Journal of Nursing Education

Major Article 

Critical Issues in the Decision to Retire: A Comparison of Retired and Retirement-Age Faculty

Linda Sue Cook, PhD, RN, CNE; Marvel Williamson, PhD, RN, ANEF; Lois Salmeron, EdD, RN, ANEF; Denise Burton, MS, RNC; Dan M. Goad, PhD

Abstract

The nursing faculty workforce is on the verge of a crisis because the number of full-time faculty expected to retire in the next 10 years is predicted to escalate dramatically. To propose evidence-based strategies to retain qualified nursing faculty beyond retirement age, this study built on previous qualitative research. An initial phenomenological study of retirement-age faculty identified 15 critical issues in the decision to remain employed in academia. To determine the degree to which these factors are shared by retired and still-employed faculty and the relative importance of each of these factors, a quasi-experimental comparative study was conducted. A Likert scale questionnaire was administered to a convenience sample drawn from a national population using the snowball sampling technique. ANOVA established the difference between retired and still-working faculty; discriminant analysis identified eight predictor variables for faculty decisions to remain in academia.

Abstract

The nursing faculty workforce is on the verge of a crisis because the number of full-time faculty expected to retire in the next 10 years is predicted to escalate dramatically. To propose evidence-based strategies to retain qualified nursing faculty beyond retirement age, this study built on previous qualitative research. An initial phenomenological study of retirement-age faculty identified 15 critical issues in the decision to remain employed in academia. To determine the degree to which these factors are shared by retired and still-employed faculty and the relative importance of each of these factors, a quasi-experimental comparative study was conducted. A Likert scale questionnaire was administered to a convenience sample drawn from a national population using the snowball sampling technique. ANOVA established the difference between retired and still-working faculty; discriminant analysis identified eight predictor variables for faculty decisions to remain in academia.

Dr. Cook is Assistant Dean and Associate Professor, Dr. Williamson is Dean and Professor, Dr. Salmeron is Associate Dean and Professor, and Ms. Burton is Associate Professor and Chair of RN-to-BSN Education, Kramer School of Nursing, Oklahoma City University, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Dr. Goad is Field Supervisor, College of Education, Texas A & M University-Corpus Christi, Corpus Christi, Texas.

Supported in part by a research grant from the Kramer School of Nursing.

The authors have no financial or proprietary interest in the materials presented herein.

Address correspondence to Linda Sue Cook, PhD, RN, CNE, Assistant Dean and Associate Professor, Kramer School of Nursing, Oklahoma City University, 2501 N. Blackwelder St., Oklahoma City, OK 73106; e-mail: lcook@okcu.edu.

Received: April 29, 2011
Accepted: September 13, 2011
Posted Online: October 17, 2011

The current nursing shortage has been the subject of much discussion and research. One of the key strategies proposed to relieve the shortage has been to make more nurses (Murray, Schappe, Kreienkamp, Loyd, & Buck, 2010). However, this strategy has been hampered by limitations of nursing student class sizes, dictated by the number of available nursing faculty. Despite increasing enrollments in nursing programs nationwide by 8.6% in 2010, more than 52,000 qualified applicants were denied admission (American Association of Colleges of Nursing [AACN], 2011). In terms of numbers, the nursing profession seems to be steadily losing ground, as “a predicted 1 million new and replacement nurses will be needed by 2016” (Danna, Schaubhut, & Jones, 2010, p. 83).

This situation does not promise to improve, given that between 200 and 300 doctorally prepared nursing faculty members are expected to retire each year between 2003 and 2012 (Berlin & Sechrist, 2002). Berlin, Stennett, and Bednash (2003) reported the average age of nursing faculty to be older than 50. The average age of retiring nursing faculty is 62.5 (Berlin & Sechrist, 2002).

The AACN (2010) reported an average faculty age of 53.5, with an anticipated retirement age of 62.5. The narrowed pipeline that reduces undergraduate admissions also applies to graduate students. Trossman (2009, p. 12) stated that “nearly 6000 qualified applicants were turned away from master’s programs and about 1000 from doctoral programs” in 2008. Attracting and retaining nursing faculty to widen that pipeline must be part of any plan to decrease the shortage of nurses.

