in the academic labor market arising as early as 1992 and by 1997 at the latest, reversing an oversupply of PhDs during the years leading up to that point. Unlike their contemporaries, however, Bowen and Sosa did not attribute the projected shortages to any sudden wave of retirements, but rather to the combined effects of slight recoveries in postsecondary enrollments (after a drop in the early nineties), stagnant production of PhDs (with actual declines in the percentage of new PhDs who choose to pursue academic careers) and most importantly, a large, steady outflow of faculty from the combined life processes of career changes, retirements, and deaths.

Almost immediately after its publication, some researchers began to criticize the accuracy and reliability of the projections made in Prospects for Faculty (Blum, 1991; Gill, 1992), even as others rushed to proclaim the arrival of the first faculty shortages years ahead of when Bowen and Sosa had predicted they would begin (EI-Khawas, 1990, 1991). …

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