Cover Story

Are there enough academic positions for the next crop of psychology professors?

That depends on the type of jobs they're looking for--and how long they're willing to wait for them.

Employment data seem to indicate that there are academic opportunities for psychologists, including a particular need in the school psychology and quantitative psychology fields. But overall, the demand for academic jobs in psychology "may somewhat exceed current supply, and finding these positions may take a little longer than in previous decades," says APA Research Office Director Jessica L. Kohout, PhD.

More importantly, says Kohout and others, most jobs to be had at colleges and universities are not the tenure-track appointments that many new psychology graduates have come to expect. The positions that are available in all areas of psychology--and steadily growing in number--are nontenure-track, part-time or contract positions, known as contingent jobs.

Some psychologists seek out such flexible posts to help them balance innovative career goals or busy family lives (see "Off the tenure track"), but many balk at such positions since contingent faculty get few or no benefits, no chance at promotion and little stability, says Kathleen Barker, PhD, a social psychologist at Medgar Evers College of The City University of New York who closely tracks psychologists' employment patterns.

"There's been a huge restructuring in academe," says Barker. "It's not just a question of whether there are jobs out there. A far more important issue is which academic positions are being added and which are being taken away."

New academic realities

Tenure-track positions in all areas of academe--not just psychology--have gradually been replaced by less permanent slots since 1975, says Barker.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education's National Study of Postsecondary Faculty show that in 1975, 36.5 percent of all academic positions-defined as those that primarily teach or conduct research--were tenured. But according to the most recent data available, as of 2003, only 24.1 percent of all faculty positions were tenured. And a full 65 percent of 2003 faculty were contingent. In 1975, only 43.2 percent were.

The good news is that, overall, doctoral psychologists in academe are more likely to be tenured than faculty in other disciplines: As of 2003, 37.2 percent of psychology professors were tenured, 20.3 percent were tenure-track and 42.5 were contingent.

What's driving universities to replace their tenure-track positions with contingent jobs? Universities claim it's the higher costs of higher education, says Jonathan Knight, director of the American Association of University Professors' program on academic freedom and tenure. The financial bind, he says, stems in part from state and local funding that hasn't kept up with inflation. In addition, many institutions are investing mightily in their technological capabilities. And, with the huge increases in medical costs over the past two decades, part-timers are less expensive to hire because they don't get medical benefits. "That's a huge savings for any institution," says Knight.

The retirement myth

But what about all those retiring baby boomers? Shouldn't they be leaving their tenured posts soon, making room for the next generation?

Not necessarily, say those in academe. "I have been hearing about the aging professoriate and the effect of retirements for 16 years, and still the academic job market remains about the same, if not deteriorating somewhat after 2001," says Clare Porac, PhD, a psychology professor at Penn State University, Erie, and APA's senior scientist.

Porac notes that the baby boomers are not likely to retire at 65 since many will not receive their full social security benefits until their late 60s--and most universities don't have set-in-stone retirement ages. The overall economy also plays a huge role in who will retire, notes Barker: The 1999 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty indicated that many psychology professors planned to retire within five years. However, the 1999-2000 stock market crash affected many retirement portfolios, and informal evidence suggests that some faculty postponed retirement.

In addition, when a position does become vacant, it is often taken off the tenure-track and made a contract position, says Porac.

She also points out that many baby-boomer psychologists are women who started their academic careers later than their male counterparts--in their 40s as compared with the 30s for men. "These women [may] remain in their positions through their 60s in order to achieve levels of retirement income equivalent to men," says Porac.

Hot sectors

More retirements are, however, expected at community colleges, which already have the highest percentage of nontenured faculties, according to the National Education Association. In fact, the American Association of Community Colleges predicts that in the next two years, about 30 percent of the nearly 100,000 community-college faculty members will retire or leave.

In addition, Kohout notes, there is the potential for new academic jobs with the growing popularity of online education, although at this point APA's Research Office does not have precise numbers on the supply and demand for these positions.

Among the areas where tenured faculty positions are needed is school psychology, says Frank Worrell, PhD, associate professor of school psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and president-elect of APA's Div. 16 (School).

"There's always been a shortage of school psychology faculty, but lately it's gotten worse," he says. Last January, he counted 75 open positions at four-year colleges and universities, most of them tenure-track. He says the nation is demanding more school psychologists in part because the No Child Left Behind legislation "has put a greater emphasis on empirically validated interventions, and that's school psychologists' expertise."

Perhaps an even greater opportunity for psychologists who seek tenure-track positions is in the quantitative field, where there has been a growing shortage despite the continued need for quantitative psychologists' expertise in research design, measurement and assessment, and statistical analysis, says APA Executive Director for Education Cynthia Belar, PhD. Even the leading doctoral programs are sometimes unable to fill their positions, she notes. Recognizing the dire situation, last year APA's Council of Representatives established the Task Force for Increasing the Number of Quantitative Psychologists.

Meanwhile, more varied academic job prospects await those with a less traditional outlook. "Don't forget to look beyond the psychology department," says Belar. "Psychology is a vibrant discipline in academia, with connections and positions in such departments as business, nursing, dentistry, medical schools, pharmacy, neuroscience, even agriculture."

Sara Martin is a writer in Washington, D.C.

Starting academic salaries

Here are some starting salaries for faculty in U.S. doctoral departments of psychology.

$52,708 Mean starting salary for a new faculty member who was a new doctorate recipient in 2005–2006

$53,121 Expected mean salary for a new doctorate recipient in 2005–2006

$56,195 Expected mean salary for a new faculty with two years postdoctoral experience in 2005–2006

Source: APA Research Office


Gender disparity narrows

When it comes to tenure and gender, men are almost twice as likely to be tenured as women:
47.6 percent of all male psychology faculty versus

25.8 percent of women psychology professors.
But women’s academic careers look brighter in the future.
As of 2003, 25 percent of women psychology professors and 15.7 percent of men professors were on track for tenure: That’s because more women are earning doctorates in psychology than men.

Kathleen Barker, PhD, Analyst.
Source: National Center for Education Statistics, National Study of Postsecondary Faculty: 2004