College Faculty & Staff

Overview

College Faculty & Staff

Writing about higher education faculty and staff? Perfect. This is fertile ground for so many stories about higher education. 

Writing about higher education faculty and staff? Perfect. This is fertile ground for so many stories about higher education. 

The faculty and staff are very visible and prominent on every college campus. The staff run the campus by handling such responsibilities as maintaining buildings, overseeing admissions, distributing financial aid, and increasingly, new but vital tasks such as providing mental health counseling. Professors do research that can lead to improved cancer treatments, new ways to address racism, or higher-yield rice plants. But their main task is to educate students. And the way they approach this task — such as whether they read from old lecture notes or use more Socratic methods, or whether they grade by multiple choice exam or essay — can have profound influences on the lives of their students. 

The numbers are huge: As of 2018, fully 1.5 million Americans were teaching at the college level, and another 2 million were on staff. Instructional costs, including faculty pay and benefits, are the single biggest expenditure at most public and private non-profit institutions. Faculty and staff salaries and benefits make up 27 percent of the budget at public four-year colleges, and 31 percent of the budget at private four-year institutions.

There are big differences between faculty and staff members, however. Among the biggest: Professors are generally promised academic freedom, which is permission to pursue even controversial ideas without fear of institutional reprisal. This is part and parcel of the tenure system, so tenured professors have more guarantees of academic freedom than untenured ones. Staff members are not guaranteed academic freedom and may be fired at will. Conflicts between faculty and often, politically appointed college board members, often generate important news stories. 

Higher education faculty and staff issues — such as costs, potential biases in the hiring process, and their freedom to teach and make public statements about controversial issues — will continue to be hot topics for reporters on the higher education beat. Compelling story ideas may also include technology’s impact on education, the educational load that faculty members are asked to take on, unionization of adjunct faculty members and changes in the payment structure among staff members.

Updated June 2021.

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Data/Research: College Faculty & Staff

Reporters covering this beat can benefit from these helpful sources for data and research on faculty and staff issues: 

Adjuncts

Fast facts from The New Faculty Majority, a national adjunct advocacy organization.

Information on the links between student learning and faculty working conditions from the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success at the University of Southern California .

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History and Background: College Faculty & Staff

The state of higher education faculty has changed dramatically since the first colleges and universities opened in the U.S. The first colleges predate the founding of the United States, and were established to train members of the clergy. Over time, institutions began to train more men (and it was mostly men) for different kinds of careers. Still, the curriculum generally remained classical and narrow until the 19th Century. That’s when many historians agree that a distinct and diverse model of U.S.

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College Faculty Diversity

Faculty members matter not just for what they teach students, but for what students see in them. In addition to academic excellence, this is why faculty diversity matters. Students need role models and mentors who look like them, and underrepresented minority faculty representation is associated with underrepresented minority student persistence.

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The Great Tenure Debate

Tenure describes an indefinite appointment that colleges can only terminate under very specific circumstances, such as when discontinuing an entire academic program.  

But a large number of colleges have developed their own (often less advantageous to faculty) definitions of “tenure,” which can make coverage of this issue challenging, since reporters have to clarify what a particular college’s tenure consists of.

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74th EWA National Seminar
Virtual, May 2-5, 2021

The Education Writers Association’s 74th National Seminar will focus on the theme of “Now What? Reporting on Education Amid Uncertainty.” Four afternoons of conversations, training and presentations will give attendees deeper understanding of these crises, as well as tools, skills and context to help them better serve their communities — and advance their careers. 

To be held May 2-5, 2021, the seminar will feature education newsmakers, including leaders, policy makers, researchers, practitioners and journalists. And it will offer practical data and other skills training. 

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73rd EWA National Seminar

EWA’s National Seminar is the largest annual gathering of journalists on the education beat. 

This multi-day conference is designed to give participants the skills, understanding, and inspiration to improve their coverage of education at all levels. It also will deliver a lengthy list of story ideas. We will offer numerous sessions on important education issues, as well as on journalism skills.

