Faculty Retirement Transitions


An Alfred P. Sloan Foundation project designed to investigate the culminating stages of faculty careers, including the structures and cultures that support faculty retirement transitions. This project builds on a prior round of awards to institutions that have innovative best practices in these areas.

Coming Soon:

January 11-12, 2016, Los Angeles Midtown at the University of Southern California

Sharing the Knowledge: Navigating Retirement Transitions:

A free opportunity to join other academic colleagues and higher education professionals facing the issue of aging faculty cohorts. Attendees will: 

  1. Hear how an aging population will impact higher education as an industry.
  2. Current state of faculty retirement based on in-depth research.
  3. Identify strategies and tools that you can adapt/modify on your campus.
  4. Join a learning network that will continue to convene after the conference.

Faculty Retirement: Publications

Best Practices for Navigating the Future

Edited by Claire Van Ummersen, Jean McLaughlin and Lauren Duranleau. Foreword by Lotte Bailyn

This book addresses the critical and looming issue of retirement in higher education as the cohort of boomer generation faculty come to the close of their careers. On the one hand institutions need to replenish themselves, and often do so when older employees retire. On the other hand, mass retirements can decimate departments, creating the need for mass hirings that will replicate another crisis in the future.

At the same time, with the elimination of mandatory retirement, many faculty are working into and beyond their seventies because, for several reasons, they feel they still have much to contribute, because their identities are closely tied to their work, because they wish to remain connected to their institutions, and/or for financial reasons.

Given institutions’ legal constraints and planning exigencies, and faculty's varied motivations, what are the options that can satisfy the needs of both parties? This book presents a range of examples of how institutions of all types and sizes are addressing these dilemmas, and how faculty members have helped create or shape policies that address their needs and allow them to continue to play meaningful roles at their institutions.

The contributors describe practices that address the concerns of those already nearing or in retirement, propose approaches to creating opportunities to start these sensitive discussions and address financial planning at early career stages, and outline strategies for developing clear structures and policies and communication so that individuals have a full understanding of their options as they make life-changing decisions.

This book presents models from fifteen colleges and universities identified by the American Council on Education through a competition for having developed innovative and effective ways to help faculty transition into retirement. It offers clear messages about the need for greater transparency in addressing retirement and transitions, for better communication, and for close coordination between human resources and academic administrators. It offers a roadmap for HR personnel, senior administrators, department chairs, and faculty themselves.

Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning

By Claire Van Ummersen, Lauren Duranleau and Jean McLaughlin

Best practices of ACE's winning institutions are highlighted. Within these best practices, common themes emerged that include: legacy projects, exemplary communication, retirement and financial planning, health insurance, counseling, and maintaing a relationship with the instituion. Furthmore, legal issues concerning the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, and the IRS code are easily explained in this publication.




Faculty Retirement: Awards Program

Recognizing and Rewarding Best Practices for Senior Faculty: 15 Institutions Honored with $100,000 Grants

Fifteen institutions from 3 Carnegie classifications (Baccalaureate Colleges, Master's Large Institutions, and Doctoral/Research Universities) were selected for their best practices in policies and programs supporting faculty in the 3 stages of the retirement transition, and were awarded $100,000 each.

"This competition, focused on senior faculty careers, provides opportunity to showcase some of the leading practices in the country," said Claire Van Ummersen, senior advisor in ACE's Leadership Programs division. "The winners will have occasions to disseminate information about their award-winning programs that support both long-serving faculty and the needs of colleges and universities to maintain a vibrant faculty community."

Descriptions of the recipients best practices are listed below:

Baccalaureate Colleges

Albright College’s (PA) retired and soon-to-be retired faculty members are very satisfied with the special services the college provides for them. In particular, they take advantage of the financial planning assistance, retirement phasing and transitioning programs, and ongoing tuition support available for faculty member dependents. Retired faculty also participate in the college’s retiree focus groups and the surveys that are periodically circulated to gather feedback on the retirement transitioning process.

