happy-teacher-thumb.png How should we think about tweaks in teaching load as a solution to the problem of creating a sustainable business model for a small college? Is there a better way to think about the question than "courses per FTE"? How does increasing teaching load actually produce savings and efficiency? What assumptions are required for this to work?

Starting Points


We will assume a small college has a mix of full time tenured or tenure track (TTT) faculty and part-time non-tenure track (NTT) faculty and that the latter are paid at some rate that is lower than the former. In order for it to make sense to ask TTT faculty to "do more" we have to assume some combination of the following:

  1. TTT faculty work hard and full time (say 40 hours per week on average) but the institution needs everyone to chip in by doing more, OR
  2. TTT faculty, in a word, shirk, and, on average, can afford to work a little harder, OR
  3. TTT faculty do other things (advising and research and service) that they could do less of so that they could do more teaching, OR
  4. TTT faculty do not work as "smart" as they might.

The reality is almost certainly a mix of these, but let's keep these in mind as we examine the idea of becoming more efficient by increasing teaching loads.

What's the Profile?

Many institutions start with a profile for faculty positions that suggests the proportional deployment of their time between teaching, research, and service. A purely teaching position might be 100:0:0; a pure research position might be 0:100:0; a professor at an R1 institution might have 30:50:20; a liberal arts college with high research expectations might have 60:30:10; a more teaching focused liberal arts college might have 80:10:10. At my own institution, I would estimate our expectation to be around 75:15:10 with advising understood as a part of teaching not service. That's what we will use here.

Let's consider five angles:

  1. Professors are shirkers
  2. Speed up the line
  3. Work smarter
  4. Teachers should just teach
  5. Regardless of the status quo, the institution needs folks to shoulder more work

And then let's consider the institutional implications: more obscuring of underlying problems with the business model' the necessity to rethink promotion and tenure; the effect on our brand.

The Underutilized Professor

Suppose we want to increase teaching loads because we think, on average, professors are not working hard enough. Let's do the numbers. Under our 75:15:10 profile, in a 40 hour week we would expect to see 30 hours of teaching. But if changing the load from 5 to 7 is OK because instructors are shirking, how much less than the expected 30 hours would the average TTT instructor have to be putting in per course for there to be room for another course each semester with no effect other than actually working full time?


Under a 7 course teaching load with an additional "course" for advising, an instructor would provide 4 measures of instruction each week (3.5 courses + 0.5 "courses-worth-of" advising). In 30 hours of teaching, this means averaging 7.5h for each course and 3.75h for advising. At this rate, the underutilized instructor teaching a 5 course load dedicates 2.5 x 7.5h + 3.75h = 22.5 per week to teaching.

So, raising the teaching load from 5 to 7 courses per year is a no brainer if the average TTT faculty member is devoting only about 7.5 hours per week to each course she teaches.


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See Also

  1. Female Science Professor. 2007. Research : Teaching : Service
  2. NCES. 1998. "Teaching workload of full-time postsecondary faculty" in The Condition of Education, 1997.
  3. Webber, Karen L. 2011. "Measuring Faculty Productivity" chapter 6 in Shin, et al. (Eds.). University Rankings: Theoretical Basis, Methodology, and Impacts on Global Higher Education. New York: Springer.
  4. Ziker, John. 2014. The Long, Lonely Job of Homo academicus
    • Ziker details the first stage of a study of faculty time allocation based on a self-monitoring survey instrument that uses time allocation reporting, a technique used by anthropologists in the field.