College faculties have grown considerably over the years, and as the AAUP notes, the ranks of the tenured and tenure-track professoriate are up 26 percent since 1975. Part-time appointments, however, have exploded by 300 percent. The proportions vary depending on the kind of school you're talking about. At public four-year colleges, about 64 percent of teaching staff were full-time as of 2009. At private four-year schools, about 49 percent were, and at community colleges, only about 30 percent were. But the big story across academia is broadly the same: if it were a move, it'd be called "Rise of the Adjuncts."
Over three decades, the number of adjuncts has steadily increased. Some of that surely reflects the growing number of grad students, but there's some kind of feedback loop at work here, no? More grad students means more students seeking funding, more students adjuncting, more classes being taught by grad students... With abundant cheap labor available, schools have little incentive to spring for TT lines, and every incentive to increase the numbers of grad students, leading to more students seeking funding, more adjuncts teaching classes... And now we're in a situation where supply greatly outpaces demand for PhDs. Smokers here claim it is harder to get VAP and adjunct positions now. Given the supply vs. demand situation, that would not be surprising, at least on the above reading of the data. But over at Crooked Timber, Michael Berube says it's not that simple. He argues there are two distinct labor markets, a national market for TT jobs (PhD required), and a regional/local market for adjunct jobs (mostly held by MAs):
according to the 2004 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty, 65.2% of non-tenure-track faculty members hold the MA as their highest degree—57.3% in four-year institutions, 76.2% in two-year institutions. There are many factors affecting the working conditions of adjuncts, but the production of PhDs isn’t one of the major ones.When I left adjuncting for a fellowship, in 2009, the state U where I worked was about to cut back on adjuncts. Not because they were planning a TT hire (that had also been canceled by the economic calamity of 2008), but because of budget cuts to higher ed. Have adjunct positions rebounded since then, or remained at reduced levels? Clearly, the numbers show more contingent faculty than ever. But the data above doesn't indicate who is filling those jobs. Are VAP/adjunct jobs harder to come by or more competitive than they used to be? Or is it just that for PhDs, they're harder to come by?