Across the board, higher-ed faculty fear permanent changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic and report frustration with their administration

Faculty stress is soaring as COVID drags on

Across the board, higher-ed faculty fear permanent changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic and report frustration with their administration

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend the college experience for students and educators, more than half of faculty are experiencing dramatically more stress and symptoms of workplace burnout, according to new research.

The Course Hero study of more than 570 full- and part-time faculty at two- and four-year colleges and universities examined how the pandemic has affected faculty views toward the academic work environment and job satisfaction.

“The pandemic has had far-reaching implications on the day-to-day work of faculty, as well as on their long-term career trajectories, professional aspirations, and views on the future of higher education,” said Tara Graham, Vice President of Educator Community and Partnerships at Course Hero. “Student success is tightly linked to the mental and emotional health and professional success of instructors. This research signals an urgency to expand the types of support offered to both students and faculty during this extraordinary time in education.”

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Three out of four faculty reported significant stress as a result of challenges transitioning to new modes of teaching—the largest single source of stress for educators by a wide margin.

Nearly two-thirds said that challenges meeting the emotional and mental health needs of students caused significant stress. While stress was high at the onset of the pandemic, the research found that faculty anxiety appears to be increasing, with more faculty reporting peak stress now than at the beginning of the pandemic.

While only 6 percent reported stress from the loss of a job and a majority report no concerns that their institution or department would close permanently as a result of the pandemic, more than 40 percent of faculty have considered leaving their positions as a result of COVID-19 changes/impacts.

Perhaps more worrying, faculty show concern that, even after the country gains more control of the deadly pandemic, changes to higher education will be permanent. Nearly two-thirds expect diminished perceptions of the value of higher education, and more than 40 percent expect an increased economic divide between students who go to elite, in-person colleges and those who attend online or part-time programs.

Among other key findings, the research shows:

Long-Term Impact of COVID

Looming closures and cuts. One in four faculty are concerned that their own institution/department may close permanently as a result of the pandemic and/or economic crisis. Nearly half expect long-term closures or mergers with other campuses, while 60 percent expect institutions will cut academic programs or courses of study.

The permanent new normal. Three-quarters of faculty expect changes in class size, teaching modality, or other shifts that make it more difficult to provide high-quality teaching and/or strong relationships to students.

Faculty Mental Health & Job Satisfaction

Difficulty on the job. Faculty overwhelmingly believe that the pandemic has made their professional lives more challenging, with 54 percent in strong agreement and 33 percent in agreement that their job has gotten more difficult because of COVID.

Coping with a stressful environment. More than half of faculty also reported significant stress from frustration with the decisions of the administration at their institution (53 percent), personal matters such as child care or financial concerns (57 percent), or other world events such as the election or social unrest (65 percent).

Faculty report signs of burnout. More than half of faculty reported a significant increase in emotional drain (53 percent) and work-related stress or frustration (52 percent), both of which are highly correlated with burnout.

Faculty Work Environment

Help from administration. To improve their current level of job satisfaction, faculty named increased compensation (53 percent), modifications to teaching schedule or load (46 percent), new technology or better access to technology support (34 percent), and increased staff/teaching assistant support (26 percent).

Loss of campus community. Three-quarters of faculty also reported a decrease or significant decrease in connection to colleagues and connection to students.

Faculty-administration divide on job satisfaction. Only 15 percent of faculty agreed that administrators understand the difficulty that faculty face in managing their workloads. Half of faculty feel a decrease or significant decrease in appreciation by their institution.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

Laura Ascione