2012-13 Annual Report on the Academic Job Market

The State of the Market, the Plight of the Adjunct, and the Affordable Care Act

Sara Flood | November 2013

AWP estimates that roughly 4,000 graduates receive advanced degrees in creative writing each year; yet the AWP Job List reports that just over 100 tenure-track creative writing jobs were available in 2012-13. With programs still thriving and full-time jobs dwindling, students are faced with difficult decisions, while schools sort out how to solve the trend of hiring fewer and fewer full-time professors. Following an academic path often means years of working as an adjunct—a position that tends to pile on an overbearing workload, just as it lacks benefits, job security, and a livable wage. Furthermore, this year the Affordable Care Act, while intended to help the uninsured, may pose obstacles for part-time instructors in universities unwilling to pay insurance and unable to effectively calculate hours. As has been the trend in previous years, an alternate avenue of employment for writing graduates is to seek a position in nonacademic areas, which despite the unstable academic job recovery, have continued to be a more viable option.

A shaky recovery

Slightly before the economic recession of 2008, academic job postings in English and writing had fallen sharply, and the market still appears to be in the process of stabilizing now. (See Figure 1.) However, somewhat surprisingly, tenure-track job openings in creative writing have remained relatively consistent since 2006. Though the number of jobs posted in this category to the AWP Job List in 2012-13 (107 posts) was down from last year’s count (130 posts), the total has remained relatively stable during the past seven years, despite the recession. The total number of tenure-track jobs (including noncreative-writing positions) made up 32 percent of all academic posts to the Job List, roughly the same proportion as in previous years.

This year, a healthy rise in nonacademic job postings reflects a growing need for creative writing students to consider options for careers in nonacademic fields. The number of nonacademic jobs posted in AWP’s Job List continues to rise, following a boom in 2010-11 (794 posts) and slight decline in 2011-12 (662 posts), the Job List posted an unprecedented 849 nonacademic job openings this year. This marked the first year in recent history that the number of nonacademic jobs posted by AWP has surpassed the number of academic openings.

Salaries remain sluggish despite modest increase

According to AAUP’s most recent annual report, average salaries for full-time faculty members across all disciplines increased at the same pace as inflation this year. This follows three years of salaries lagging at a lower rate than inflation. Though this is ultimately good news for faculty members, as it translates to more take-home income, the increase in pay is actually no higher than in previous years; the rate of inflation was simply lower this year.1 In fact, the salary increase was actually larger last year (1.8 percent as compared to this year’s 1.7 percent), but the inflation rate dropped from 3 percent in 2012 to 1.7 percent in 2013.2 Average salaries across all disciplines also did not increase uniformly: as in previous years, there was a notably larger increase of average salary at private and doctoral institutions than at public ones, with several private universities reporting average annual salaries of full professors that exceeded $200,000.3

AAUP’s report suggests that this year’s relative salary stagnancy, as well as the growing disparity between public and private university salaries for full-time professors, hints at a more complex underlying problem. The authors of the report question both the discrepancy in salaries and the reasons for not paying faculty members higher salaries, pointing out that faculty salaries are not to blame for the rapid rise in tuition in the past years and thus cost-savings are not necessarily a motivating factor. In fact, salaries at public master’s-granting institutions and community colleges have decreased during the past decade, and at public doctoral and baccalaureate universities they have only increased by a fraction of a percent.4 And, most alarmingly, a report broadcast recently on National Public Radio estimates that the average cross-disciplinary salary for adjunct instructors ranges from only $20,000 to $25,000 annually.5

Because of cutbacks to state funding, public universities and colleges have increasingly turned to hiring lower wage part-time and adjunct faculty members instead of tenured and fulltime faculty.6 According to the AAUP report:

Higher education is a service industry, and as such its labor resources are among the most valuable on campus. Colleges and universities that ignore this point and attempt to underpay their faculty for the work they perform will increasingly confront labor markets where it is difficult to hire and retain the best faculty and where talented graduate students who could have been great faculty members choose nonacademic careers instead.7

These factors, among others explored in the next section, contribute to a growing crisis that may have wide-ranging effects on students, faculty, and institutions.