EWA Radio

Teachers Fight for Student Loan Debt Relief
NPR investigation finds thousands of borrowers wrongly denied federal forgiveness
(EWA Radio: Episode 217)

Two federal programs intended to steer college students toward public service jobs like teaching in high-poverty schools instead became mired in missteps, as recipients found their grants wrongly converted into high-interest loans. Cory Turner of NPR’s education team spent 18 months looking at problems with the TEACH Grant program.

EWA Radio

No Forgiveness: Teachers Struggle With Unfair Student Loan Debt
Two federal programs under scrutiny, as thousands of borrowers caught in administrative missteps
(EWA Radio: Episode 217)

Two federal programs that were supposed to steer college students to public service jobs like teaching in high-poverty schools instead became mired in missteps, as the recipients unexpectedly found their grants wrongly converted into high-interest loans. Cory Turner of NPR’s education team spent 18 months looking at problems with the TEACH Grant program, and his findings helped spur the U.S. Department of Education to reverse course.

Tip Sheet

EWA Tip Sheet: Covering Innovations to Bachelor’s Degrees

Driven by changing student demographics and demands from employers, colleges are experimenting with new, more flexible and affordable bachelors’ degrees, a panel of higher education leaders and experts told journalists at the Education Writers Association’s 2019 National Seminar.

Colleges are trying boot camps, competency-based education, credit for prior learning, and other strategies to lower costs, speed up and improve the value of bachelors’ degrees.

Tip Sheet

EWA Tip Sheet: How to Write About Graduate Schools

Most journalists covering universities focus on undergraduate programs, even though, in many cases, the graduate student population is larger and has a bigger impact on the school’s financial health. So graduate schools can be a trove of fresh, under-covered story ideas, according to graduate student representatives and researchers who spoke at the Education Writers Association’s 2019 National Seminar.

Tip Sheet

EWA Tip Sheet: How to Cover Instruction in College Classrooms

Many instructors still use traditional-style lectures despite growing scientific evidence that less-passive approaches are more effective in building students’ skills and knowledge. At the Education Writers Association 2019 National Seminar, Harvard professor Eric Mazur demonstrated to journalists how active engagement – both inside and outside the classroom – stimulates higher-order thinking and motivates students to learn.

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72nd EWA National Seminar
Baltimore • May 6-8, 2019

EWA’s National Seminar is the largest annual gathering of journalists on the education beat. This year’s event in Baltimore, hosted by Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education, will explore an array of timely topics of interest to journalists from across the country, with a thematic focus on student success, safety, and well-being.

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Higher Education Seminar Fall 2018
Las Vegas • UNLV • September 24-25, 2018

The Education Writers Association will hold its 2018 Higher Education Seminar Sept. 24-25 on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The theme of this year’s intensive training event for journalists will be “Navigating Rapid Change.” This journalist-only event will offer two days of high-impact learning opportunities. The seminar will focus on how both postsecondary education and journalism are adjusting to an increasingly divisive political environment, the decline of traditional revenue sources, and continuing technological innovations that are upending much of the economy.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Top Higher Ed Stories for the 2018-19 Academic Year
Politics is driving some of the hottest news stories on college campuses.

Some of the most pressing higher education stories for the next academic year will spring from the intersection of education and politics, predicts Scott Jaschik, the editor of Inside Higher Ed.

Jaschik reprised his always-popular rundown of the top higher education story ideas during the Education Writers Association’s National Seminar in May.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

What’s Missing From Stories on Campus Free Speech?

Campus speech has become one of the hottest topics in higher education — especially in recent months, as clashes have turned violent and drawn the attention of President Donald Trump and the Justice Department.

Finalist

The Redemption and Rejection of Michelle Jones
Single-Topic News or Feature: General News Outlets, Print and Online (Large Staff)

2017 EWA Award Finalist Banner image

About the Entry

This profile by The Marshall Project for The New York Times explores how universities weighed an aspiring scholar’s potential against her past, raising questions about attitudes toward ex-inmates who have served their time. 

