Most Professors Agree: the Economics of Higher Education in America Are Uncertain

Survey finds educators are increasingly concerned about issues ranging from educational infrastructure and academic standards to the cost of tuition and course materials

Seven out of 10 professors also don’t believe that the majority of students come to class prepared - up from 58 percent of professors last year

TORONTO--()--Professors are increasingly concerned about unsustainable challenges and issues that are calling into question the economics of higher education, according to a new survey of 1,956 current professors. The annual survey was conducted by Top Hat, provider of the leading cloud-based teaching platform for higher education.

The 3rd annual 2018 Professor Pulse Survey polled nearly 2,000 higher education professors in North America and uncovered their insights and opinions on the state of higher education, the value of the university experience, and their everyday teaching and career challenges. Key findings include the following:

The ROI of higher education is increasingly being questioned.

  • Half (49 percent) of professors believe a post-secondary education is not necessary to a person’s success, up from 33 percent in 2017.
  • The cost of tuition is a significant concern, with 87 percent of professors agreeing that it’s too high, up from 80 percent in 2017.
  • Forty-one (41) percent of professors believe that maintaining or increasing academic standards is a challenge at their institution. In 2017, only one in four professors believed that to be the case.
  • One in three (32 percent) educators believes that student retention continues to be a challenge.
  • Overall, educators rate the current higher education system a 6.7 out of 10 when it comes to preparing students for their careers.

Educators are concerned about the country’s educational infrastructure.

  • Three out of four (74 percent) professors think the current U.S. federal administration is having a negative impact on the future of higher education.
  • Insufficient funding is top of mind as the greatest institutional challenge for three out of five (60 percent) professors.
  • Thirty-five (35) percent of professors also cited decreased enrollment as a top institutional challenge.

Educators are worried about student affordability, classroom engagement, and student apathy.

  • Almost all (nine out of 10) professors agree that the cost of textbooks is too high.
  • More than half (57 percent) of professors have to assign supplementary materials to make up for problems with the main course textbook, such as datedness and lack of attention to certain topics.
  • More than one in three (37 percent) don’t believe that the majority of students buy the assigned text - up significantly from 22 percent in 2017.
  • Seven out of 10 (71 percent) professors also don’t believe that the majority of students come to class prepared - up from 58 percent of professors last year.
  • When they’re in class, students are not paying attention or participating, according to half (51 percent) of respondents.
  • One in three (33 percent) professors believe students are not comprehending the material.
  • Six out of 10 (60 percent) professors think apathy among students has increased in the past decade.

At the same time, professors are feeling overworked and underpaid

  • Three out of 10 professors work more than 50 hours per week, and one-third of them work more than 60 hours.
  • Two out of five (39 percent) professors earn between $41,000 and $80,000 annually.
  • Meanwhile, when professors are asked what a fair salary would be for their work, the most popular answer is $81,000 to $100,000.

Despite the growing challenges, professors remain determined to find innovative solutions to enable active learning and improve student success.

  • The majority of professors are focused on improving active learning to drive student success, with seven out of 10 (71 percent) making classroom engagement their biggest priority.
  • Eighty-five (85) percent of professors use technology in the classroom to improve student engagement.
  • More than half (56 percent) of professors factor in cost to students when implementing new technology in the classroom.
  • Seventy-two (72) percent of professors say their primary motivation is teaching students.
  • When asked what their workweek would be focused on in a perfect world, nine out of 10 (91 percent) said teaching, and six out of 10 (61 percent) said meeting with students.

“Changes to the educational infrastructure are continually dominating headlines with proposed federal budget cuts, rising financial costs of higher education, and decreasing student enrollment, among other unsustainable changes,” said Mike Silagadze, co-founder and CEO, Top Hat. “At the same time, college and university professors are increasingly challenged to foster active learning and support student success inside and outside the classroom - and they wouldn’t have it any other way. They love what they do, and as an industry, we need to empower them with everything they need to make their job easier and achieve real results for their students.”

“As an educator, I’m constantly striving to provide students with the most effective and engaging learning experience,” said Dr. William Condee, professor of theater, Ohio University. “We need to find affordable and innovative ways to improve student outcomes. Improving quality and keeping higher education affordable is vital to our democracy.”

“The greatest payoff of higher education is a smart citizenry,” said Professor Jacques Berlinerblau, director of the Center for Jewish Civilization at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. “It’s creating an informed electorate, people with critical-thinking skills, people with empathy, people who can understand and relate to people who are not like themselves, people who can argue civilly and change their minds as often as they change the minds of others.”


Research Methodology

The 2018 Professor Pulse Survey is sponsored by Top Hat. The survey was conducted between May 12, 2018 and July 20, 2018. The 1,956 respondents currently teach at colleges and universities across North America. Fifty-eight (58) per cent identified as full-time faculty and 31 per cent as part-time or adjunct faculty.

About Top Hat

Top Hat’s interactive, cloud-based teaching platform enables professors to engage students inside and outside the classroom with compelling content, tools and activities. Millions of students at 750 leading North American colleges and universities use the Top Hat teaching platform. To learn more, visit


Top Hat
Dianna Lai Read


Top Hat
Dianna Lai Read