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Faculty Development in Higher Education

by John A. Centra - 1978

A survey of colleges and universities reports on current faculty development programs in higher education and how they are dealing with issues such as funding, organization, voluntarism, and programs to encourage faculty improvement. (Source: ERIC)

This article is based on a study supported by the Exxon Educational Foundation, titled Faculty Development Practices in U.S. Colleges and Universities, Educational Testing Service, Princeton, N.J., 1976.

Most colleges and universities for many years have had some practices to aid in the professional development of their staffs. Sabbaticals and financial assistance to attend professional meetings would be the best examples. But it has been mainly in the 1970s that faculty development has expanded to include a variety of practices and special programs. The majority of programs and practices that have been devised attempt to help faculty members grow in teaching effectiveness by sharpening their teaching skills and knowledge. Other practices try to help faculty better understand themselves and their institutions, or try to foster better environments for teaching and learning.

Several reasons might be cited for the recent upsurge in faculty development. First, there has been a decrease in faculty mobility due to a declining rate of growth in postsecondary education. With less turnover and less new blood, colleges can no longer depend on new staff to help keep them vital; nor can teachers broaden perspectives simply by changing jobs. Teaching-improvement programs and faculty-renewal efforts of various kinds have become a partial remedy for this steady-state condition.

Another reason for the recent emphasis on faculty development and instructional improvement is the general disenchantment-expressed by students, parents, and legislators-with the quality of college instruction. Students seem less timid about expressing their dissatisfaction than they once were, and many parents are not at all sure that instruction is as effective as the high costs of a college education suggest it should be. Legislators have pressured public institutions to become more accountable and in some states have earmarked funds specifically for instructional improvement. At the national level, a 1972 report submitted to the president and Congress by the National Advisory Council on Education Professions Development singled out the need for more effective training of community college teachers.

It is unlikely that the recent expansion in faculty development would have been nearly as spectacular without the support provided by various funding agencies. In addition to money allocated by states to upgrade teaching, federal funding has emerged through such agencies as the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) and the National Institute of Education (NIE). A number of private foundations also have focused on faculty development by funding programs at individual colleges or through consortia arrangements.

The lack of emphasis on faculty development in college prior to the 1970s is documented by several studies. A 1960 survey of 214 southern colleges by Miller and Wilson1 identified1 a few widely used practices designed to orient new faculty to an institution or to help update faculty members, such as precollege workshops, financial assistance for attendance at professional meetings, and occasional department conferences on teaching. But the authors concluded that there was "a dearth of well-articulated, comprehensively designed programs for faculty development." A briefer survey, conducted in the late 1960s with a broader sample of institutions, reached a similar conclusion.2 Still further evidence for this finding emerged from the results of a questionnaire study done as part of the AAUP Project to Improve College Teaching: Eble3 reported that faculty members at some 150 schools stated almost unanimously that their institutions did not have effective faculty-development programs. Eble further noted that few institutions set aside specific percentages of their budgets for faculty development.

Nevertheless, a handful of universities did begin instructional improvement programs in the middle to late 1960s. Alexander and Yelon4 collected information on about fourteen so-called instructional-development (or educational-development) programs. More recently, Crow et al.5 compiled descriptions of eleven development centers in southern universities. Other discussions of development programs and issues have been published by Freedman,6 the Group for Human Development in Higher Education,7 and O'Banion.8 O'Banion's work has focused on instructional-improvement and staff-development programs in selected community colleges.

Useful models of development programs have been provided by Bergquist and Phillips9 and by Gaff.10 The former describe three components of faculty development: instructional development, personal development, and organizational development. Under the first category they include such practices as curriculum development, teaching diagnosis, and training. Personal development generally involves activities to promote faculty growth, such as interpersonal-skills training and career counseling. Organizational development seeks to improve the institutional environment for teaching and decision making and includes activities for both faculty and administrators. Team building and managerial development would be part of organizational development.

Gaffs framework also includes instructional and organizational development, but he substitutes "faculty" development for "personal" development. Thus, he includes not only activities related to the affective development of faculty members but also those directed toward improved teaching behavior. Gaff views instructional development as focusing on course design and learning materials. His work and that of Bergquist and Phillips provide a departure point for the study described here.