Carleton College (MN) aims to provide as much flexibility as possible for faculty in retirement transitions, and creates a culture in which faculty naturally make the decision to retire. This flexibility allows faculty to explore and venture into post-retirement endeavors, define meaningful concluding projects, and remain active with the college if they desire. Carleton faculty members have proposed a wide variety of culminating, or legacy, projects, which carry an emphasis on flexibility and individual design. Faculty also responded positively to the questions on the Sloan survey regarding the supportive culture created by senior leaders, colleagues, and students for senior faculty on campus.

At Mount Holyoke College (MA), a faculty member nearing or in phased retirement may apply for a transitioning grant. This one-time award allows faculty to complete a specific project as they move toward and into retirement. Over the past 2 years, transitioning grants have been used for supporting publication costs, securing usage permission for illustrations, traveling to archives facilities abroad, and staging musical performances. The college also excels at providing ample retiree benefits. Some examples include supporting research costs and grant applications, providing dedicated space on campus, allowing access to college resources, and encouraging retired faculty to continue teaching.

Skidmore College (NY) provides exemplary financial planning and medical insurance to faculty members in order to assist them in their retirement. The college offers partially subsidized medical insurance to retirees and their partners and dependents, along with a medical “bridge” program that faculty can utilize until they become eligible for Medicare. The college’s faculty members are very satisfied with these options. Realizing through previous surveys that what the institution’s retirees want most of all is to be connected with one another, the college has taken a unique approach in focusing on special social gatherings for retirees. Some examples include an annual event honoring new retirees held at the home of the vice president for academic affairs and a meeting with the campus president, during which retirees receive an update on the college. An informally constituted Retiree Initiative Group also arranges events for retirees.

Wellesley College (MA) has an emeriti-faculty steering committee, which develops programs for retired faculty and works with faculty who are nearing retirement to help ease their transition. This committee provides a cohort to which retired faculty can belong, and has facilitated Wellesley College’s ability to define, formalize, and expand the college’s rights and privileges for emeriti faculty. The college does an excellent job tracking faculty who utilize early and phased retirement programs, along with surveying faculty in all phases of retirement on their usage of transition supports. In addition, Wellesley faculty are satisfied with their ability to participate in various campus legacy programs and culminating projects, retirement transition counseling, and other phasing and transitioning supports.

Master’s Large Institutions

Bentley University (MA) has exceptional policies in place for faculty members in both the pre-retirement and retirement phases. Specific written policies detail a variety of ways in which faculty members can move into retirement over one, two, or three years, thus allowing for flexible implementation that takes place at the faculty member’s preferred pace. These options allow faculty to gradually reduce their commitments, while still contributing in meaningful ways that recognize their individual strengths. Bentley’s faculty are extremely satisfied with the university’s post-tenure review, phasing and transitioning supports, and ongoing assistance in retirement. The university has experienced a surge in faculty retirements in recent years.

San José State University (CA) To accommodate the needs of tenured faculty members preparing to retire from the university, including those who are both very open and very private about their decision—the university created the Pre-Reduction in Time Base/Faculty Early Retirement Program Calculator. This online tool provides clear information about the financial implications for the array of retirement options available to such faculty, and can be used by all faculty members in the 23-campus California State University system. In addition, their career-planning retreats provide opportunities for tenured faculty to reflect on their professional accomplishments, plans, goals, and legacies.

University of Baltimore (MD) has published a comprehensive guide to institutional policies and resources regarding retirement. This central set of guidelines, titled “Engaged Retirement and Privileges of All Retired Faculty”, highlights a number of ways faculty can remain involved after retiring. The university offers emeriti faculty clerical support and financial support to help them travel to conferences, as well as the opportunity to keep a named chair position and have dedicated and private office space. This office space is made available both in the department and the institution, which is unusual for an urban campus. The university’s human resources office also maintains a timeline tool that helps faculty members plan their transition.