Entry Credit

Pedal to the Metal: Speeding Up Stalled Records Requests
Webinar

Pedal to the Metal: Speeding Up Stalled Records Requests

You file a freedom of information request with your local school district concerning financial data or a personnel investigation, but months later, there’s still no answer. What are the next steps, especially if your newsroom’s budget can’t stretch to cover the costs of suing for access? A veteran journalist and an expert on records requests offer strategies for success in making inquiries at the federal, state and local levels.

EWA 71st National Seminar Los Angeles graphic
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71st EWA National Seminar
Los Angeles • May 16-18, 2018

EWA’s National Seminar is the largest annual gathering of journalists on the education beat. This multiday conference provides participants with top-notch training delivered through dozens of interactive sessions on covering education from early childhood through graduate school. Featuring prominent speakers, engaging campus visits, and plentiful networking opportunities, this must-attend conference provides participants with deeper understanding of the latest developments in education, a lengthy list of story ideas, and a toolbox of sharpened journalistic skills.

EWA Radio

The Tax Bill: What Education Reporters Need to Know
Public schools and universities on edge over Republican plan for overhaul

The tax legislation congressional Republicans are rushing to complete has potentially big stakes for education. Critics suggest it will translate into a big financial hit for public schools and universities, as the rules for education-related deductions, revenue-raising bond measures and more are potentially tightened. Andrew Ujifusa of Education Week and Eric Kelderman of The Chronicle of Higher Education offer a primer on the House and Senate versions of the tax-code overhaul, including key differences lawmakers still must hammer out.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

How Georgia State Dramatically Changed Its Graduation Rate (and How Other Universities Can, Too)

In 2006, Georgia State University had a problem. The graduation rate was an abysmal 41 percent. And in many cases, the dropouts were seniors who just needed a few credits more to earn their bachelor’s degree.

Unlike many other colleges struggling with high dropout rates, Georgia State took (in many cases, expensive) actions that seem to have actually worked. Today, 53 percent of their freshmen graduate within six years.

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Higher Ed 2017: Covering Campus Conflict in the Time of Trump
Atlanta • October 2–3, 2017

From heated debates over free speech to the Trump administration’s threats to deport undocumented students, these are tense times on college campuses. For reporters who cover higher education, questions abound and important stories need to be told. 

On Oct. 2-3, EWA will bring together journalists at Georgia State University in Atlanta to explore pressing issues in education after high school. (Here’s the preliminary agenda.) At this journalist-only seminar you will hear:

Photo Credit: Innovation_School
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News Roundup: Increasing Calls for Ethnic Diversity in Teacher Workforce

Concern is mounting about the relative lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the teaching force – whether in K-12 or higher education.

About 82 percent of U.S. public school teachers at the K-12 level are white and while 25 percent of public school students, or 1 in 4, is Hispanic, according to the most recent figures available from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Arizona State Steps Up Game on Studying Latinos’ Political Engagement

Arizona State University, in an effort to break new ground around the engagement of Latinos in the political process, has created a new chair on the topic and hired a top political scientist, Rodney Hero, to fill the post.

The new chair is just the latest move by ASU, which serves nearly 100,000 students, to enhance its Hispanic programs as its Latino enrollment has increased (to about 20 percent).

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

How Much Freedom of Speech Is Welcome on College Campuses?

Free speech has once again become a highly charged issue on college campuses, where protests frequently have interrupted, and in some cases halted, appearances by polarizing speakers.

At a lively panel last week during the Education Writers Association’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., free speech advocates and a student leader from the University of California, Berkeley,  debated who was at fault and what could be done.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Program Steering Latinos to Ph.D.s Gets Underway

The University of Pennsylvania Center for Minority Serving Institutions has announced its first cohort of students from Hispanic-serving institutions who will take part in the center’s new program, “HSI Pathways to the Professoriate.” The program, announced last year, seeks to increase the diversity of the college teaching profession by guiding Latino college students through graduate school and the acquisition of a Ph.D.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

New Poll: College Grads Unhappy With the Career Services They’re Getting
More than half say their career offices were unhelpful or only somewhat helpful

Universities and colleges may be seen as gateways to good jobs, but many don’t pass the test on providing students useful career advice, according to a new poll.

