[Excerpt] Recent evidence suggests that the growing use of part-time and full-time non-tenure-track faculty nationwide adversely influences American college students’ graduation rates (Ehrenberg and Liang Zhang, 2005). I have become concerned that the increased usage of non-tenure track faculty members also likely adversely influences the propensity of undergraduate students to go on for Ph.D.s in economics for two reasons.
First, many students enter college with the expressed intent of becoming doctors or lawyers, getting an MBA, or going on for advanced degrees in the sciences or humanities. However, with the exception perhaps of the small number of high-school students who have taken advanced placement classes in economics, very few entering freshman have any idea what Ph.D.s in economics do. The son of two secondary-school health education teachers, when I entered college, my ambition was to become a high-school mathematics teacher. But one young faculty member turned me on to economics; I wanted to be just like him, and that was my motivation for going on for a Ph.D. Many colleagues have similarly told me of a key professor who motivated them to want to become a professor. Role models are important, and if the faculty members teaching principles of economics classes are not involved in research and are not in tenured or tenure-track positions, they will be less likely to serve as role models and to motivate and encourage their students to go on for Ph.D. study.
Second, most top graduate programs in economics now require four semesters of calculus and linear algebra, as well as real analysis. Only by getting to undergraduate students early in their college careers can faculty members explain how students need to structure their undergraduate studies if they are to have any hope of pursuing Ph.D. study in economics. Part-time and full-time non-tenure-track faculty members are unlikely to see this as part of their responsibilities.