Employment and Job Openings Up in Higher Ed

According to the Higher Education Employment Report for the first quarter of 2011 from HigherEdJobs, “The number of jobs in higher education grew 3.3 percent during the first quarter of 2011.” This is the fastest growth in higher-ed jobs since 2002. Also of note, the number of job openings for higher-ed positions has risen above pre-recessionary levels. Information for this report came from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and job posting trends from HigherEdJobs, which has specialized in listing open positions at colleges and universities since 1996.

Some Information of Note

Jobs in higher ed have continued to grow faster than the economy on a whole. The strongest growth in higher-ed job postings is centered in New England and the west north central US. The west south central area shows the weakest growth in job openings. (Employment statistics from the BLS were not broken down regionally.)

Advertised job openings fell during the recession but are back above pre-recessionary levels as of Q1 2011.

According to the report, while recruiting for all positions is up, colleges and universities have been focusing on hiring administrators and executives over faculty.

Partly a reaction to the number of workers choosing to go back to school during the recession, both employment and job openings at community colleges continued to grow in the first quarter of 2011. According to the BLS data, more jobs have been added to four-year schools compared to community colleges, but on a percentage basis, community colleges have had the biggest gain.

Behind the Numbers

We spoke with John Ikenberry, president and co-founder of HigherEdJobs, about the findings of the Q1 2011 report and some of the underlying reasons for the results.

One of the reasons for the number of higher-ed jobs and open positions outpacing the growth of the economy as whole, according to Ikenberry, is that higher has tended to be counter-cyclical to the general trends of the economy. When there is a downturn in economic growth, typically the results are an increase in applications for student enrollment. Higher enrollments equal higher tuition revenue.

Colleges and universities also have more diverse revenue streams than traditional companies, including tuition, endowments, and government money. “Depending on how these variables play out, it can help ‘diversity’ their portfolio if you will,” explains Ikenberry.

The areas of growth for job postings could be the result of a few different factors, including the difference in local economies and state appropriations. Also, siince HigherEdJobs has done their quarterly analysis, New England has been one of the consistent areas in growth for higher education postings.

Ikenberry also stresses that the report is looking at relative growth, so what appears to be strong growth could just be the result of the year before being a bad year for job growth.

Part of that growth has been in the number of administrator positions. “When the recession began, we started to see a trend toward an increasing percentage for postings for faculty positions,” Ikenberry explains, “but more recently, as the economy has improved, we’ve seen a decrease in the percentage of postings for faculty. This is due in part to the delay in hiring for these administrators.” This increase could also be returning to a natural balance. About 40 percent of positions listed with HigherEdJobs are faculty and 60 percent administrators.

Ikenberry adds that in a long-term view of higher education employment, we should expect to see the numbers begin to level out and the fast-paced growth to slow some. “My sense is that the strong growth that we’ve seen in the recent quarter is going to start to level off. In part why the numbers look so impressive in the first quarter of 2011 is because of how weak they were in 2010. If you look at the data from 2010, the numbers got stronger and stronger.” We may eve start to see smaller changes in year-to-year growth as soon as the next quarter in 2011.

Even so, despite concerns about the economic picture for colleges and universities, based on the results of the Q1 2011 report, Ikenberry feels that “colleges and universities have been a good place to work compared to the overall economy.”