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« Five years on the academic job market (Jeremy Davis) | Main | Race equality work in Philosophy @Sheffield (Guest post by Tareeq O. Jalloh) »

11/16/2022

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bigdawg

FWIW, I think it's too early in the cycle to make a judgment one way or the other.
I have seen SLAC jobs roll in all the way into the spring before, especially some lesser known, less prestigious SLAC's on HigherEdJobs

SLAC Associate

At my tuition-driven northeastern SLAC, the enrollment cliff, coupled with pre-existing financial pressures are the reasons we are given for our reduced hiring. The pre-existing financial pressures come from a number of places, but have been more acute due to the direct impacts of COVID (added expenses in testing and the like), and indirect effects (effects on student retention rates). As an institution, we had far fewer tenure track requests approved than in recent years.

I am hesitant to generalize from one data point, and I can't compare with other kinds of institutions, but my sense from talking to colleagues in the Admissions and Finance side of the university is that these pressures are widespread in our peer groups. As such, I suspect that Marcus' analysis is spot-on.

SLAC TT

I'm at a SLAC that will probably run a search later this year. There are many reasons why the ad hasn't yet been posted--general incompetence at the admin level being a chief one--but I also think that schools like mine often like to hold off as long as possible to run their searches (e.g., to see how the budget will look and to see if the hiring department gives up on insisting on their hire). For reasons like these, you tend to see more SLAC ads in the spring semester than R1 ads.

SLAC chair

I'm a chair at a SLAC (and have been for 11 years) and have commented a few times before on this blog. I might end up looking for a job if my department is cut in its entirety. Things are dire at tuition driven, small schools. We're trying to keep existing jobs, not get new hires.

Tenured SLAC

As others have already noted, there may be jobs coming out later in the hiring season at SLACs. This is due, as has been noted, to budget issues. SLACs have retention and recruitment issues, and this makes it challenging to predict how many courses need to be offered each semester. I attended a SLAC and was recently tenured at a SLAC. There is much to love about these places, but the future looks grim indeed. Unless you are at a top-25 US News school with a large endowment, you are probably--like SLAC chair above--worried about the fate of your department and your livelihood. There are a few lessons here. Before relocating for a TT job at a SLAC, realize that tenure is next to meaningless if your department is cut. Life at a SLAC often involves a tremendous amount of service and teaching, and too many of my colleagues neglected their scholarship because of this. Though they are good citizens of the college, all this service will mean little if they are forced back onto the market.

I predict that many northeastern SLACs will plan for smaller enrollments and begin building a curriculum and faculty for that smaller enrollment projection. As well--and this is true where I work--salaries are being frozen and retirements cut. This means that people in tenured lines will be unable to retire, making it less likely that there will be new jobs at SLACs in future years.This creates a vicious cycle: underpaid faculty angry that they cannot retire, teaching courses that push students away from the college, further shrinking enrollment. Those who can leave (faculty and students) do, leaving the college even less desirable.

We know the job market is brutal but we also need to know that the rosy life we may project for ourselves when accepting a job will crash into the reality that the 48K we are offered as an assistant professor may not grow that much over our career. And instead of writing scholarship, we will be writing endless committee reports about what can be done to save an institution (while paying armies of consultants and admins who ostensibly have this insight).

SLAC TT

For those who might be coming over from the Leiter Reports link: in this context, the 'S' in SLAC likely stands for 'small,' not 'selective.' Selective liberal arts colleges are not facing the problems described above, or at least not to nearly the same degree. Williams, Wellesley, etc., or even those a tier below, do not have difficulty recruiting sufficient numbers of qualified students, let alone students period.

Midwestern SLAC Prof

I am in my 19th year at a midwestern SLAC, and given various committee duties and other roles I've had, I'm pretty deep inside our budget situation and I also know what's going on at a number of similar places. The situation is grim.

The budget at a place like ours is pretty simple. On the expense side, you've got faculty/staff compensation, program costs, debt service, and physical plant maintenance, where the biggest component by far is compensation. On the revenue side, you've got net tuition, development, endowment draw, and any other ancillaries (bookstore, summer facility rentals, etc.), where the biggest component by far is net tuition. As demographics shift in the country (towards a greater percentage of students with lesser means, who are less familiar with our institutions, etc., as well as fewer college-going students generally), elite LACs continue to be able to demand high tuition because their value proposition is secure--i,e., students will borrow a lot to go. But for the great majority of SLACs, discount rates have climbed higher and higher as we compete with each other for a shrinking pool of students, which has bitten hard into net tuition revenue. Here is where a big endowment can help--because endowment draw is typically something like 4-5% on a 3-year trailing average, that draw is very different when your endowment is $500m vs. $100m. Again here, the elite schools are fine, but non-elite SLACs are pressured.

This has been creeping up on all of us for awhile. Salaries and positions have been frozen or contracted; deferred maintenance on campus (where many of us have older buildings) has slowed to a trickle. The covid year of 2020 then was fuel on the fire. At school after school, people have cut to the bone, and are still running unsustainable deficits. And demographic projections only mean that no relief is coming.

We've all heard the joke about getting chased by a bear: you don't have to outrun the bear, you just have to outrun the people you're with. That's pretty much the story, I think, of SLACs over the next 10-15 years. The best-case scenario involves doing everything you can to enhance your value proposition, hoping that the fund-raisers can work some magic, and then outlasting your competitors (some of whom will go under) so that you can hoover up the students who would have gone to those now-extinct places.

As I said, grim. My day-to-day life as a professor is still pretty much great, when I can focus on my students and my classes. But when I zoom out and look at the overall state of things, it's akin to climate change. All signs point to doom.

