Help faculty overcome fear of retirement

Even retired faculty want to feel like they're a part of the campus community

Saying goodbye to a career in academia can be tough. 

Recognizing this, colleges and universities are working with faculty to reframe retirement in a positive light, Vimal Patel reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Faculty members at institutions across the board are holding tight to their jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the proportion of postsecondary instructors who are at least 65 years old jumped from 4.4% to 11.6% between 1995 and 2015. And instructors aren't just in it for the money. A 2015 study from the TIAA Institute found that among 770 tenured faculty at least 50 years old, 49% wanted and expected to work past the age of retirement.

Experienced faculty can certainly be a boon to a college or university, but keeping people in seat comes at a cost, especially as higher education budgets shrink and institutions are increasingly seeking younger and more diverse instructors.

So instead of simply wooing dedicated older faculty with financial incentives, administrations are trying to understand the fears of retirement from the faculty member's perspective and make the process more appealing on an emotional level.

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) decided to make changes to its retirement planning in 2011, when about 200 tenured professors at were eligible for generous pension plans, but few took advantage of the option.

"What I learned was that there was a sense among senior faculty that retirement marked a severance of their relationship with the university—a disruption of their sense of identity," says Carole Goldberg, UCLA's former vice chancellor for academic personnel. "That was a discouragement to retirement."

In 2008, UCLA launched the Pathways to Retirement Program, which helps faculty members navigate the road to retirement and offers benefits such as reduced course loads prior to retirement and continued research support. Goldberg worked to publicize the program and create various perks that help faculty emeriti retain some connection to campus. Ten pathway agreements were signed in 2011—and that number grew to 34 in 2015 and 48 in 2016. 

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"The most important thing was to reconceptualize retirement not as an end of the relationship but as a reconfiguration of faculty members' relationship with the university," Goldberg says.

The trend is catching on at other institutions. Faculty emeriti at the University of Southern California are invited to social events, while those at Cleveland State University (CSU) can participate in a faculty group for retirees.

Many colleges and universities are also offering tenured faculty the opportunity to wind down their teaching through a phased-retirement option. Bentley University updated its program in 2008 to allow faculty to reduce their work overall, whether in teaching, research, or service. Fourteen tenured faculty members eligible for the program retired between 2004 and 2008, and 26 faculty members took the phase-out option from 2012 to 2016.

"This allowed us to really meet the needs of the institution and the faculty member," says Vicki V. Lafarge, associate dean for academic affairs. "The flexibility made it more attractive to more people" (Patel, Chronicle of Higher Education, 11/27). 

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