I have been doing a series of posts discussing the need for (1) local churches to consider hiring people who have done the hard work of earning doctoral degrees who will not be able to find employment in the job market of academia and (2) for local churches to take education more seriously as part of discipleship. I will continue writing on this topic tomorrow Wednesday (in the meantime, you can read Pt. I, introduction; Pt. II, the concerns of pastors; and Pt. III, what do congregations need to know? if you have not done so already), but today I want to take a moment to discuss (bemoan?) the new “Jobs Report” released today by the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion.

The Jobs Report is a collection of information regarding hiring trends from 2001-2010. These are the key findings (I have highlighted in red the points that I want to discuss):

      1. The decade under consideration experienced significant fluctuation in the number of job advertisements. Sharp decline marked 2008 to 2009 (-45.8%) and ad numbers in 2010 were just below ad levels for 2001 (494 and 511 respectively).
      2. In 2008 81.6% of positions listed were tenure track, but this figure decreased to 51.1% in 2009 and 61.0% in 2010. These findings may indicate that the job market for the 2009 academic year fundamentally changed, not only shrinking but apparently reconfiguring with a greater emphasis on non-tenure-track employment. 
      3. Hiring for new positions and vacancies accounted for 85.1% of position listings.
      4. For ads posted with SBL and AAR from 2001 through 2010, the three most important skills or experiences desired or required by employers were (in order) holding a Ph.D., prior teaching experience, and interdisciplinary teaching or research.
      5. Data may suggest that demand for Ph.D. and M.A. instruction has increased with little correlative effect on the demand for B.A., M.Div., and Th.D. or D.Min. instruction.
      6. Jobs posted with the organizations were almost exclusively full-time rather than part-time.
      7. Fields of study for positions themselves were diverse but populated three major categories. Positions dealing with modern religions and their histories, including comparative and world religions, accounted for 31.6% of ads. Positions in biblical studies and related disciplines —including Ancient Near Eastern languages and literatures, Second Temple Judaism, and early Christianity —accounted for 29.0% of ads. Positions in theology, philosophy, philosophy of religion, and ethics accounted for 21.9% of ads.
      8. Positions in Islam were the major driver for the growth of positions dealing with modern religions and their histories between 2008 and 2009, increasing fourfold and accounting for 32.9% of such positions in that period.
      9. New Testament and early Christianity positions drove the rebound for positions focused on biblical studies, accounting for 39.5% of such positions in 2010.
      10. Positions in theology have led growth among positions in theology, philosophy, philosophy of religion, and ethics, doubling from 2008 to 2010 and accounting for 61.0% of such positions in that period.
      11. Not-for-profit, as opposed to public, institutions prevail in terms of the total number of positions.
      12. Most jobs at public institutions represent institutions with Master’s and Doctorate programs. Similarly, most jobs at public institutions represent institutions with student enrollment figures of at least 10,000.
      13. A majority of positions (64.3%) indicated that hires would teach undergraduate students, while 43.5% of positions indicated that hires would teach Master’s students and 27.0% of positions indicated that hires would teach doctoral students.
      14. Positions at Special Focus institutions and Doctorate-granting institutions report the lowest course load at 5.0 and 5.1 courses per annum. Associate institutions report 5.4 courses per annum, while Baccalaureate institutions report 5.9 courses per annum. Master’s institutions reported the highest course load at 6.7 courses per annum.
      15. Most hires would teach three to six courses per annum: 77.6% of not-for-profit institution ads and 77.2% of public institution ads indicated that hires would teach three to six courses per annum. Not-for-profit institutions, however, more frequently indicated a higher course load: 66.5% of not-for-profit institution ads indicated that hires would teach five to eight courses per annum, which compares with 51.8% of public institutions ads.
      16. Institutions located in 28 countries posted ads with the organizations from 2001 through 2010, representing six of the seven continents. The overwhelming majority of institutions posting job ads with the organizations are located within the United States (90.2%). Five countries posted at least twenty ads from 2001 through 2010: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, New Zealand, and The Netherlands.

John Byron summarizes my concern when he writes (in Thinking about a career in biblical studies? You might want to reconsider):

“It shows that more and more positions are non-tenure track, require the ability to teach on a variety of topics, and usually require experience. In other words, there seems to be less hiring of ‘freshly minted’ PhD’s and more shifting around of those who are already working.”

If you have graduated with your doctorate recently it is going to be hard to find work. If you do find work it may be as an adjunct with a load far greater than that which should be placed on someone who is “part time” with no medical, dental, or retirement.

This isn’t a problem for people who people who are experts in biblical studies alone. I’ve read more than one article from people who did doctoral work in fields like history and philosophy (i.e., the humanities) who either (A) couldn’t find work or (B) found that academia was an abusive master who kept them away from their family, friends, and even places where they’d prefer to live. Many have been asking, “Is there an alternative?” For example, a few days ago L. Maren Wood contributed an article to The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “What Doors Does a Ph.D. in History Open?” discussing how people in the field of history are finding that tenure track jobs are rare, sometimes over demanding, and not the only option. Could it be that one can benefit from the hard work of doctoral studies and then find employment that allows them to enjoy putting to use what they learned without working eighteen hour days to beat out one’s competitors for a tenure track position?

I think many students of biblical studies (or Christian theology) may need to seriously consider ways of marketing themselves to local churches (speaking to Christians, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship for people of other religious convictions). Is it possible that C. Michael Patton’s Credo House is one example of the possible alternatives? What other ideas might arise as people think of new and exciting ways to use their education?

Also, I think local churches need to reevaluate what matters to them and what matters when discipling people. This could be a redeemable situation if (A) people with doctorates adjust to being educators in the local church rather than the college/seminary and if (B) the local church is willing to support/hire people to do this work rather than hiring another associate pastor who has skills sets better fit for small business advancement than discipleship.  Let’s think through this together. What can local churches do to maximize this time when there are more people with doctorates realizing that there may not be a job opening at the seminary or college?