Xavier University (OH), a Jesuit institution, concentrates on the care of the individual faculty member and takes a holistic approach to faculty retirement transitions. A special workshop series presents opportunities for reflection and discussion, specializing in topics such as aging and spirituality. Examples of previous workshop themes are the “Second Fifty,” which focuses on life after age 50, and “Spiritual Companion,” which explores the Jesuit philosophy of cura personalis, or “care of the entire person.” The university fosters an environment in which senior colleagues are highly valued by the administration, students, and junior colleagues.

Doctoral/Research Universities

George Mason University (VA) provides a variety of innovative programs which facilitate a smooth retirement transition for its faculty and staff including a faculty retirement transitions leave program and a Retirement Connections program to encourage Mason retirees to stay connected to the university. In partnership with Fairfax County in Virginia, the university offers a day long program called "Your Next Chapter: Charting a Course for Retirement," which helps prepare the individual as a whole for retirement by exploring personal resources, preferences, motivations, skills, and interests. In partnership with the Leadership Fairfax and Volunteer Fairfax community groups, the university provides speakers for a program called Lifetime Leadership for retirees, based on the belief that they can offer a wealth of experience, leadership, and vitality to the community while enriching their own lives. The university also offers a series of Life Planning Seminars, and is in the process of developing a retirement coaching program, training current and retired faculty and others to provide one-on-one retirement transitions coaching for Mason faculty and eventually the surrounding community.

Georgia Institute of Technology (GA) The Office of the Vice President for Institute Diversity will launch an institution-wide diversity and climate survey in which faculty will be asked about their plans for retirement and their satisfaction with the university’s retirement transition options. Georgia Tech currently offers various tools to its retirees, extending nearly identical privileges to both retired and emeriti faculty and fully subsidizing the medical insurance of retired faculty members, their spouses, and their dependents.

Princeton University (NJ) has a variety of policies and programs intended to support faculty retirement transitions and generally foster opportunities for emeriti faculty members to continue their research and scholarship. Princeton has created a set of four retirement transition packages for faculty members who are eligible for retirement after they reach age 55 and have at least 10 years of service. Faculty members who make the decision to retire by the age of 70 receive a bonus that ranges from .5 years to 1.5 years of salary, depending on when the retirement agreement is signed. These four packages provide transparency and fairness to the faculty and prevent concerns that “closed-door deals” are creating inequities.

University of California, (UC) Davis built on a history of creating transparency through education, and created a website that defines faculty retirement eligibility and recall options, generates (through an outside link) an estimate of pension benefits, and directs faculty to retirement preparedness checklists. UC Davis faculty reported satisfaction with campus financial planning and medical insurance options. The creation of a series of workshops just for faculty that focus on UC pension options, retiree health benefits, social security, budgeting/financial considerations, and work/life transitions has been very well received. A dedicated Retiree Center and a section for retirees on the UC intranet “At Your Service” website provides additional information about all aspects of pre- and post-retirement that is relevant to all members of the greater UC community.

University of Southern California (USC) strives to provide its faculty with services and resources that ensure a successful transition to retirement. The USC Emeriti Center, established in 1978, is home to a Living History Project intended to record faculty legacies. It also houses the Trojan ENCORE program, which promotes part-time work and on-campus volunteer service among campus retirees to leverage their unique skills and experiences, maintain their connections with the university, and fulfill specific needs of academic departments. In addition, the USC Emeriti Center College, which sponsors a speaker’s bureau, offers small research grants so retired faculty may continue or finish ongoing projects. It also provides enrichment courses, including a guided autobiography class, a multigenerational venue for faculty to activate memories, review their lives, and write personal histories as a legacy for themselves and their families.

University of Washington (UW) is committed to supporting faculty in their retirement transition and has, by policy, vested in tenured faculty members the right to be reemployed up to a maximum of 40% of their pre-retirement position for instructional and/or research purposes for 5 years after the date of retirement. In response to concerns expressed by faculty members about health care expenses in retirement, UW developed a voluntary retirement incentive (VRI) program, through which retiring tenured faculty members could forego their vested right to reemployment in exchange for a tax-free medical expense account. The VRI has held 2 open enrollments since May 2010. This program provides a vehicle for incentivizing retirement at a time of serious budgetary constraints.

