tweeds shoes

Protected by tenure that prevents them from being dismissed without cause, and with no mandatory retirement age, a significant proportion of university faculty isn’t going anywhere. A third are 55 and older, compared with 20 percent of the rest of the workforce, according to the University of Iowa Center on Aging.

And while 36 percent of all workers plan to put off their retirements beyond the age of 65, the proportion of university and college faculty who intend to delay stepping down is more than double that, the financial services company TIAA-CREF reports. Another study found that 60 percent of faculty planned to work past 70, and 15 percent to stay until they’re 80.

This dramatic trend foretells more than a future of campuses populated by white-haired professors in sensible shoes and tweed jackets with elbow patches. Universities say it’s making it harder for them to cut costs and improve productivity exactly at a time when students and their families are balking at the high cost of a higher education.

And when those students — not to mention politicians and business leaders — are expecting a better return on that investment, the institutions say the buildup of aging faculty leaves them less able to respond to changing demand for new kinds of majors, or to declining enrollments, and that it’s also blocking younger Ph.D.s from entering the workforce.

On Campus, Older Faculty Keep On Keepin’ On

Illustration: Paul Blow for NPR