To find out specifically what colleges are currently doing in faculty development, I recently undertook a national survey. The survey results shed light on current practices and how effective they appear to be, the types of faculty most involved in development activities, and how programs are funded and organized. The study began late in 1975 with a letter sent to the presidents of every college and university in the United States asking whether their institutions, or any part of their institutions, "had an organized program or set of practices for faculty development and improving instruction." Of the approximately 2,600 accredited degree-granting institutions in the country (two-year colleges, four-year colleges, and universities), we heard from just under 1,800. About 60 percent (1,044) said that they had a program or set of practices and identified the person on campus who coordinated or was most knowledgeable about it. Another 3 to 4 percent said that they were planning such programs. Assuming that the nonrespondents would be less likely to have programs, we could estimate that perhaps half, or slightly over half, of the post-secondary institutions in the United States now provide some sort of program or set of staff-development activities. Of course, the estimate depends on how the institutions surveyed chose to interpret what constitutes an organized program or set of practices.

Each of the 1,044 college coordinators was sent a four-page questionnaire in the spring of 1976; and 756, or 72 percent of the group, responded. Generally, the respondent was a director of instructional development or faculty development, a dean or associate dean, or a faculty member spending part time as coordinator.


To learn about specific development activities, respondents were asked to estimate the proportion of faculty at their institutions that used each of forty-five practices and how effective they thought the practices were. The list included activities directly related to instructional improvement as well as those dealing with personal-development efforts such as improving self-awareness, interpersonal skills, and the like. The practices fell into five general categories: (1) a category of institution-wide practices such as sabbaticals and annual teaching awards; (2) analysis or assessment by students, by colleagues, by use of videotape, or by other means; (3) workshops, seminars, or similar presentations; (4) activities that involved media, technology, or course development; and (5) miscellaneous practices.


Thirteen institution-wide policies or practices are listed in Table 1 along with the percentage of each type of institution at which each practice existed and the percentage of respondents indicating the practice was effective. Annual awards to faculty for teaching excellence are a common practice at universities, but they were not viewed as especially effective in improving teaching: 79 percent of the universities used the awards, but only 27 percent rated them as either effective or very effective. The circulation of a development newsletter or other teaching-related material also appears to be fairly ineffective at each type of institution although this was common at about two-thirds of the sample. Both practices have considerable visibility and signal an institution's intent to reward or publicize teaching. According to most coordinators, however, they were not seen as being effective at their institutions.

Among the institution-wide practices seen as effective by close to two-thirds of the respondents were summer grants for projects to improve instruction, sabbatical leaves, and travel grants or funds. Interestingly enough, the latter two practices have been curtailed at many institutions in recent years because of restricted budgets. The remaining practices were viewed as effective or very effective by close to half of the schools that used them, though one practice—enabling first-year faculty to have a lighter than average teaching load—existed at only one in five of the institutions. For about half of the practices, respondents at universities gave lower effectiveness ratings than did respondents at two- or four-year colleges.


An analysis or assessment of teaching performance ideally provides the teacher and possibly a development specialist with diagnostic information. This information may result in some dissonance or dissatisfaction in the teacher and, theoretically, this helps open him or her to change.11 The analysis or assessment may come from students, from colleagues, from experts, by use of videotape, or by other means. Estimates of the use and effectiveness of ten analysis and assessment practices were obtained in the survey.

Systematic ratings by students to help faculty improve instruction were widely used and perceived as moderately effective. At least a fifth of the faculty at over 80 percent of the 756 institutions used them. About half of the respondents estimated the ratings to be effective, although fewer university than two- or four-year college respondents saw them as effective.

Respondents rated formal or informal assessments by colleagues as less effective than either consulting with faculty who had expertise or working with master teachers. The analysis of in-class videotapes to improve instruction was thought to be one of the more effective practices, though it was used frequently by only a very small proportion of the faculty on campuses where it was available (about 60 percent of the institutions). Another practice rated effective but little used was the professional- and personal-development plan for individual faculty members: Just under 40 percent of the institutions used this practice with at least 5 percent of their faculty, and almost two-thirds of the respondents from these colleges rated it effective. These individual-development plans, known also as growth contracts, usually call for a self-development program drawn up by a faculty member in conjunction with a development specialist or administrator. They were most common among the two-year colleges in the sample, though a number of four-year colleges also use this approach.