Adjunct Limbo & the Affordable Care Act

The growing ratio of part-time to full-time faculty members at universities could pose a long-term problem, not just for universities, faculty members, and for students, but also for prospective faculty members and humanities majors. As mentioned earlier, only full-time faculty members were accounted for in AAUP’s report, and it is therefore suspected that the state of the academic job market may actually be worse than how it appears.8 Adjunct faculty members, who typically receive lower pay, part-time hours, little or no benefits, and lack of job security, are increasingly dominating the academic workforce. With fewer chances to move into full-time positions, and more instructors saturating the market, adjuncts are finding themselves stuck in limbo for longer. It is estimated that such positions comprise roughly 75 percent of all college instructors.9

Meanwhile, the percentage of tenure and tenure-track professors has decreased from 45 percent to less than 25 percent since 1975.10 Full-time non-tenure-track positions are not much better. According to Jordan Weissman in the Atlantic, community colleges employ the lowest percent of full-time instructors (30 percent), while private schools employ about 49 percent, and public schools employ approximately 64 percent.11 “Why should you care?” asks Weissman.  “For one, it's damn tough making a living as a freelance professor… It's also a reminder that rising college costs aren't necessarily paying for a better quality (or better compensated) faculty. Moreover… schools will attempt to do more with [fewer] resources over time. It's not a particularly pretty picture.”12

With fewer chances to move into full-time positions, and more instructors saturating the market, adjuncts are finding themselves stuck in limbo for longer. It is estimated that such positions comprise roughly 75 percent of all college instructors.

The plight of the adjunct instructor is perhaps all too familiar to many graduate and doctoral students in humanities fields. While fewer adjuncts find opportunities for adjuncts to advance to full-time status, a unique situation has developed with the introduction of the Affordable Care Act. This plan, which requires employees who work more than 30 hours per week to be counted as full time and therefore qualify for insurance, has been cause for educational institutions to reconsider how they handle uninsured adjuncts—or risk paying a hefty fee.

The Internal Revenue Service has warned institutions not to withhold on reporting adjunct faculty hours worked.13 This is meant to ensure that colleges are compensating adjuncts for hours spent outside of the classroom—for such work as grading and classroom preparation—when most universities do not currently count these activities as payable hours.14 Many schools are still waiting for further guidelines. Rather than providing a formula for calculating workload, the IRS somewhat vaguely advised institutions to use a “reasonable” method to count hours and to figure out how to quantify preparation time in addition to classroom instruction time.15

Some institutions have already reacted by reducing hours for adjuncts and placing caps on courses, which many argue is an unfair practice.16 According to the Huffington Post, as of August 2013, only about one quarter of colleges had established criteria for determining whether a part-timer is working more than 30 hours per week; roughly two-thirds of universities were still puzzling over criteria; and still others had already threatened to restrict their adjuncts’ hours to avoid paying for insurance or fees. 17

Craig Smith, director of higher education for the American Federation of Teachers, sums up the problem in Inside Higher Ed: “In a world where people talk more about credit hours and course loads than hours worked, more clarification is needed—particularly in regard to adjunct faculty who may teach close to a full course load but do not currently qualify for benefits at their institution.”18

The situation has generated considerable concern. According to Kenneth H. Ryesky, an adjunct professor quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education,limiting adjunct hours to avoid penalties is an “abusive practice,” one that denies support for adjuncts while also negating the very intent of the Affordable Care Act.19 The practice could potentially result in lower quality of life for adjuncts, who might seek additional employment or pile on classes at multiple colleges. It also could affect students negatively; when their instructors are forced to limit their preparation hours and skimp on grading, it becomes difficult to imagine a positive outcome.20

In a phone interview between Ohio University’s Director of Creative Writing, Prof. Dinty W. Moore, and AWP’s Associate Editor, Daniel D’Angelo, Moore discussed what universities could do to better serve current adjuncts and fix the trend of diminishing tenure positions and the spread of part-timer-reliant institutions, short of creating new tenure-track positions out of nothing. “I don’t see a university full of adjuncts, compensated but not coddled. If we had robust state funding we wouldn’t be in this problem. I see two options: one option is forty adjuncts starving on the street for every ten tenured faculty… the other option is this lesser than two evils: fulltime with benefits (rather than traditional tenured research faculty). The second solution is less than desirable, but preferable.