Literature Review

Two previous cycles of perceived nursing surplus have contributed to the current faculty shortage. In both situations, health care economics led to a decrease in nursing positions and, consequently, a decrease in nursing school enrollments (Goodin, 2003). The smaller nursing classes meant that schools of nursing froze or eradicated faculty positions. The most recent cycle in the late 1990s produced significant numbers of faculty who either retired from or left academia for the private sector. The declining number of faculty, coupled with an aging nursing professorate, has produced a “narrowed pipeline” (Hinshaw, 2001, ¶16).

Since the previous nursing shortage in the 1990s, other factors have also contributed to the nursing faculty shortage. Trossman (2007) cited a National League for Nursing survey of nurse educators who had left teaching positions. In that survey, 65% were seeking a better salary, 46% wanted a position with greater potential for advancement, and 40% were striving for a better balance between personal and professional lives. In an earlier publication, Trossman (2002) identified the conflict inherent between advanced practice nurse faculty who must maintain a clinical practice in order to maintain certification and universities who value teaching, research, and service—but not practice—in promotion and tenure decisions. Mathews (2003) described the increased demands placed on nurse educators in terms of increased class sizes and the need for innovative teaching strategies coupled with an older, potentially less flexible faculty.

The nursing literature thus far has focused on the demographics of nursing faculty, attitudes toward retirement, and financial planning for retirement, but little in evidence-based strategies for retention. A study by Kowalski, Dalley, and Weigand (2006) examined retirement plans of 129 nursing faculty in 61 schools of nursing. The average age at which they expected to retire was 64.4. The single most important factor in retirement planning in this study was financial security, followed by support from significant others. Brendtro and Hegge (2000) surveyed all nurses with graduate degrees in a midwestern state. Less than one third of the nurses with graduate degrees were in education. Brendtro and Hegge (2000) stated that “improved compensation, more realistic professional expectations, and increased opportunities…for clinical practice” (p. 101) were listed as incentives to assume a faculty position. Foxall, Megel, Grigsby, and Billings (2009) surveyed nursing faculty on four campuses of a single large university about the factors that would stimulate remaining as faculty rather than retiring. A lighter workload with more flexible scheduling was the leading response, with continued mental stimulation, available resources (e.g., compensation, office and parking space, and technology support), and collegial atmosphere also noted as important. Falk (2007) drew from experience with a business model in recommending strategies such as “building and sustaining desirable work environments” (p. 166) to retain aging faculty. Starnes-Ott and Kremer (2007) surveyed nurse anesthesia faculty for preference of retention priorities. Increased salary and an improved orientation tied for the top retention strategy.

Several articles offered nonevidence-based suggestions for retaining faculty. Brady (2007) suggested several possible retention strategies. These strategies include improved salaries, decreased faculty workload to prevent burnout, increased flexibility of work hours, and increased support by improving teamwork (Brady, 2007). Falk (2007) suggested facilitating desirable work environments by setting realistic role expectations and promoting faculty well-being through a variety of interventions, such as improved salary, encouraging health and fitness, promoting lifelong learning, and developing flexible work options. Bellack (2004) recommended allowing older faculty to focus time and energy on the teaching and service and dropping expectations of scholarship. She also recommended allowing job sharing, hiring retiring clinical nurses with advanced degrees into academia, and allowing retired faculty to teach as independent contractors (Bellack, 2004). Shaefer, Belcher, and Guth (2010) offered the counterintuitive recommendation of hiring older or retired nurses as clinical faculty on the basis of their experience and perspective. Evans (2009) recommended altering university retirement plans that penalize retirement-age faculty for continuing to teach, as well as decreasing their workloads and assigning them to teach in their areas of strength. Cash, Daines, Doyle, and von Tettenborn (2009) suggested a careful cultural analysis of the academic environment so that faculty may identify issues of importance. Although many of these suggestions may contain more than a nugget of truth and common sense, the evidence to support the recommendations is lacking.