Institutions which have Carnegie classifications of research universities, master's large institutions, arts & sciences baccalaureate schools, and medical schools were invited to apply for the awards. Applicants were evaluated in a two-part process. During the first round, an institutional survey about the culmination of faculty careers, with questions focusing on the development of a legacy, the transition into retirement, and the continuing involvement of faculty post-retirement was offered to participating institutions. The second round included a faculty survey, which measured the level of satisfaction that faculty had with their institution's programs, policies and options regarding pre-retirement, the process of entering into retirement, and post-retirement.

A panel of recently retired college and university presidents and chancellors reviewed and rated the applicants' materials, including Robert Berdhal, former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley; Nils Hasselmo, former president of the University of Minnesota; Stephen Trachtenberg, president emeritus of The George Washington University (D.C.); Roy Saigo, former president of St. Cloud State University (MN); Patricia Cormier, former president of Longwood University (VA); Gladys Johnston, chancellor emerita of the University of Nebraska at Kearney; Peggy Williams, president emerita of Ithaca College (NY); Stanton Hales, former president of the College of Wooster (OH); and Gordon Haaland, former president of Gettysburg College (PA).

Faculty Retirement:  Project Background & Invitational Conference

Faculty retirement is not just a process, but a pivotal decision made in the context of the latter stages of a faculty career—one with direct economic consequences for both the individual and the institution. Understanding higher education's unique tenure structure and faculty employment dynamics, the American Council on Education (ACE), with funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, is taking the lead in encouraging change in institutional culture to support a greatly expanded view of faculty retirement.

"The goal is to increase understanding of the final stages of faculty careers," said Kathleen Christensen, program director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. "ACE will identify policies and practices in higher education that best support faculty in the culminating stages of their careers, as well as those enabling them to phase into satisfying retirement and postretirement experiences within their institutions."

ACE uses a 3 phase framework to explore faculty retirement transitions:

  • Preretirement—the "preparation and planning stage," which is typically within 5 years of retirement but could start earlier.
  • Retirement—from within 6 months of retirement to 6 months after retirement and represents the "action stage."
  • Postretirement—the "maintenance stage" from a counseling perspective (LaBauve & Robinson, 1999, pp. 8–10).

This 2-year project will engage in several related activities that we believe represent the best strategies to move the national conversation beyond concerns over an aging professoriate and faculty turnover to mutually beneficial effective policies and practices that facilitate the retirement transition for faculty and their institutions.

Through a select pilot group of institutions, ACE explored how institutions currently support the culminating stages of a senior faculty member's career in 3 areas:

  1. The development of a legacy.
  2. The transition into retirement.
  3. The continuing contribution to the campus community in postretirement.

In addition to the awards program, ACE hosted an invitational conference and worked with 9 pilot institutions. ACE also created a Literature Review of Faculty Retirement Transitions, and a Whitepaper on Legal Issues, which focused on structuring faculty retirement packages and supporting the culminating stages of faculty careers.

Invitational Conference

ACE hosted an invitational conference for campus teams (president or provost and the appropriate senior academic personnel officer) where we showcased key findings related to best practices, solicit feedback and refinement of ideas and additional new information from a broader pool of institutions, and announced a competition for best practices in supporting the latter stages faculty careers, the transition into retirement, and engagement of retired faculty. For more information, please view the Executive Summary of the Conference.

This conference took place in Chicago, IL from July 11–12, 2011. Institutions which have Carnegie classifications of research universities, master's large institutions, arts & sciences baccalaureate schools, and medical schools were sent a screening questionnaire in February 2011. At this conference, we reviewed the aggregate findings of our questionnaire on supports for faculty retirement transitions from the 158 responding institutions.

Session at ACE's 2011 Annual Meeting

At ACE's 2011 Annual Meeting, a special session was held to discuss faculty retirement issues. The session was covered by the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside HigherEd. Speakers included: Kathleen Christensen, Program Director, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Teresa A. Sullivan, President, University of Virginia, James H. Mullen, President, Allegheny College, and Lawrence Pitts, MD, Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs, University of California.