Resources on Faculty Retirement


Toolkit: Resources on Faculty Retirement

This page is designed to provide assistance to institutional leaders in creating, implementing, evaluating, and sustaining programs and best practices geared towards senior faculty and faculty retirement transitions. These resources come mainly from four sources: 1) the 2012 award winners for best practices in faculty retirement transitions, 2) pilot schools which have allowed ACE staff members to interview their faculty and learn about their retirement policies, 3) an advisory board composed of experts in the field, and 4) other organizations that study these issues and disseminate research on this topic. 

There are four main sections to this toolkit: 1) creating flexibility, 2) implementing flexibility, 3) evaluating flexibility, and 4) sustaining flexibility. 

Creating Flexibility

Assessing Where You Stand

Our 2012 award-winning institutions were identified by the American Council on Education as having developed innovative and effective ways to help faculty transition into retirement. Each institution that applied allowed us to survey their faculty to assess their satisfaction with: a) post-tenure review, b) retirement supports, c) campus culture concerning senior faculty and retirement, d) financial planning and insurance options, and e) ongoing supports and opportunities in retirement. The details within each area of satisfaction can be more readily explored in the 2012 Faculty Survey Results.

The Association of Retirement Organizations in Higher Education (AROHE) offers a survey for institutions that have retiree organizations. The survey, administered every two to three years, asks what are the primary purposes of the organization, who is served by it, what programs and activities are offered within it, what challenges organizations are faced with, where the sources of funding come from, and what privileges the organization offers. Survey results are available to institutions that have a membership with AROHE.  

Administrators can also use ACE's Faculty Retirement Policy Rubric for Institutional Use that was compiled as a result of several conversations with our award winners, pilot schools, and advisory board. The rubric is designed to help administrators assess where the institution stands on several items:

  1. Retirement plans
  2. Health and wellness
  3. Administration
  4. Communication of retirement options, supports and perks
  5. Retirement counseling and seminars
  6. Pre-retirement programs and retirement options
  7. Institutional support for retired faculty
  8. Post-retirement programs
  9. Retiree associations 

Legal Issues

One reason why comparisons across institutions on retirement policies and practices are difficult to make is because there are no formal definitions of what it means to be retired. While many persons assume that one is retired when one is eligible to receive social security, there is no standard definition of “being retired”, unlike other federally-protected classifications, such as race, gender, and disability status. Many institutions, especially public institutions, do have some type of formula for determining who is eligible to be considered retired from their school (e.g., X years of service and at least YY years of age). However, many institutions, especially privates, do not have guidelines for retirement; faculty merely separate from the school.

Problems arising from age discrimination also have had a dampening effect on institutions reaching out to faculty to inform their of their retirement options. Our publication, Supporting the Culminating Stages of Faculty Careers: Legal Issues, provides a brief history of mandatory faculty retirement policy and its ensuing repercussions. The sections in the document are: 1) brief history of mandatory faculty retirement, 2) the nature of age discrimination, 3) voluntary retirement, 4) retaliation, 5) contract issues in phased retirement, 6) benefits and age discrimination, 7) retirement incentives and the safe harbor, 8) tax and other twists and turns, and 9) an operational lesson in retirement incentives.

Administrators should also consult their own state and municipality laws on faculty retirement, such as regulations on re-employment at public universities. For example, in the state of Washington, the law permits a faculty member to be reemployed up to 40% time, after retirement. “The University of Washington has, by policy, granted to tenured faculty members the prerogative of requesting reemployment. By policy, the University has vested in tenured faculty members the right beginning at age 62, to be reemployed up to a maximum of 40% time for instructional and/or research purposes for five years after the date of retirement.”2

Implementing Flexibility

Awareness Campaign

Our winning institutions found that widespread publicity of all faculty retirement policies and practices available was helpful in increasing knowledge and usage of these policies. These marketing efforts are more effective when they are directed at faculty of all age ranges. For example, Cornell University offers “Pathways to Your Encore” as a program open to Baby Boomer and Generation X employees to help prepare them in planning for a life beyond their institution. This program is part of a suite of robust encore programs designed for both retirees and mid-career professionals who are planning for the future.

Other awareness examples would be adding into existing communications (e.g., a faculty newsletter) pertinent information regarding retirement, or creating flyers/posters that are placed at strategic locations where faculty are most likely to read them. Institutions should also run a search on the phrase “faculty retirement” on their website to see if information is readily available. 

The power of peer networks and mentoring could also be utilized for senior faculty, and could emphasize alternative or encore careers. The University of Massachusetts Medical School offers “vitality” mentoring for mid-career and senior faculty. The University of California, Los Angeles has “retirement navigators” who are charged with steering faculty through the transition process [link The University of California, Los Angeles has “retirement navigators” who are charged with steering faculty through the transition process.

Training of Key Gatekeepers

A general theme that we have identified from interviewing faculty members is their  anxiety over when to disclose they are considering a retirement transition. Faculty often find that when they speak to a key gatekeeper, such as their department chair, the gatekeeper often does not know the regulations of the institution’s faculty retirement policy.

Understanding the legalities of faculty retirement is also a prime concern for gate keepers such as department chairs due to the fact that lawsuits may arise if a faculty member feels that he/she has been forced into retirement. Thus, it is critically important for key gatekeepers to receive proper training in faculty retirement legal issues in order to know what not to do when a faculty member approaches them with the desire to retire.

Evaluating Flexibility

Measuring Usage

In addition to creating and implementing flexible retirement options for faculty, ACE recommends evaluating the utilization of these policies. These evaluations can be used to determine if policies are equitably enforced across departments on campus, and if there are negative repercussions for faculty once they have retired.