Williamson, Cook, Salmeron, and Burton (2009) used a phenomenological approach to study a sample of nurses of retirement age who chose to remain in academia. This sample identified 15 factors (Table 1) important in their decisions to remain active in teaching. The current study built on this initial research in an effort to quantify the relative importance of these factors and compared these factors in retired and retirement-age nursing faculty. The following research questions were addressed:

  • What is the relative importance of each of the 15 factors, identified by faculty in the qualitative study, in deciding whether to retire?
  • Is there a difference in the importance of these factors for faculty who have chosen to retire versus those remaining in academia?
Critical Issues Identified in a Qualitative Study

Table 1: Critical Issues Identified in a Qualitative Study

Method

This second-phase study used a quasi-experimental comparative design to answer the research questions. The study was approved by the university’s institutional review board prior to recruitment of participants. Informed consent was obtained from each participant.

Sample

Participants in the study included retirees and currently working faculty teaching in nursing programs leading to practical nursing, registered nursing, or graduate nursing careers. The snowball sampling technique was used due to lack of access to nursing schools’ retired faculty rolls. Questionnaires were distributed via e-mail to deans and directors of nursing programs across the United States. Questionnaires were also distributed at national and regional nursing education conferences. As the names of retired faculty were discovered, they were contacted and recruited for participation in the study. To be included, participants must have been age 62 or older and, if working, teaching full time. They must have had a full-time nursing teaching career with not more than 1 year away from teaching full time within the past 5 years and have served as faculty rather than as administration. These inclusion criteria ensured that the sample was primarily education focused (rather than administrative focused), with recent teaching experience. Sample demographics are provided in Table 2.

Sample Demographics (N = 69)

Table 2: Sample Demographics (N = 69)

Instrument

Based on a previous qualitative study that identified 15 variables as critical to remaining in service, a tool was constructed using a Likert scale. The Likert scale ranged from 1 (not at all important to me) to 5 (very important to me). Participants were asked to rank the importance of the items in their retirement decisions. In addition, nonidentifying demographic information was collected. Because this was a new instrument based on qualitative data, validity was a concern. Content validity was assessed using structural analysis. The structure coefficients in Table 3 demonstrate an appropriate grouping of variables.

Standardized Discriminant Function Coefficients and Structure Coefficients for Predictor Variables

Table 3: Standardized Discriminant Function Coefficients and Structure Coefficients for Predictor Variables

Procedure

Questionnaires were administered using paper-and-pencil instruments delivered by hand at conferences or printed by participants from an attachment to an e-mail. The questionnaire was then scanned by the participant and returned to the researchers. Returned questionnaires were scored by researchers.

Results

An alpha level of 0.05 was set as the acceptable level of significance. Analysis of variance was calculated on the questionnaire total scores. A significant difference was found between retired and still-working faculty (Table 4). Discriminant analysis was performed to determine which factors might predict retirement versus continuing to work. A summary of the means and standard deviations of the predictor variables is shown in Table 5 as a function of the grouping variable, retirement status (i.e., still working versus retired). Nine of the 15 variables tested significantly predicted the retirement status of nursing faculty (Wilks’ lambda = 0.521, χ2 [1, N = 15] = 38.769, p = 0.001). The coefficients of the standardized discriminant function and the pooled within-group correlations of the predictors and the discriminant function are shown in Table 3. The discriminant function successfully predicted retirement status in 91% of the population. Pearson product moment correlations conducted on the variables found very strong correlations (≥ 0.50) among selected variables (Table 6).

Analysis of Variance (ANOVA): Questionnaire Total Score by Retirement Status

Table 4: Analysis of Variance (ANOVA): Questionnaire Total Score by Retirement Status

Means and Standard Deviations of Study VariablesMeans and Standard Deviations of Study Variables

Table 5: Means and Standard Deviations of Study Variables

Pearson Product Moment Correlations

Table 6: Pearson Product Moment Correlations

Discussion

Qualitative analysis of interviews with retirement-age nursing faculty identified 15 factors that were identified as important considerations when deciding whether to remain in teaching or to retire. Of no surprise, there was, indeed, a significant difference in the importance of these factors in retired and still working faculty.

