Aging Faculty: Workforce Challenges and Issues Facing Higher Education

By Harrison, Haskel D.; Hargrove, Matthew J. | Business Perspectives, Fall-Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Aging Faculty: Workforce Challenges and Issues Facing Higher Education


Harrison, Haskel D., Hargrove, Matthew J., Business Perspectives


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. …

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