Will Great Resignation among faculty hit higher ed next?

Cengage report shows professors aren't really doing what they love most, and leaders should be concerned.

Faculty in higher education are only spending 13% of their time truly engaging with students but working more hours on other tasks, leading to increasing questions about their willingness to remain in their positions long term.

A new Faces of Faculty survey of more than 1,000 professors and instructors by education technology provider Cengage raises the possibility that colleges and universities may soon face a Great Resignation on the faculty side because of a number of factors. So far, colleges have not experienced the same kind of attrition that has plagued K-12 school districts over the past few years.

However, being asked to embrace different forms of instruction while heavily increasing new content to meet demand has pushed some to think about leaving altogether. In fact, about 18% say they have considered quitting in the past six months. An alarming 26% say they are dissatisfied with their jobs. On the positive side, two-thirds of the faculty surveyed feel equipped to handle the challenges and pace of the changing environment and are comfortable in their roles.

“Almost all faculty say their role as an educator has changed, including how they’re spending their time each day as they manage multiple course modalities, meet new creative content demands and keep up with student communication needs,” says Erin Joyner, Senior Vice President for Product at Cengage. “Their connection with students–teaching, helping and mentoring them, is the greatest driver of satisfaction for faculty, but they are continually pulled away from that because of competing priorities.”

Those tasks include devoting around 30% of their time to preparing coursework and another 14% on dealing with administrative work. Actual classroom instruction takes up 42% of their days (down they say from previous years), leaving just a smidgen of time for the thing 88% of them love the most, which is real communication with students.

Even connecting with them has been a challenge, with nearly half of faculty reporting that when they do, it’s about class content and giving them “personalized” instructions. A robust 60% said “adapting to new student expectations has had a significant impact on their role.”

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Tension builds

What is at the root of the frustrations being experienced by faculty thinking about leaving their positions? More than half say they either feel a lack of support from the administration or they feel they are underpaid. Not surprisingly, juggling multiple modalities registered on 17% of surveys. But one that might jump out is faculty’s exasperation over academic dishonesty among students and a lack of response to the problem. One professor noted in the Cengage report that a college’s “focus moved from being transformational to being transactional.”

What pleases most faculty–beyond having the time to engage with students–is when they can give some of their time to conducting research or learning new technology. About 10% say they don’t really want to be micromanaged, and 8% like having flexibility in their jobs.

Though faculty and adjunct positions have not seen a Great Resignation, there have been notable shortage in other areas, including service jobs and in campus healthcare. In June, a report released by EAB and NAGAP, The Association for Graduate Enrollment Management, showed the stunning levels of workers in those areas considering a job change because, as one leader put it, “there are so many people that are just totally burned out.” Many of them blame increased workloads that have not ebbed since the start of the pandemic and for having to cover for positions that have become vacant.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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