Generally speaking, the analysis or assessment practices were rated as more effective by respondents from the two-year colleges than by respondents from either four-year colleges or universities. For example, 55 percent of the two-year college respondents rated formal assessments by colleagues as effective, compared with 42 percent of the respondents from four-year colleges and 33 percent of those from the universities.


From a list of ten topics that might be the focus of workshops, seminars, or similar presentations, respondents indicated that those dealing with specific techniques of instruction and with new knowledge in a field were among the best attended and most effective. Workshops to help faculty improve their research and scholarship skills were generally least used, except at universities.

Workshops to acquaint faculty with institutional goals and characteristics of enrolled students were much more common at two- or four-year colleges than at universities, where, ironically, there is typically a broader range of goals. In fact, on the whole, workshops and similar presentations were less often rated as effective by university respondents than by other respondents. The size of most universities, along with an emphasis on research as well as on teaching, probably contributes to this difference.

Perhaps the critical point regarding workshops and seminar programs, as pointed out by some development people, is that they be planned in response to the needs of faculty members, with participants knowing pretty much what to expect.12 With that in mind, most of the ten topics listed (and several others added by the respondents) might serve the needs f a significant portion of faculty. One rule of thumb might be that a workshop deal not with generalities, but with topics that have the potential of providing concrete help to faculty members. For example, workshops that explore general issues or trends in education were estimated by respondents to be less effective than those dealing with more specific topics.


Most of the seven practices in this category listed in the questionnaire involved specialists providing teaching assistance to faculty members. One of the more widely used is assistance in employing audiovisual aids. Media or audiovisual specialists are not as new as most of the other instructional specialists and this may, in part, account for their greater use. A newer service, the instructional- or course-development specialist, existed at about a third of the institutions and was viewed as effective by 63 percent of these. Special professional libraries devoted to teaching improvement are very common but are used on most campuses by only a small proportion of the teachers. This may be why they are not perceived to be as effective as many other practices.

Though the responses suggest greater use of media, technology, and course-development specialists among two-year colleges and universities, analyses by institutional size indicated that larger institutions, including four-year colleges, were most likely to have these services for faculty.


Five practices did not fit neatly into any of the previous categories. One of the practices was used extensively and rated high in effectiveness: grants to faculty members for developing new or different approaches to courses or teaching. These grants varied from small amounts of money for minor alterations in a course to released time for faculty members, with financial support. About 90 percent of the universities and slightly fewer of the two- and four-year colleges had faculty grant programs.

Three of the miscellaneous practices are low- or no-cost items and were judged by the respondents to be reasonably effective. One such practice involves faculty visitations to other institutions or to other parts of their own institutions to review innovative projects, a practice that two-year colleges in particular use extensively. Much less common are faculty exchange programs with other institutions, used by about a third of all institutions (slightly more by the universities). One advantage of interinstitutional or consortium arrangements among colleges involved in faculty development is that they make such practices as faculty exchanges easier to accomplish. And exchange programs are probably one of the less expensive ways of helping to renew faculty in their middle and later years.

The third inexpensive practice is that of encouraging faculty to take courses offered by colleagues. Three-fourths of the institutions had some faculty who did so. While most faculty probably monitor courses in their own or related disciplines, there are potential benefits from faculty members’ learning more about unrelated fields as well—for example, a physical scientist taking a course in the humanities.


A major purpose of this study was to determine what patterns of development practices predominate among colleges and universities. That is, given the forty-five practices listed in the questionnaire, is it possible to identify reasonable categories of activities based on the extent of faculty use among the institutions? To explore this question, responses from each institution to the forty-five practices were factor analyzed, enabling a grouping of the practices according to the extent to which they were used at the 756 institutions. The resulting factors or groups of practices were then related to the additional information collected about the institutions and their programs. This included the proportions of the various groups of faculty involved in development practices on each campus, how activities were funded and organized, and institutional characteristics, such as size, type, and source of control.

Four factors or groups of development practices seemed to define patterns of estimated use of the practices among the institutions. These were high faculty involvement, instructional-assistance practices, traditional practices, and emphasis on assessment. The four factors and the practices that have significant loadings on each factor are listed in Table 2. A brief discussion of the four factors follows.