Discriminant analysis of the factors found that nine were predictive of the decision to continue working. Of note, the strongest factor was not financial but intellectual stimulation. In the literature, only Foxall et al. (2009) had included intellectual stimulation as important. However, upon reflection, it is reasonably logical that individuals who had made a career in academia would value the exchange of ideas more than money. Salary and benefits ranked second in importance. Given the recent recession and economic difficulties, it would be surprising if financial considerations were not given serious consideration. Love of teaching was the third predictor, and a sense of value to the profession ranked fourth. Both of these factors confirm a drive to continue performing in an arena in which the faculty member has been successful. The next two factors, being allowed to teach in the area of expertise and support for physical challenges, address accommodations made by the schools related to the effects of aging. Faculty who perceived these needs as met were more likely to continue teaching. The next predictive factor, a reduced tolerance for frustration, loaded as a negative factor—that is, the less frustrated the individual, the more likely he or she is to continue working. The final predictive variable, management of technology changes, indicates that those who were able to cope with changes in technology were more likely to stay.

A correlation analysis revealed relatively stronger measures of interdependence between certain factors, particularly those intrinsic to the participants. The data in Table 5 indicate that factors relating to intrinsic motivation are important in a faculty member’s decision to retire or to remain in the profession. The data in Table 6 demonstrated a significant interdependence between intrinsic factors, such as intellectual stimulation, recognition for accomplishments, social stimulation, and the love of teaching. The analysis indicates these factors are significantly interdependent, if not mutually reinforcing. On the other hand, none of the extrinsic variables, such as salary and technology, evidence similar strength correlations. Based on this analysis, the evidence suggests that an organizational climate that directly supports these important intrinsic attributes will promote the retention of faculty.

Limitations

This study had two limitations. The first limitation is the size of the retired faculty group. In spite of vigorous solicitation, finding retired nursing faculty proved to be a daunting task. The second limitation was use of an untested instrument. Although face and content validity were established through the previous qualitative study, further use with larger samples is necessary to establish validity.

Recommendations

Based on these findings, the following recommendations are made to retain older faculty members:

  • Provide ample opportunities for intellectual stimulation and growth.
  • Maintain market values for salaries and benefits.
  • Take advantage of the expertise of the seasoned faculty and allow them to teach to their expertise.
  • Accommodate for changing physical needs by tailoring teaching assignments and environments.
  • Provide age-specific technology instruction and support.

Although a need for economic security cannot be ignored, administrators must certainly acknowledge the intrinsic factors demonstrated to be critically important to retirement-age faculty.

Nursing practice is increasingly based on evidence. The practice of nursing education and administration of both clinical and educational environments should also be based on evidence. More research is needed to help ensure adequate numbers of qualified faculty to educate the nurses of tomorrow.