More than half of college graduates say the career services offices of their alma maters were unhelpful or only somewhat helpful, compared to 43 percent who say the offices were helpful or very helpful, the Gallup-Purdue Index shows.

EWA Radio

The Chronicle of Higher Education Turns 50
EWA Radio: Episode 101

Liz McMillen, the editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education, looks back at a half-century of milestone stories, memorable headlines, and key moments on the national higher education beat, many of which continue to echo today. Among them: equity and diversity, classroom technology, and free speech on campus. She discusses the Chronicle’s commitment to narrative journalism, lessons to be learned by looking back, and what’s ahead for the nation’s colleges and universities.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Public Universities Have ‘Really Lost Our Focus’
Q&A with Christopher Newfield

Since the 1970s, a “doom loop” has pervaded higher education, writes Christopher Newfield in his new book The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them. Newfield, a professor of American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, calls this loop “privatization” – the hidden and overt ways that “business practices restructure teaching and research.”

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Doing More With Higher Ed Data: From Policy to Newsrooms
Philadelphia • February 2–3, 2017

With colleges and universities under increased pressure to ensure that more students earn degrees without amassing mountains of debt, journalists are at the forefront in examining how these institutions  measure up. But there’s one major obstacle that both colleges and reporters share when it comes to making sense of how well these schools are meeting their goals: insufficient data.

Swarthmore College, where 13 percent of the student body receives Pell grants, has an endowment of $1.5 billion, and spent 3.7 percent of it in 2013.By Kungming2 CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Blog: Higher Ed Beat

The ‘$500 Million Club’ of Colleges Tends to Be Stingy With Aid to Low-Income Students

Call them the top four percent: elite private colleges and universities that together sit atop three-quarters of the higher education terrain’s endowment wealth.

Among that group of 138 of the nation’s wealthiest colleges and universities, four in five charge poor students so much that they’d need to surrender 60 percent or more of their household incomes just to attend, even after financial aid is considered. Nearly half have enrollment rates of low-income students that place them in the bottom 5 percent nationally for such enrollment.

Flickr/Salvation Army USA West (CC BY 2.0)
Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Higher Ed: Hunger on Campus

The stereotypes of the financially struggling college students are well-known. They live on ramen, share an apartment or house with several roommates, and work part-time for money to buy beer. They get summer jobs to cover college tuition and expenses. And they come from middle- and upper-class families, so if they do struggle sometimes to pay the bills, that scarcity is hip and cool.

Flickr/Cat Branchman (CC BY 2.0)
Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Psychology, Mentoring and Dollars: Innovations in Graduating More Students from College

College students enter their institutions excited about learning and eager to succeed. Yet many don’t.

Hurdles like the cost of attendance certainly exist, but researchers are also now starting to examine the effects psychological barriers such as social group dynamics, self-confidence and feelings of isolation have on college students’ success.

(Flickr/The White House)
EWA Radio

Why President Obama Should Teach
EWA Radio: Episode 65

When President Obama leaves office in January, there will be no shortage of big-name corporations and Ivy League universities clamoring for his skills. But in a recent essay for The New Yorker Magazine, contributor Cinque Henderson — a former writer for Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” — suggests President Obama consider teaching at a historically black college or university (HBCU), community college, or even an urban high school.

Source: Bigstock
Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Wanted: Faculty Who Can Mentor Latino Students

In an effort to diversify its faculty, California Lutheran University is trying a new approach in its hiring.

In a job posting for an assistant professor position, the recently designated Hispanic-serving institution specifies it wants “candidates who can mentor African-American or Latino(a) students and are able to teach courses that deepen student and faculty awareness regarding power dynamics related to race/ethnicity.” The ability to speak Spanish is a plus. 