1. High faculty involvement. The development practices in this first group tend to involve a high proportion of the faculty at the colleges that use them. Many of the practices are run not only for the faculty but by the faculty as well: Experienced teachers work with inexperienced teachers, and those with special skills offer assistance to others. Good teachers, older teachers, and those needing improvement all tend to be involved.

Several of the practices in this group were more likely to be used by the smaller colleges in the sample and seem appropriate for small-college settings. Workshops on institutional purposes or on academic advisement are examples. In the wake of declining enrollments and higher costs, many smaller colleges have begun to examine their goals more closely. These colleges also see good academic guidance and attention to individual students as special strengths. Small institutions would also be less likely to afford full-time specialists in teaching or instructional development—thus the reliance on "master teachers" or faculty with expertise. Because of the emphasis on close personal relationships in most small colleges, these colleges could be expected to provide counseling and other personal-development practices for faculty. Smallness, finally, also apparently encourages more informal assessments by colleagues, or more self-assessment, rather than formal systems of teaching evaluation.


2. Instructional-assistance practices. Instructional development is an important aspect of this second group of practices, as evidenced by the high factor loading for "specialists to assist individual faculty in instructional or course development." The second practice, specialist assistance to the faculty in improving teaching skills or strategies, is part of both instructional-development programs and broader teaching improvement or faculty-development programs. Three of the additional practices also deal with providing assistance in the instructional process: (1) in teaching and evaluating student performance, (2) in applications of instructional technology to teaching, and (3) in the use of audiovisual aids. Workshops or presentations exploring methods of instruction, the last practice with a significant loading, would logically fit in with the other practices in this group.

These instructional-assistance practices were found in many of the two-year colleges and in some of the universities in the sample. Few of the four-year colleges included them. Public rather than private institutions were also somewhat more likely to have these practices. Not surprisingly, most of the institutions had development units or offices on campus. Finally, in comparison with other practices, the practices that comprise this group were more likely to be evaluated in some way.

3. Traditional practices. As Table 2 indicates, the practices in this group included visiting-scholars programs, annual awards in teaching, sabbatical leaves, grants for instructional improvement or travel, and temporary teaching-load reductions. The only workshop or seminar included was one designed to help faculty improve their research and scholarship skills. Thus, with the exception of the use of small faculty grants to improve instruction, these practices have been used by many institutions for a number of years and are, therefore, fairly traditional.

By themselves, the activities involve a relatively small number of faculty at any one time. The practices in this group, as the further analysis indicated, were most likely to be used at universities and larger four-year colleges.

4. Emphasis on assessment. Four of the six practices with significant loadings in this group emphasize various assessment techniques as means of improving instruction. Formal ratings by students, by colleagues, and by administrators are among those listed in Table 2. A periodic review of all faculty members is also a common practice. It is interesting to note that the less-formal assessment or analysis practices, such as the use of in-class videotapes or informal assessments by colleagues, are not part of the group.

Travel funds to attend professional conferences and unpaid leaves for educational or development purposes also had significant loadings on this factor.

Among the types of institutions, two-year colleges (particularly public two-year colleges) tended to emphasize the practices in this group.

These four descriptions provide a somewhat different view of development programs than do the heuristic models discussed by Bergquist and Phillips13 and by Gaff,14 though the "instructional-assistance" category does overlap with their shared concept of instructional development.

Judging by the further information provided by the institutions in the sample, programs in faculty development varied in other ways as well as those described above. Some colleges had a few uncoordinated practices with minimal budgets. Limited faculty-development programs, if they can be referred to as programs, were most likely to be found in the sample among the small colleges with under one thousand students enrolled. It should be added, however, that several larger institutions—including some of the most prestigious—reported (in response to the initial letter) that they did not have programs in faculty development.

Some development programs appeared to operate on the fringes of the schools they served: Coordinators reported generally minimal faculty participation and, in some instances, that a significant part of their support came from foundations or the government.

