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Changing Numbers in Academic Employment of Scientists and Engineers

November/December 1998

In the first half of the 1990s, academic employment of science and engineering doctorate holders underwent very slow overall growth, according to a recent Data Brief from NSF's Division of Science Resources Studies (SRS).

The Data Brief reports that from 1990 to 1995, the average annual increase of overall academic doctoral S&E employment was below 1 percent, a sharp contrast to the 4.7 percent average during the 1970s. Of those doctoral scientists and engineers employed by colleges and universities, only 79 percent were full-time faculty members, as opposed to 88 percent in the early 1970s.

While full-time faculty numbers have dropped, employment of doctoral scientists and engineers in other full-time capacities rose from 37,500 in 1991 to 46,200 in 1995. This increase is due largely to an increase in postdoctorates, from 10,000 to 16,800. Other full-time employees outside the faculty ranks--such as teaching associates and administrators--rose from 20,200 in 1991 to 23,900 in 1995.

In addition, while senior faculty has fallen by 4 percent since 1991, faculty in junior ranks--assistant professors and instructors--increased by 10 percent. The only exception: computer sciences, in which the number of senior faculty nearly doubled, from 900 in 1991 to 1,700 in 1995.

One possible explanation for the changing academic profile is that many faculty hired during the U.S. expansion of higher education in the 1960s are nearing retirement. As of 1995, one in every ten full-time doctoral S&E faculty members were at or above age 60. Author Rolf Lehming writes, "As universities and colleges struggle to gain financial flexibility, they face questions about replacement hiring, the role of part-time faculty, and a variety of other appointment alternatives."

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