Search SBL

Hiring Trends
Published: March 15, 2016

This latest iteration of the jobs report focuses on data from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015 and completes the report’s shift from a calendar year to a period that covers the academic year (AY) for the vast majority of jobs represented in the report. Positions advertised remain largely unchanged—in number, kind, and general detail—which is a measure of good news in the context of the significant decline in the number of ads in the 2013-2014 AY. Key findings are summarized immediately below with fuller analysis of the data to follow. We hope this information helps members track important indicators in a broad sample of job market data.

It is important to bear in mind that this report is based on data from listings made through AAR-SBL Employment Services and does not necessarily reflect all positions open. This fact may obscure conditions or trends, and the report will remark on some of these. This is particularly evident when it comes to jobs outside the U.S. and Canada and contingent faculty jobs.

For previous reports, please see the following links:
Key Findings
  • Year-to-year fluctuations in the number of positions is the norm.
  • Contingent faculty positions declined 27.7% year over year.
  • Tenured/tenure-track faculty increased 23.4% year over year.
  • Positions stipulating need for final approval totaled 4.2%, which is the third highest percentage since AY02.
  • The number of positions for visiting scholars increased to their highest representation since AY02 (10.9%).
  • Entry-level positions declined in real numbers and representation year over year.
  • Upper-level positions are at their highest level in the fourteen years of available data.
  • Overall course load has increased.
  • Publishing has become a significant factor in the data since we started asking employers in 2011, especially for upper-level positions.
  • Many special focus institutions desire online course instruction experience.
Data Analysis
Substantial year-to-year fluctuations in the number of positions—averaging 15.9%—characterize the past seven years of data available from the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature’s database of job listings in the fields of biblical, religious, and theological studies (Table 1). Comparison of AY 2013 and AY 2014 shows a 17.5% decline year over year. The 2014-2015 AY breaks this trend with only two fewer ads (0.4%) than the previous AY.

Contradictions seem to characterize year over year and longer term trends in the AY15 data. On the one hand, contingent faculty positions declined 27.7% year over year and tenured/tenure-track faculty increased 23.4% year over year—changes that many would agree are positive (Table 2 and Table 3). On the other hand, positions stipulating need for final approval or dependence on budgetary, departmental, and/or other considerations totaled 4.2% of AY15 positions (Table 6), which is the third highest percentage since AY02, and the number of positions for visiting scholars (49) increased to their highest representation since AY02 (10.9%) (Table 7). Furthermore, the decline in contingent faculty positions may be due to the fact that they may not be advertised in the AAR-SBL listings service and may be only locally advertised and filled. This may, in fact, reflect not a decreased reliance on contingent positions but a reluctance to post contingent positions on such a listings service (also “just-in-time hiring” is widely reported; e.g., here). We have also reported on this assumption in previous reports.

Entry-level positions declined slightly in real numbers (238 to 229) for the second straight year while upper-level positions more than doubled (26 to 63) to their highest level in the fourteen years of available data (Table 4 and Table 5).

Even though entry-level positions have decreased and upper-level positions have increased, course loads have crept up again this year (Table 8 and Table 9). Nearly 60% of positions teach five or more courses with entry-level positions showing a substantially higher course load than other levels of positions—73% teach five or more courses, which is the highest representation since AY08 (Table 10). The general parity in course load between private not-for-profit and public institutions has continued, as has the relationship between the size of an institution's enrollment and an institution's type. That is, the course load at both private and public institutions continues to peak with an enrollment of 2,500-4,999 and then decreases significantly as enrollment grows.

Consistent with previous data, AY15 figures focus candidate training in three areas: obtaining the Ph.D., teaching experience, and interdisciplinary teaching or research abilities (Table 16). Almost all positions (92.3%) desire or require a doctoral degree, and nearly 73% of positions desire or require teaching experience. Publishing has become a significant factor in the data since we started asking employers in 2011. In the latest cycle, 36.1% of employers desired or required journal publication and 26.8% desired or required book and/or monograph publication.

How rates of desire/require differ between levels of positions turns out to be an important factor for several skills (Table 17). Note that level totals will be misleading for the two publishing options, since the rate of response for these options was in the single digits in AY12 and AY13. In the past two years, however, the data seem to have stabilized and show that around one-sixth of entry-level positions desire or require book/monograph publication compared to nearly two-thirds of upper-level positions. The same disparity is true of journal publications, though entry-level positions more highly desire/require such publications compared to books/monographs. The data also show that interdisciplinary teaching/research pertains far more significantly to upper-level positions. Teaching experience is more highly required for upper-level positions, but it is still in high demand for entry-level positions.

Candidates should also be aware that clear differences regarding employer expectations exist based on type of institution for some skills (Table 18). Perhaps most starkly shown in the data is the fact that special focus institutions (e.g., seminaries; definition here) highly desire online course instruction experience in the latest data cycle (AY15). Nearly one third of positions from such institutions indicated a desire or requirement for this experience, compared to five to ten percent of positions at other types of institutions. Research (36.7%) and special focus (34.1%) institutions look for book/monograph publications at around three times the rate of baccalaureate (10.8%) and Master's (13.5%) institutions. They also seek out journal publications more highly (research 44.9%, special focus 38.6%, master's 30.8%, and baccalaureate 16.9%). Teaching experience is most highly desired or required at Master's institutions (80.8%) and least at research institutions (65.3%).

Location of Positions
Positions have been located in 36 countries since AY02 with an average of 13 countries per academic year. Use the filters to the right of the chart below to change the variables displayed. You are able to filter using the global region (based on United Nations designations) and academic year.

The vast majority of positions have been located in the United States. Use the filters to the right of the chart below to change the variables displayed. You are able to filter using institution type, institution control (private, public), enrollment, and academic year.

Fields of Expertise
Finally, we would note that reporting longitudinally on fields of study for positions is difficult. The options for fields of study presented to employers have changed significantly over the period. For example, twelve new fields of study were introduced in the 2003-2004 AY, nearly doubling the previous number of fields (sixteen), another seven were introduced in the 2006-2007 AY, and five more fields have been added since. We have provided the full set of options with corresponding counts in a table below (Table 19) so that readers can identify trends themselves. Note that the figures in this table represent all selections made; that is, employers can select multiple fields for a position, not just a primary. Moreover, since the beginning of the reporting period, employers have not always been able to identify selections as primary or secondary. We have, therefore, presented the data without reference to such designations.

© 2019, Society of Biblical Literature. All Rights Reserved.