Old professors never quit, they just hang around

Tim Goral's picture

Millions of 18-year-olds are excited about heading to college this month — leaving home, making friends and taking courses that meet only a few hours a week. On the first day of classes, however, they may be startled to find that the professor who enters Calculus I or Intro to Philosophy is more than a half-century older than they are.

The phenomenon of the teacher who sticks around well past age 70 has been widely noted, yet colleges have had little success in mitigating its impact. A survey commissioned by Fidelity Investments and reported at Inside Higher Ed in June found that “some 74 percent of professors aged 49-67 plan to delay retirement past age 65 or never retire at all.”

Never retire at all? Another study cited in the article, this one using National Science Foundation data, calculated that since the 1970s only 28 percent of higher education faculty had retired by age 65.

Think of this from an employer's point of view. In today's economy, is there any worse policy than guaranteeing an employee the same job for 40-plus years, even if he or she meets few of the organization's needs and costs a lot in the bargain?

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