In response to faculty members' concerns about health-care expenses in retirement, the University of Washington 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. This program encourages retirement at a time of serious budgetary constraints.

For retired faculty from 2009-2012, the University of Washington conducted a survey to measure what faculty considered important in their post-retirement expectations, looking at whether faculty chose “to forgo their vested right to partial reemployment in exchange for a tax-free medical expense account.” For faculty who chose to keep their reemployment option, finances, intellect, and their relationship with the institution were most important to their post-retirement plans. For faculty who chose the tax-free expense account option (VRI), their health, time-frame, and legacy were most important to their post-retirement plans.

Evaluating Change

In order to identify what type of change will be needed in order to improve a current policy, or to draft and implement an entirely new retirement policy, the type of change that will occur should be identified.

From the late 1990s to 2001, ACE received several grants from the Kellogg Foundation to help institutions adapt to and work through change on campuses. The grant funded a series of publications, convenings, and discussions, which were bolstered by a model of change that can be applied by campus leaders.  In thinking about change, there are two dimensions that can be used to assess the type that has occurred: depth and pervasiveness.1

Depth: “focuses on how profoundly a change affects behavior or alters structures; the deeper a change, the more it is infused into the attitudes and daily lives of those affected by it.”1 Additionally, “deep change implies a shift in values and assumptions that underlie the usual way of doing business, requiring people to think differently as well as to act differently.”1

Pervasiveness: “refers to the extent to which a change is far-reaching within the institution.”1 This change implies the universality of the change, change that crosses unit boundaries and touches on different parts of the institution.

When the two axes of these dimensions are put into a 2x2 matrix, there are four resulting quadrants of change.1

Adjustment (I): “a change or series of changes that are modifications to an existing practice” – “revisions, revitalizations, or renewals.”1 “They occur when current designs or procedures are improved or extended. An adjustment may improve a process or the quality of a service, or it might add a new element.”1 “An adjustment is not a drastic alteration and does not yield deep or far-reaching effects.”1

Isolated Change (II): “deep but limited to one unit or a particular area; it is not pervasive.”1 It affects a specific sub-group of people.

Pervasive Change (III): "extensive but does not affect the organization very deeply"1 –yet, “affects all academic units”1 and faculty, institution-wide.

Transformational Change (IV): “change is both deep and pervasive” – addresses assumptions that tell the institution “what to do, how to behave, and what to produce.” “Transformation touches the core of the institution.”

Every institution is uniquely different from one another. As a result, what may be an adjustment on one campus may be a transformational change on another. ACE’s Change Model can help recognize the type of change required in order to improve upon current policies or implement new policies.

The following are examples of change in retirement policy using the ACE Change Model.

Adjustment (I): permitting continued use of institutional email to retired faculty. This is a simple IT adjustment that improves the psychosocial well-being of retired faculty and can be applied throughout every department on the campus.

Isolated Change (II): partial reemployment policy for a sub-group of retirees. A policy may be desired by every faculty member, but it is only available for those who qualify within a specific classification, e.g. emeriti only.

Pervasive Change (III): bridge insurance for faculty who need to transition from institutional-based health insurance to Medicare, but do not yet qualify (e.g., because of age). This change does not deeply affect the institution but it does affect every retiring faculty member across the board.

Transformational Change (IV): an emeriti college. Establishing a permanent and influential emeriti college on campus would transform the culture and allure of retiring by creating a center for lifetime scholars to continue their teaching, research, and publishing.

Sustaining Flexibility

Leadership from the Top

In Leadership for the Top order to sustain initiatives at the institutional level, colleges and universities must ensure that policies and programs apply to all individuals and deeply penetrate the culture of the institution or state-system. When these changes are pervasive and penetrating, they become transformational.

San José State University (SJSU) created a retirement calculator available to all tenured faculty members who have reached the age of 55 and are not older than 65 at the time of entry into SJSU’s Faculty Early Retirement Program(FERP). This calculator has been adopted system-wide and is now available for use by every institution in the California State University system.


Some institutions may be hesitant to institute quality retirement policies for faculty because they can require extensive costs. Aside from the Sloan Awards described below, there are many other sources of funding to ensure that the best faculty retirement policies are available: endowments and association member solicitations; the president’s or provost’s budget; annual dues and alumni/emeriti donations; and, a Career Flexibility Reserve created specifically for the benefit of faculty who desire to retire.

Additional Resources

Association of Retirement Organizations in Higher Education (AROHE)

College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) Knowledge Center

College and University Work-Life-Family Association (CUWFA)

Winners of the 2012 Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Best Practices in Faculty Retirement Transitions

Fifteen institutions from three Carnegie classifications (baccalaureate colleges, master’s large institutions, and doctoral/research universities) were selected by a panel of judges comprised of retired college and university presidents, to receive a 2012 Alfred P. Sloan Award for Best Practices in Faculty Retirement Transitions. The $100,000 awards are being used to further promote best practices and to implement new supports to smoothly guide faculty into the latter stages of their careers.

Albright College, Bentley University, Carleton College, Georgia Institute of Technology, George Mason University, Mount Holyoke College, Princeton University, San José State University, Skidmore College, University of Baltimore, University of California, Davis, University of Southern California, University of Washington, Wellesley College, and Xavier University were the fifteen winners who each received $100,000 that enabled the institution to expand and enhance their faculty retirement transitions.


1Eckel, P.,Green, M., & Hill, B. (2001). On Change (Vol. V). Washington, DC.

2Working After Retirement. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2015, from