Seminar

Higher Ed 2016
September 16–17 • Tempe, Arizona

What new techniques and practices should higher education embrace to ensure that more students graduate? Join the Education Writers Association September 16–17 at Arizona State University to explore cutting-edge innovations that aim to address financial, academic, and social barriers. More on the seminar theme.

This annual seminar is one of the largest gatherings of journalists covering postsecondary education. Network with others covering this beat and step up your coverage for the upcoming academic year.

Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona
(Bigstock/michaeljung)
Webinar

Seven Challenges First-Generation College Students Face & How to Write About Them

While many first-generation students are excited and ambitious when they step on campus — eager to beat the odds and become the first in their families to earn a college degree — others struggle with guilt, fear and loneliness, sometimes even struggling to remember why they decided to attend college in the first place. And they grapple with these feelings while they also have to figure out how to apply for financial aid, register for classes, and manage the other necessities of undergraduate life knowing they can’t turn to their families for guidance based on experience.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Debt-Free College: Why It’s News Now

As Democratic presidential hopefuls assemble in Las Vegas today for their first formal debate, one topic that has received little airtime during the Republican face-offs is likely to garner far more attention: the high cost of attaining a college degree.

Students of the culinary program at Valencia College in Orlando demonstrate their kitchen skills. (Source: Twitter/@GabrielleRusson)
Blog: Higher Ed Beat

The New Effort to Link College to Careers

As tuitions swell and student loan debt climbs further, one aspect of higher education that has been overlooked is the recipe required to transform a college education into a set of skills that prepares students for the workspace.

As it turns out, neither colleges nor employers have a firm grasp on what flavor that special sauce should have, reporters learned at “The Way to Work: Covering the Path from College to Careers” – the Education Writers Association’s seminar on higher education held in Orlando Sep. 18-19.

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69th EWA National Seminar

The Education Writers Association, the national professional organization for journalists who cover education, is thrilled to announce that its annual conference will take place from Sunday, May 1, through Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in the historic city of Boston.

Co-hosted by Boston University’s College of Communication and School of Education, EWA’s 69th National Seminar will examine a wide array of timely topics in education — from early childhood through career — while expanding and sharpening participants’ skills in reporting and storytelling.

Boston, Massachusetts
Attitude Adjustment: The Impact of Mentoring and Psychology
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Attitude Adjustment: The Impact of Mentoring and Psychology
2014 Higher Ed Semiar

Academics are just part of the story for many students entering college – a whole new culture of learning awaits them. But if they are first-generation college students, those cultural challenges can derail a promising postsecondary career. New research is exploring the effects mentoring programs and brief psychological interventions can have on low-income, minority and first-generation students. What can colleges do to promote resiliency and support student well-being for all students?  Are such efforts merely too much “coddling” of students by campuses? 

Source: Flickr/College of DuPage Newsroom
Blog: The Educated Reporter

How to Help the 21st Century College Student

When Mark Milliron met with an advertising team to promote a new type of college in Texas, he wasn’t expecting fireworks. Still, the pitch floored him.

“The Texas Two-Step: Sign Up. Succeed.”

It was the sentence that would appear on billboards and in radio advertisements, enticing thousands of working adults to enroll in an online college – Western Governors University Texas. And it totally missed the point.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Covering the College Student Experience
2014 Higher Ed Seminar

For many college students — whether fresh out of high school or adults returning to school — their most serious obstacles to a degree won’t be homework or tests, but rather the challenges of navigating student life. Colleges are now being forced to face the longstanding problems that have often led to students’ flailing and failing on their own. 

Key Coverage

Power In Numbers: Adjuncts Turn To Citywide Unionizing As Their Best Hope

It’s the lull between Northeastern University’s afternoon and evening classes, and adjunct instructors drift in and out of a windowless room set aside for them in Ryder Hall. Lacking offices on campus, they come here to log on to shared computers or to grab books from shelved cardboard boxes that serve as their makeshift lockers.

Report

Losing Focus

The American Association of University Professors’ annual “Report on the Economic Status of the Profession.”