Loathsome Consultant

I work for a consultant to enrollment offices, and I can confirm that the enrollment cliff has occupied, for at least a decade, significant space in the minds of all SLAC VPEMs, especially in the Northeast and Midwest.

The two obvious responses to the cliff each generate challenges that regional SLACs are least well-positioned to address.

Solution 1: maybe you want to recruit from states with growing HS grad populations (and are less saturated with SLAC competition). These students are much more expensive to recruit than what your enrollment offices are accustomed to: admissions travel, digital marketing, fly-in visits, etc., all add significantly to enrollment expenses (already a huge sticking point for most faculty) while adding no new value to the discount rate.

Speaking of, CA and TX have remarkably strong in-state university systems that your SLAC now has to compete with, with CA especially going above and beyond to make college affordable for in-state grads. That commitment to financing is matched by a system of on-campus resources, which were built to support a less college-ready and otherwise more disadvantaged HS grad population.

For your SLAC to compete with those systems (and your own state uni system that is certainly recruiting there) you also have to reduce the effective tuition AND build on-campus institutions designed effectively to support these students' success. Failure to do *both* raises recruiting and retention challenges.

Solution 2: maybe you want to recruit more adults/non-traditional students. Again, your State U has the same idea, building networks with CCs, adult degree completion programs, online options, *and* a marketing plan appealing specifically to these students. Has your SLAC done any of this? And if they have, can they credibly claim (to the student) that they're as good as/better than State U?

Does your faculty support easing transfer reqs? This is especially difficult for LA faculties. Because most students transferring from CCs claim to have attended CC to complete Gen Ed reqs and are highly profession- and (perceived) ROI-oriented, unless there's a college-wide attempt to include LA faculty in the majors these students *will choose* they won't add much to demand for LA faculty members.

Professionally-oriented MA programs? Again, a bugaboo for historically-LA faculties, both culturally and practically. And that's while demand has declined, on account of (perceived) low ROI from expensive programs and the strong labor market. If your SLAC has moved in this direction, has anyone made any effort to ensure that philosophy faculty members have required courses in prospective MAs? If not, you're going to become a business college with an attached four-storey brick Victorian carbuncle.

My two 'takeaways' here are, first, that the SLAC faculty problem is downstream from a variety of administrative and recruiting problems upon which LA faculty can (now) have only a limited effect.

The second is that most of higher ed is further along in adjunctifying its faculty than regional SLACs are. Beholden as he is to the Board of Trustees, and beholden as the Board is to wholly non-academic interests, no president will do anything to spend down the endowment to protect the TT:adjunct ratio, however central this ratio *actually* is to an institution's identity. The costs of ceding responsibility for and authority over institutional identity to administrators will continue to pay its awful dividend.

Former SLAC-er Assoc. Prof.

My position was cut early in the pandemic after I'd taught at a SLAC in the Northeast for fifteen years. I can confirm that (1) salary compressions is real (I started in 2006 with a salary of around $48k and left with a salary of around $53k) and (2) so is the low-grade anxiety around declining enrollments. My former school made a number of foolish financial decisions, but the fact is that enrollment declined precipitously from 1200 students down to around 600 students. I'd definitely think twice before I took such a position again. If my experience is any guide, the Humanities, apart from English and History, are in the process of dying at these tuitiion-driven small colleges in the Northeast.

Another confirmation

As another midwestern SLAC prof, I second everything that "Midwestern SLAC Prof" says above---everyone should read their post. I am in my 5th year in a TT position at a SLAC. I have had one (ONE!) pay raise so far; a large number of programs and tenured faculty were recently cut; and the outlook is not promising for those of us who remain--every year we admit slightly fewer and fewer students. I, like many of my younger-ish colleagues, are actively job searching and are looking to leave academia altogether. Other colleagues, those who are closer to retirement, are just hoping the university survives 5-10 more years.

If you are on the job market, good luck. I would encourage you to ask about or research on your own the school's enrollment trends and endowment size. As enrollment drops, draw on the unrestricted endowment increases. (Much of a school's endowment is earmarked for certain things; a small percentage is "unrestricted" and able to be used to offset budget deficit.)

NE SLAC associate

Like Midwestern SLAC, I’m in a bit on budgeting and can report the same experience. The smart play (we think) is to plan for smaller enrollment, recruit from outside our region, and shrink faculty size by attrition. Other places have apparently committed to keeping class size up, which will be unsustainable in the next seven years or so, and they’ll be stuck with faculty.

My impression is that we are in a survivable crisis. One of the largest threats is faculty refusal to see the problem. We can’t afford departments that have mostly empty classes, but some faculty insist that “we simply must” offer majors or minors in Unpopular Field, thus committing us to empty classes required for the curriculum. My advice to philosophers is to make yourselves indispensable however possible, eg. by offering service courses and boosting enrollments.

Another tenured SLAC prof

Assoc. professor at an elite SLAC here. I agree with Midwestern SLAC Prof. There is lots of concern at my institution about rising costs and rising discount rates, but there is also a widespread belief that hard times produce a “flight to quality”—i.e., more selective institutions won’t have trouble recruiting enough students even after the demographic cliff. Of course, if that’s true, our survival will come at the cost of others perishing.

I would encourage job candidates at the fly out stage at SLACs to ask candid (polite) questions about this kind of issue. The department should be happy to be candid in return, and, if they aren’t, you probably don’t want that job (and it may not continue existing for very long).

This probably goes without saying, but candidates should also do their research about the “market position” of the SLAC where they are interviewing (is it perceived as elite? What’s its endowment? What’s its US News ranking? Acceptance rate? Yield? Etc). There is enormous variability within the SLAC landscape.

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