“I don’t think becoming an adjunct is the ladder you climb if you want a fulltime job with proper compensation,” said Moore. “I think, longterm, the Affordable Care Act will mean fewer and fewer people each year who are in these part-time jobs with no benefits. The university is going to have to find a middle ground between fully tenured research faculty and adjunct faculty.”21

Programs as important as ever

Despite the precarious nature of the academic job market, humanities programs may still be flourishing. As Table 3 shows, the number of degree-conferring programs (214), according to the AWP Official Guide to Writing Programs, has increased in the past five years. MA programs granting creative writing degrees (153) have also increased. PhD-granting programs in creative writing have grown to a total of 51 in 2013. In the past two years, growth has continued, but at a slower rate. This could signify that the boom of writing and humanities programs may finally be stabilizing. While programs do not seem to be in danger of shutting down, the expansion may be over. (See Table 3.)


AWP’s Official Guide also depicted a more comprehensive assessment of the number of BA/BFA majors in creative writing (592 this year as compared to 338 last year), which meant for a shuffling around of data from BA/BS minors in creative writing (378 this year as compared to 532 last year). Also shown is an increase by more than double of degree-conferring AA creative writing programs. The AWP Guide currently lists 1,425 total programs, the largest number it has ever recorded. This figure came after a 12% increase from 2012 to 2013, and a 47% increase the year before. Since 1975, the total number of degree-conferring creative writing programs has jumped from 79 total programs to 1,425, which is 20 times greater. (See Table 3.)

Despite some skepticism, humanities programs seem to be holding steady in the academic world. According to Inside Higher Ed, such programs continue to appeal to undergraduates, and from 1987 to 2009, there was a modest rise in enrollment.22

If the current trends in AWP’s Job List are any indicator, academic jobs may no longer be the most practical avenue for humanities majors.

PhD programs have also grown. The Atlantic reports that first-time students in arts and humanities PhD programs increased nearly 8 percent from 2011-2012, more than in almost any other field.23  Moreover, national data surveying PhD graduates is positive, with 94 percent of graduates from humanities PhDs reporting that they were employed when surveyed three years after graduating—77 percent of these respondents were employed in education, and 17 percent in nonacademic fields. 24

Yet, there is often still skepticism about the real-life benefit of a degree in the humanities. If the current trends in AWP’s Job List are any indicator, academic jobs may no longer be the most practical avenue for humanities majors. Expanding job expectations beyond academia may be one way for humanities majors to make use of their degrees.

Considering the real-world worth of a degree in the humanities

 “These days everything has to have a clear market value, a proven use for mercantile culture,” novelist Jonathan Lethem tells Salon. “Well, art doesn’t pass that test very naturally. You can make the art gesture into something the marketplace values. But it’s always distorting and grotesque.”25 Poet Dana Gioia agrees: “Essentially, [artists] are working-class people—a lot of them have second jobs. They’re highly trained… and they don’t make a lot of money. They make tremendous sacrifices for their work… We don’t want a society without them.”26

In a culture increasingly focused on measurable quantity—where academic and nonacademic jobs alike are increasingly uncertain, and where student loan debt in the United States has officially topped $1 trillion27—where does that leave those who study the humanities? Teaching aside, does majoring in humanities equip students with real, marketable skills?

In a 2013 study conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and Hart Research Associates, 93 percent of employers surveyed cited “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems”28 as more important than a student’s major. Furthermore, more than nine in ten employers placed high importance on hiring workers who exemplified ethical judgment, integrity, intercultural skills, and a capacity to learn. 29

Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel B. Rasmussen argue in The Washington Post why a degree in the humanities is uniquely beneficial: “It all comes down to this: Is it helpful to know your customers? Deeply understanding their world, seeing what they see and understanding why they do the things they do, is not an easy task. Some people have otherworldly intuitions. But for most of us, getting under the skin of the people we are trying to serve takes hard analytical work.”30
Overall, the humanities field continues to undergo constant changes and upheavals, and the job market has not yet stabilized after a sharp economic downturn. Adjuncts find themselves fighting battles not just for hours, but also for insurance, and thus English majors seeking teaching degrees are finding themselves coming to terms with whether an academic path is truly the best option. Nonacademic jobs, though not necessarily easy to get, appear to be on the rise as a serious option for MFA graduates, and this may be the most positive indicator as to why there are still merits to majoring in the humanities. Perhaps Verlyn Klinkenborg sums it up accurately when he writes in The New York Times about the more long-term perks of being an English major:

Parents have always worried when their children become English majors. What is an English major good for? In a way, the best answer has always been, wait and see—an answer that satisfies no one. And yet it is a real answer, one that reflects the versatility of thought and language that comes from studying literature. Former English majors turn up almost anywhere, in almost any career, and they nearly always bring with them a rich sense of the possibilities of language, literary and otherwise. 31

And to get back to creative writing, specifically, Prof. Moore adds: “In forty years of working in the arts, I’ve never met a starving artist. People find ways to survive if this activity (creative writing) is important enough to them.”32


Sara Flood formerly worked as an editor at AWP. She lives in Virginia and holds an MFA from George Mason University.