Over 40 percent of the institutions (two-thirds of the universities) had some kind of development unit. Some had decentralized offices. A few units included several specialists in such areas as instructional development, evaluation, technology, and media. The majority, however, had more modest staffs—often only a director or coordinator. Found frequently at medium-sized two- and four-year colleges, most of these units had existed only two or three years and had not yet been evaluated adequately. In fact, less than a fifth of all institutions had completely evaluated their programs or activities.

Certainly an evaluation of an institution's program would include a close look at the characteristics of faculty members who participate. Ideally, one would hope that faculty who really need to improve would be among those most involved in development activities. Yet, so far, this does not generally appear to be the case. The survey questionnaire included six general descriptions of faculty members and asked the respondents to estimate the extent to which each group was involved. Among the six types of faculty, the most actively involved in development activities were "good teachers who want to get better"; at about 70 percent of the institutions, half or more of this faculty group were involved. The least actively involved were "faculty who really need to improve," followed by older faculty—those with over fifteen or twenty years of teaching experience—and younger faculty in their first years of teaching. Nontenured and tenured staff participated about equally.

Given the fact that participation in most development activities is usually voluntary, perhaps it is not especially surprising that good teachers who want to get better comprise the major clientele. After all, they are frequently the most interested in teaching. They may also be the best group to involve in development activities in the initial stages of a program so that it does not get a reputation as being largely a clinic for deficient teachers.

But eventually it would seem that faculty who need to improve should become active in development practices if the programs are to be deemed effective. Yet how does one draw faculty needing improvement into development activities? One possibility is that every faculty member should be expected to spend roughly 10 percent of his or her time in improvement activities.15 The four-to-six hours per week might be spent on any number of activities, depending on the faculty member's needs, and, for some, it might largely involve helping other teachers rather than being recipients of help. Another possibility for involving more faculty in development activities—particularly those most in need of improvement—is to tie participation into the reward structure. Currently, it seldom is.


A variety of practices and programs currently exist under the banner of faculty development, many of which have emerged in the last few years. How effective they are is not yet entirely known. The views of people who direct or are knowledgeable about development activities at 756 colleges and universities were the basis of this report. Their perceptions of the practices and programs on their campuses, while probably not free of bias, help illuminate this burgeoning area.

1 W.S. Miller and K.W. Wilson, Faculty Development Procedures in Small Colleges (Atlanta: Southern Regional Board, 1963).

2 W.A. Many, J.R. Ellis, and P. Abrams, In-service Education in American Senior Colleges and Universities: A Status Report (DeKalb, Ill.: College of Education, Northern Illinois University, 1969).

3 K. Eble, Career Development of the Effective College Teacher (Washington, D.C.: American Association of University Professors, November 1971).

4 A.T. Alexander and S.L. Yelon, Instructional Development Agencies in Higher Education (East Lansing, Mich.: Continuing Education Service, 1972).

5 M.L. Crow et al., Faculty Development Centers in Southern Universities (Atlanta: Southern Regional Education Board, 1976).

6 M. Freedman, Facilitating Faculty Development (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1973).

7 Group for Human Development in Higher Education, Faculty Development in a Time of Retrenchment (Change publication, 1974).

8 T. O'Banion, "Staff Development: A New Priority for the Seventies," The College Board Review, no. 99 (Spring 1976).

9 W.H. Bergquist and S.R. Phillips, "Components of an Effective Faculty Development Program," Journal of Higher Education 46, no. 2 (1975): 197-211. (Also in W.H. Berquist and S.R. Phillips, A Handbook for Faculty Development [Washington, D.C.: The Council for the Advancement of Small Colleges. 1975]).

10 J.G. Gaff, Toward Faculty Renewal (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1975).

11 L. Festinger, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Evanston, Ill.: Row, Peterson, 1957); and F. Heider, The Psychology of Interpersonal Relationships (New York: John Wiley, 1958).

12 J.R. Wergin, EJ. Mason, and PJ. Munson, "The Practice of Faculty Development," The Journal of Higher Educational, no. 3 (1976): 289-308.

13 Bergquist and Phillips, "Components of an Effective Faculty Development Program."

14 Gaff, Toward Faculty Renewal.

15 Group for Human Development in Higher Education, Faculty Development in a Time of Retrenchment.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 80 Number 1, 1978, p. 188-201
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1071, Date Accessed: 10/22/2021 2:18:58 PM

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