To Phase or Not to Phase: The Dynamics of Choosing Phased Retirement in Academe

David W. Leslie, The College of William and Mary and TIAA-CREF Institute Fellow
Natasha Janson, The College of William and Mary

September 2004 |

With the abolition of mandatory retirement, academic institutions are increasingly exploring alternative retirement options for their faculty. Early retirement, phased retirement, and other arrangements extending employment beyond the traditional retirement ages(s) are alternatives that have emerged during a period best described as unsettled and exploratory. While approximately half of all colleges and universities now offer phased retirement options to their faculty, phased retirement is still a relatively new development and has not been studied to the point that any clear assessments of its effectiveness are available. This paper focuses on the experiences thus far of a small sample of institutions with phased retirement policies.

This study was conducted during 2003-04 and is based on extensive interviews at twelve institutions and two state systems. The authors interviewed a wide array of faculty members who had elected phased retirement and institutional leaders including department chairs, deans, provosts, and system-level executives. The interviews were supplemented at (predominantly) comprehensive and research universities with a survey of (principally) smaller liberal arts colleges. Altogether, there were responses from approximately 150 individuals. The study is ongoing, with completion expected by late 2004. This paper is a preliminary report about selected findings.

This project’s original purpose was to explore institutions’ and individuals’ experiences with flexible employment arrangements - focusing on phased retirement. The authors expected to learn how flexing for late career faculty might lead to new ideas for flexing that could benefit early career faculty who are more often faced with the many demands of family and career. In fact, that aspect of this project has served to refocus the authors’ attention on retirement patterns. On the whole, retirement appears to be a distinct stage of life and career. Essentially, what may work to help faculty retire is sufficiently different from what junior faculty may want or need in the way of flexibility, that few explicit connections are warranted. Therefore, in this report the authors address only the following questions: How and under what conditions do American academics prefer to (and choose to) retire? What options may be most appealing to which faculty? And what have institutions and individuals experienced and learned from the past decade’s experiments with phased retirement?

© 2013 and prior years, Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association - College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF), New York, NY 10017