  1. John W. Curtis and Saranna Thornton, “Here’s the News: The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 2012-13,” Academe: 5. March-April 2013. http://www.aaup.org/file/2012-13Economic-Status-Report.pdf.
  2. Scott Jaschik, “On Pace With Inflation,” Inside Higher Ed, April 8, 2013. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/04/08/aaup-survey-finds-average-faculty-salary-increased-rate-inflation-last-year
  3. Ibid.
  4. Curtis and Thornton, 17.
  5. “The Sad Death Of An Adjunct Professor Sparks A Labor Debate.” Narrated by Claudio Sanchez. Morning Edition. NPR, September 22, 2013. http://www.npr.org/2013/09/22/224946206/adjunct-professor-dies-destitute-then-sparks-debate
  6. Curtis and Thornton, 17.
  7. Curtis and Thornton, 18.
  8. Jaschik, “On Pace With Inflation”
  9. “The Sad Death Of An Adjunct Professor”
  10. Jordan Weissman, “The Ever-Shrinking Role of Tenured College Professors (in 1 Chart),” The Atlantic, April 10, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/04/the-ever-shrinking-role-of-tenured-college-professors-in-1-chart/274849/
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Tyler Kingkade, “IRS: Adjunct Faculty Hours Must Be Calculated With 'Reasonable' Method,” Huffington Post, January 8, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/08/irs-adjunct-faculty_n_2432924.html
  14. Ibid.
  15. Sydni Dunn, “Colleges Are Slashing Adjuncts' Hours to Skirt New Rules on Health-Insurance Eligibility,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 22, 2013. http://chronicle.com/article/Colleges-Curb-Adjuncts-Hours/138653/
  16. Colleen Flaherty, “Who Deserves Affordable Care?” Inside Higher Ed, December 5, 2012. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/12/05/higher-education-officials-look-washington-guidance-adjuncts-and-affordable-care-act
  17. Tyler Kingkade, “Adjunct Faculty Still Waiting To Hear Their Fate Under Obamacare,” Huffington Post, August 8, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/08/adjunct-faculty-obamacare_n_3682384.html
  18. Flaherty, “Who Deserves Affordable Care?”
  19. Sydni Dunn, “Colleges Are Slashing Adjuncts' Hours to Skirt New Rules on Health-Insurance Eligibility,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 22, 2013. http://chronicle.com/article/Colleges-Curb-Adjuncts-Hours/138653/
  20. Dunn, “Colleges Are Slashing Adjuncts' Hours.”
  21. Dinty W. Moore, phone interview with Daniel D’Angelo, Associate Editor at AWP, October 18, 2013.
  22. Chase F. Robinson, “What Humanities Job Crisis?” Inside Higher Ed, December 11, 2012. http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2012/12/11/essay-questions-idea-humanities-job-crisis
  23. Jordan Weissman, “Why Haven't Humanities Ph.D. Programs Collapsed?” The Atlantic, September 16, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/09/why-havent-humanities-phd-programs-collapsed/279733/
  24. Robinson, “What Humanities Job Crisis?”
  25. Scott Timberg, “No sympathy for the creative class,” Salon, April 22, 2012. http://www.salon.com/2012/04/22/no_sympathy_for_the_creative_class/
  26. Ibid.
  27. Libby A. Nelson, “Federal student loan debt tops $1 trillion,” Politico, July 17, 2013. http://www.politico.com/story/2013/07/student-loan-debt-tops-1-trillion-94316.html
  28. It Takes More than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success. 2013. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities and Hart Research Associates. http://www.aacu.org/leap/presidentstrust/compact/2013SurveySummary.cfm
  29. Ibid.
  30. Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel B. Rasmussen, “We need more humanities majors,” The Washington Post, July 30, 2013.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/innovations/wp/2013/07/30/we-need-more-humanities-majors/
  31. Verlyn, Klinkenborg, “The Decline and Fall of the English Major,” The New York Times Sunday Review, June 22, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/23/opinion/sunday/the-decline-and-fall-of-the-english-major.html?_r=0
  32. Dinty W. Moore interview.

No Comments