Key Coverage

Many UIC Classes Canceled As Faculty Strikes

Hundreds of classes at the University of Illinois at Chicago were canceled Tuesday as part of the first faculty walkout in the school’s history.

“The faculty union at UIC is on strike. As tenure-track faculty, the librarians at Daley Library are not available at this time,” read one sign in the university’s main library, which was still open.

Key Coverage

NLRB Seeks Guidance on Adjuncts at Religious Colleges and the Relevance of ‘Yeshiva’ Decision

The National Labor Relations Board on Monday posed a series of questions that could lead to rulings on whether adjuncts have the right to unionize at religious colleges, and whether a 1980 Supreme Court ruling should continue to effectively bar tenure-track faculty members from unionizing at private institutions.

Key Coverage

Why Adjunct Professors Are Struggling To Make Ends Meet

Juggling multiple part-time jobs, earning little-to-no benefits, depending on public assistance: This is the financial reality for many adjunct professors across the nation. Economics correspondent Paul Solman looks for the origins of this growing employment trend at colleges and universities.

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Committee Democrats Release Findings of eForum on Contingent Faculty
Democrats

The Democratic staff of the House Education and the Workforce Committee today released the findings of an eForum on the state of contingent faculty in higher education, which details working conditions, the role those conditions play in affecting adjunct instructors’ career prospects and ability to earn a living, and how the instructors’ working conditions may impact their teaching.

Key Coverage

Grad Students Rethink Union Strategies Following NYU-UAW Deal

Graduate students hoping to unionize at private institutions had for years been counting on a National Labor Relations Board ruling to set a new precedent for their legal status. The decision was expected in a case involving graduate students at New York University who wished to vote to form a union affiliated with the United Auto Workers. If the board ruled in favor of the students, it could have effectively reversed a 2004 ruling that said graduate student teaching assistants at private universities did not have a right to collective bargaining.

Higher Ed Beat: What Are the Top 10 Stories on College Campuses?
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Higher Ed Beat: What Are the Top 10 Stories on College Campuses?

I’ll admit it – I look forward every fall when Scott Jaschik shares his “cheat sheet”of story ideas at EWA’s annual Higher Education Seminar.This year we met at Northeastern University, and Scott didn’t disappoint.We asked journalists who attended the seminar to contribute posts, and today’s guest blogger is Michael Vasquez of the Miami Herald.For more on higher education issues, including community colleges,

Key Coverage

Death Of Duquesne Adjunct Margaret Mary Vojtko: What Really Happened To Her?

Elderly, recently let go from her job, and suffering from cancer, Vojtko was the picture of vulnerability. Duquesne, meanwhile, looked like the epitome of a coldhearted, corporate university—even though it is a Catholic school, founded by Spiritan priests. Tuition is $31,385 a year; meanwhile, Kovalik said Vojtko earned less than $25,000 from teaching eight classes a year. And though Vojtko had worked at the university for 25 years, when she was let go, she wasn’t entitled to severance pay, let alone a pension.

Key Coverage

Finding Life After Academia — and Not Feeling Bad About It

According to a 2011 National Science Foundation survey, 35 percent of doctorate recipients — and 43 percent of those in the humanities — had no commitment for employment at the time of completion. Fewer than half of Ph.D.’s are expected to land tenure-track jobs. And many voluntarily choose another path because they want higher pay or more direct engagement with the world than monographs and tenure committees seem to allow.

Key Coverage

Death of an Adjunct

On Sept. 1, Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor who had taught French at Duquesne University for 25 years, passed away at the age of 83. She died as the result of a massive heart attack she suffered two weeks before. As it turned out, I may have been the last person she talked to.

Key Coverage

Health Law Pinches College Teachers

The federal health-care overhaul is prompting some colleges and universities to cut the hours of adjunct professors, renewing a debate about the pay and benefits of these freelance instructors who handle a significant share of teaching at U.S. higher-education institutions. The Affordable Care Act requires large employers to offer a minimum level of health insurance to employees who work 30 hours a week or more starting in 2014, or face a penalty.