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Alfred P. Sloan Projects for Faculty Career Flexibility

This series of projects highlights and rewards institutions that effectively recruit, retain, and advance faculty in their careers as a means of developing institutional capacity.

​Since 2003, the American Council on Education, in partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, has been investigating the structural and cultural changes necessary to increase flexibility in faculty careers.

We believe these changes will assist institutions in recruiting and retaining highly talented and diverse faculty members. Two important outcomes from these projects have been An Agenda For Excellence and the Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Faculty Career Flexibility. We have also created a Toolkit for Faculty Career Flexibility.

Definition of Faculty Career Flexibility

For the purposes of the Sloan Awards for Faculty Career Flexibility, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has suggested these policies as examples of best practices in career flexibility:

  • On- and off-ramps, through leave policies.
  • Extended time to tenure (tenure clock adjustment).
  • Shortened time to tenure, with pro-rated standard of productivity.
  • Active service, modified duties (full-time service, with selected reduced duties).
  • Part-time appointments (allowing mobility between full-time and part-time work).
  • Phased retirement (partial appointments for finite periods of time).
  • Delayed entry or re-entry opportunities (including practices that foster later-than-usual career starts).
Why the Need for Faculty Career Flexibility?

Since 2002, women have earned more than half of all the Ph.D.s awarded to Americans at U.S. universities, yet fewer than half of them pursue tenure-track positions at American colleges and universities. Among those who do, only about one-third achieve tenure and less than one-quarter advance to the rank of full professor.

For female faculty who take on tenure-track positions, the obstacles can continue. Many fin​d that their careers are severely hampered by having and raising children, particularly during their tenure-track probationary period. In addition, women are significantly more likely than men to feel they have to sacrifice a family life to succeed in their academic careers. However, studies show that younger men want to be more involved in their family lives so this is increasingly an issue that affects men as well as women faculty. In addition, as the population ages, many faculty are called on to care for their elderly parents and relatives, so these issues affect faculty of all ages.

Given these conditions, flexible career policies and programs are becoming ever more necessary as a means of helping meet the needs of an increasingly diverse faculty. Such practices also help advance institutional goals, such as improved recruitment and retention and maintaining academic competitiveness in a global market.


Our initiatives include:

  • Our National Challenge for Higher Education​ is an opportunity for presidents to be involved in a national campaign to promote faculty career flexibility. We believe that supporting flexibility must become a core leadership competency to enable our faculty to meet the increasing demands of twenty-first-century workplaces and to meet their personal and familial responsibilities.​
  • View our Past Initiatives page to follow award-winning institutions as they implement faculty career flexibility initiatives on their campuses.
  • Faculty Retirement Transitions: Exploring how institutions support faculty retirement (including the culminating stages of faculty careers), the development of a legacy, the transition into retirement, and the continuing inclusion of emeriti faculty within the academic community.
  • Investigating Career Flexibility for Faculty in Academic Medicine: These awards seek to recognize outstanding medical schools for their practices in creating multiple pathways for career success for academic clinicians and basic scientists. ACE will document and disseminate best practices discovered during the awards process in both the structures and culture within this sector of higher education so that other medical schools may replicate them.



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