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The Higher Education Landscape since the Age of the Network

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We argued in that volume that the Age of the Network was characterized by three dominant themes affecting faculty and their work and, thus, the field of faculty development: faculty roles; the student body; and the nature of teaching, learning, and scholarship. . Indeed, the past decade has proved the accuracy of our projections concerning the importance of these three areas of continuing change.




The posting below looks at the changing nature of higher education over the last decade.  It is from the introduction in the book, Faculty Development in the Age of Evidence – Current Practices, Future Imperatives, by Andrea L. Beach, Mary Deane Sorcinelli, Ann E. Austin, and Jaclyn K. Rivard. Published by Stylus Publishing, LLC 22883 Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, Virginia 20166-2102. Copyright © 2016 by Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis



Tomorrow’s Academy

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The Higher Education Landscape since the Age of the Network

Since the publication of Creating the Future of Faculty Development (Sorcinelli et al., 2006), the pace of change in a dynamic and demanding landscape of higher education has only accelerated. We argued in that volume that the Age of the Network was characterized by three dominant themes affecting faculty and their work and, thus, the field of faculty development: faculty roles; the student body; and the nature of teaching, learning, and scholarship. Indeed, the past decade has proved the accuracy of our projections concerning the importance of these three areas of continuing change.

Changing Faculty Roles

In terms of changing faculty roles, the dominant feature is the ongoing and yet dramatic shift in the nature of faculty appointments, from tenure track to non-tenure track and from full-time to part-time (Gappa, Austin, & Trice, 2007; Kezar & Sam, 2010; Schuster & Finkelstein, 2006). For example, more than two-thirds of all faculty members (full-time and part-time) currently employed in public and private higher education institutions are working in non-tenure-track contingent positions. These changes raise major questions about the nature of the faculty career, including concerns about the ways faculty members in different types of positions may commit their autonomy, time, energy, and disposition to professional development and the extent to which administrators choose to invest in the careers of those faculty. Although all faculty members should have opportunities for support through faculty development, leaders of faculty development programs and centers often face hard decisions involving where to invest time and resources as the nature of the faculty workforce shifts (Gappa et al., 2007).

Many institutions are also striving to expand the diversity of their faculty in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity. Women constitute 43% of all instructional faculty in the United States, and faculty of color are now 19% of all full-time faculty, a 30% increase in faculty of color in the past decade (Trower, 2012). However, persistent gaps remain in gender and racial parity in particular disciplines and at particular types of institutions.

At the same time, there is evidence that faculty are aging and staying at their institutions. Between 2000 and 2010, the proportion of all professors 65 and older nearly doubled, and the professoriate is aging at a greater rate than all other white-collar professions (Selingo, 2012). According to a survey on faculty career and retirement, among tenured faculty ages 50 and older, 49% would like and expect to work well past the retirement age of 67, another 16% would like to retire but expect to work longer, and only 35% expect to retire by age 67, suggesting that our faculties of the future will include a substantial cohort of very senior faculty (Yakoboski, 2015). How to advance and sustain the vitality of an increasingly diverse faculty in employment type as well as demographic characteristics constitutes a compelling and critically important contextual challenge facing faculty developers (Gappa et al., 2007).

Increased Focus on Student Success

Pressures relating to the success of students also constitute an important contextual ingredient relevant to faculty development today. Given the high costs of higher education, state legislatures, the federal government, and organizations such as the Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, and the Institute for Higher Education Policy have been asking hard questions about access to, affordability of, and persistence through post-secondary education. At the same time, the significant personal investment by families in students’ education has increased expectations for tangible student learning outcomes and faculty teaching quality. Parents and employers want to see student enrollment translate into graduation and employability.

At the national level, interest is directed toward ensuring that an increasingly diverse K-12 student body with decreasing economic resources has access to higher education and, once enrolled, moves successfully toward graduation. The College Access and Completion Agenda of the White House has called for improvements in the outcomes of higher education in terms of increased graduation rates (Olson & Riordan, 2012). At the same time, students come into higher education with a wide range of prior preparation, orientations to technology-mediated learning, and interests in how their educational experiences will relate to employment opportunities. Within this context of expectations and pressures, faculty development becomes one means for universities and colleges to support faculty members in their roles of providing effective learning experiences that result in successful student achievement and degree completion.

Changing Nature of Teaching and Learning

The changing nature of faculty work, especially in regard to teaching and learning, is closely related to the wide interest across society in student access, persistence, and success. There are strong calls for faculty members to use high-impact, evidence-based practices; for example, student-centered active learning techniques such as problem-based learning and writing across the curriculum. Funding opportunities in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, in particular various grant programs of the National Science Foundation, have been especially important factors in encouraging systemic change processes that support the use of evidence-based teaching practices in higher education institutions. The National Academies Press’s Discipline-Based Education Research (Singer, Nielsen, & Schweingruber, 2012) and its new book titled Reaching Students (Kober, 2015) are examples of high-visibility national initiatives emphasizing the need for faculty and institutional attention to reform in teaching and learning practices.

Members of various scholarly associations from across the disciplines also have devoted time in national conferences for teaching-related discussions that encourage change toward evidence-based approaches. One example of disciplinary attention to the goals and process of teaching reform is Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2011), a report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science with support from the National Science Foundation that addresses challenges and opportunities for new approaches to teaching and learning in the field of biology. Interest in preparing future faculty for their roles as instructors has also increased considerably over the past decade. A prominent example is the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL;, which has been supported by the National Science Foundation and involves a large network of universities working together to offer professional development opportunities that help future faculty learn about the literature and research related to teaching and learning, develop their own competencies as teachers, and practice using research-based inquiry approaches to improve teaching practice and student learning.

The influence of technology on teaching and learning practices continues alongside the pressure for faculty members to use a range of evidence-based approaches. Even in universities and colleges well known for their traditional in-person residential settings, technology has become integrated into students’ learning experiences. Many faculty include blended in-person and technology-mediated learning experiences and fully online courses in their teaching repertoire. Indeed, the expansion of massive open online courses (MOOCs), learning analytics, and adaptive learning systems that personalize instruction through data has made it clear that the traditional conceptions and dimensions of teaching and learning in higher education are entirely unsettled (Bass, 2012). The rise in these approaches signals a near future in which faculty and institutions will be forced to rethink the conditions of knowledge, information delivery, learning, pedagogy, and work.


American Association for the Advancement of Science. (2011). Vision and change in undergraduate biology education: A call to action. Washington, DC: Author.

Gappa, J.M., Austin, A.E., & Trice, A.G. (2007). Rethinking faculty work: Higher education’s strategic imperative. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kezar, A., & Sam, C. (2010). Understanding the new majority of non-tenure-track faculty in higher education: Demographics, experiences, and plans of action. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Olson, S., & Riordan, D.G. (2012). Engage to excel: Producing one million additional college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Retrieved from

Schuster, J.H., & Finkelstein, M.J. (2006). American faculty: The restructuring of academic work and careers. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.

Selingo, J.J. (2013). College (un)bound: The future of higher education and what it means for students. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Singer, S.R., Nielsen, N.R., & Schweingruber, H.A. (Eds.). (2012). Discipline-based education research: Understanding and improving learning in undergraduate science and engineering. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Sorcinelli, M.D., Austin, A.E., Eddy, P.L., & Beach, A.L. (2006). Creating the future of faculty development: Learning from the past, understanding the present. Bolton, MA: Anker.

Trower, C.A. (2012). Success on the tenure track: Five keys to faculty job satisfaction. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.

Yakoboski, P.J. (2015, June). Understanding the faculty retirement (non)decision. Retrieved from