Post Academic


The latest from the MLA: Worst. Job Market. Ever. (Or in 35 years)

Posted in Surviving Grad School,The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on March 24, 2010
Tags: , ,

Unfortunately, the title of this post is no exaggeration, unless there’s some fishy accounting to explain otherwise.  This little nugget from the MLA via an Inside Higher Ed news blurb (forwarded to me by Caroline) all but confirms what many of us have known empirically or surmised: that the current manifestation of the job market is the worst ever — or at least since almost all current first-time job seekers were born.  According to a MLA midyear report, advertised job openings dropped from 1,380 English positions in 2008-09 to a projected 1,000 positions in 2009-10; for foreign languages, the drop went from 1,227 to a projected 900.  Most startlingly, the raw numbers indicate that this the fewest number of job openings in at least 35 years (see Figure 1 from the MLA report).  For job seekers looking for their first tenure-track position, the stats may even be worse, with only 165(!) T/T Assistant Prof positions in English and 97(!!) in Foreign Languages advertised in the “big” October 2009 Job Information List (see Figure 5 and Figure 6, respectively).

Check out how quickly this decline has hit the profession:

Year: Total Job Openings (English numbers/Foreign Language numbers) and Tenure-Track Assistant Professor Openings in Oct 2009 (E/FL)

2005-06: 1,687 E/ 1,381 FL total and 412 E/ 231 FL Asst Prof

2006-07: 1,793 E/ 1,591 FL total and 474 E/ 267 FL Asst Prof

2007-08: 1,826 E/ 1,680 FL (The highest number of openings since 1999-2000) and 384 E/ 244 FL  Asst Prof

2008-09: 1,380 E/ 1,227 FL and 299E / 236 FL Asst Prof (Keep in mind that many, many openings were cut after they were advertised in Fall 2008, at various stages of the process)

2009-10: 1,000 E/ 900 FL total (projection) and 165 E/ 97 FL Asst Prof

To look at it another way, the percentage drops are precipitous, with 27.5% fewer job postings in English and 26.7% in Foreign Languages between 2008-09 to the current 2009-10 market; overall, the two-year drop from the 2007-08 cycle to now is a staggering 45.2 % decline in English and 46.4% in Foreign Languages.  That basically means job openings in English and Foreign Languages have been cut in HALF in just two years.  The only barely perceptible silver lining is that the decline this time around was not as steep as expected, since Inside Higher Ed reported in December 2009 that the MLA had been projecting 35% cuts in English/39% cuts in Foreign Language openings.  For advertised T/T Assistant Prof positions, the decline was roughly 50% in English and 50+% in the Foreign Languages from the last cycle to the current one.

Accompanying the decline in job openings are two other trends making it tougher to find sustained, secure academic employment: the steady number of Ph.D. graduates entering the job market and the rise of non-tenure-track positions at the expense of tenure-track positions.

Ph.D. recipients: While job openings have dwindled, the number of Ph.D recipients has stayed steady, ranging from 978 in 2001 to 927 in 2007, with 965 in 2008 in English; for Foreign Languages, the number stayed amazingly consistent in the 620 from 2001-08 (see Figure 10 and Figure 11, respectively).  Playing amateur statistician, that must mean that the pool of new Ph.D’s seeking jobs is actually growing as tenure lines are drying up, since the supply of (relatively) new Ph.D.’s gets larger with an overflow of people who can’t get jobs in their first year after graduating applying over and over again, while the demand has obviously shrunk.

Non-tenure-track teaching: This year’s MLA projections also bear out something we’ve all heard about, that the tenure-track position is being replaced by non-tenure-track career.  In English, non-tenure-track openings almost tripled, from 5.2% of the whole job market in 2008 to 14.7% in 2009 (see Figure 2); in Foreign Languages, that percentage almost doubled, from 14.1% to 23% (see Figure 3).  The overall percentages of non-tenure-track openings isn’t that huge and I won’t make any value judgements about what this all means (since lecturers, like me and bunch of my colleagues, are  just as good teachers and often just as qualified as T/T Asst. Profs), but the profession is moving in an obvious trajectory here and the rate it’s going is accelerating.  And who knows what this means in terms of the percentages and policies regarding who will get tenure in the near future?

Take these numbers however you want, either as a reflection of the crappy economy as a whole or a real shift in the way academia and education will function in a future that is rapidly coming upon us, either as a structurally determined anomaly or an augur of a new way that things are gonna be.  Personally and probably selfishly, it’s all a way of explaining that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, which might apply to a lot of other folks, too.

Midyear Report on the 2009-10 MLA Job Information List [Modern Language Association]

The Latest Jobs Data from the MLA [Inside Higher Ed, 19 March 2010]

“Don’t Panic” by Ammit from Wikimedia Commons, public domain

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