References

  • American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2010). Nursing faculty shortage. Retrieved from http://www.aacn.nche.edu/Media/FactSheets/FacultyShortage.htm
  • American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2011). Nursing shortage. Retrieved from http://www.aacn.nche.edu/media/FactSheets/NursingShortage.htm
  • Bellack, J.P. (2004). One solution to the nursing shortage: Begin at the end. Journal of Nursing Education, 43, 243–244.
  • Berlin, I.E. & Sechrist, K.R. (2002). The shortage of doctorally prepared nursing faculty: A dire situation. Nursing Outlook, 50, 50–56.
  • Berlin, I.E., Stennett, J. & Bednash, G.D. (2003). 2002–2003 salaries of instructional and administrative nursing faculty in baccalaureate and graduate programs in nursing. Washington, DC: American Association of American Colleges of Nursing.
  • Brady, M.S. (2007). Recruitment and retention of associate degree nursing faculty. Journal of Nursing Education, 46, 190–192.
  • Brendtro, M. & Hegge, M. (2000). Nursing faculty: One generation away from extinction?Journal of Professional Nursing, 16, 97–103.
  • Cash, P.A., Daines, D., Doyle, R.M. & von Tettenborn, L. (2009). Quality workplace environments for nurse educators: Implications for recruitment and retention. Nursing Economic$, 27, 315–321.
  • Danna, D., Schaubhut, R.M. & Jones, J.R. (2010). From practice to educations: Perspectives from three nurse leaders. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 41, 83–87.
  • Evans, M.M. (2009). Solutions to the nurse faculty shortage: A response to the AACN. MEDSURG Nursing, 18, 387–388.
  • Falk, N.L. (2007). Strategies to enhance retention and effective utilization of aging nursing faculty. Journal of Nursing Education, 46, 165–169.
  • Foxall, M., Megel, M.E., Grigsby, K. & Billings, J.S. (2009). Faculty retirement: Stemming the tide. Journal of Nursing Education, 48, 172–175.
  • Goodin, H.J. (2003). The nursing shortage in the United States of America: An integrative review of the literature. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 43, 335–350.
  • Hinshaw, A.S. (2001). A continuing challenge: The shortage of educationally prepared nursing faculty. Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 6(1), Manuscript 3. Retrieved from http://www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/ANAMarketplace/ANAPeriodicals/OJIN/TableofContents/Volume62001/No1Jan01/ShortageofEducationalFaculty.aspx
  • Kowalski, S.D., Dalley, K. & Weigand, T. (2006). When will faculty retire?: Factors influencing retirement decisions of nurse educators. Journal of Nursing Education, 45, 349–355.
  • Mathews, M.B. (2003). Resourcing nursing education through collaboration. Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 34, 251–257.
  • Murray, T.A., Schappe, A., Kreienkamp, D.E., Loyd, V. & Buck, E.A. (2010). A community-wide academic-service partnership to expand faculty and student capacity. Journal of Nursing Education, 49, 295–299.
  • Schaefer, S.J.M., Belcher, A.E. & Guth, K.J. (2010). Ageless wonders. Nursing Education Perspectives, 31, 322–324.
  • Starnes-Ott, K. & Kremer, M.J. (2007). Recruitment and retention of nurse anesthesia faculty: Issues and strategies. American Association of Nurse Anesthetists Journal, 75, 13–16.
  • Trossman, S. (2002). Who will be there to teach? Shortage of nursing faculty a growing problem. Tar Heel Nurse, 64(5), 22–23.
  • Trossman, S. (2007). ANA, other groups work to increase the number of nurse educators. American Nurse Today, 2(5), 34–37.
  • Trossman, S. (2009). Today’s assignment: Find more nurse educators. The American Nurse, 41(5), 12–13.
  • Williamson, M., Cook, L., Salmeron, L. & Burton, D. (2009). Retaining nursing faculty beyond retirement age. Nurse Educator, 35, 152–155.

Critical Issues Identified in a Qualitative Study

Issue
Salary and employee benefits
Management of technology challenges
Preference for teaching to expertise
Value of self to the profession
Sense of identity as an educator
Reduced tolerance for frustration
Intellectual stimulation
Negative outcome of retirement on connectedness
Change of job to energize a fresh start
Support for physical challenges
Love of working with students
Social stimulation
Mentoring junior faculty
Love of teaching
Receiving recognition for contributions

Sample Demographics (N = 69)

Variablen(%)
Retirement status
  Still working53 (76.8)
  Retired16 (23.2)
Gender
  Female69 (100)
  Male0 (0)
Marital status
  Married42 (60.9)
  Single8 (11.6)
  Widowed8 (11.6)
  Divorced11 (15.9)
Health statusa
  Poor0 (0)
  Fair5 (7.2)
  Good31 (44.9)
  Excellent29 (42)

Standardized Discriminant Function Coefficients and Structure Coefficients for Predictor Variables

Predictor VariableStandardized Function CoefficientStructure Coefficient
Intellectual stimulation0.4500.546
Salary and employee benefits0.3090.520
Love of teaching0.1260.372
Value of self to profession0.2090.368
Preference for teaching to expertise0.4420.367
Support for physical challenges0.2380.353
Love of working with students0.4170.310
Reduced tolerance for frustration−0.424−0.295
Management of technology challenges0.2480.301

Analysis of Variance (ANOVA): Questionnaire Total Score by Retirement Status

Sum of SquaresANOVA
Fp
dfMean Square
Between groups1363.18611363.18616.2850.000
Within groups5608.4666783.708
Total6971.65268

Means and Standard Deviations of Study Variables

Predictor VariableMeanSD
Salary and employee benefits
  Retired2.941.569
  Working4.301.030
Management of technology challenges
  Retired2.251.291
  Working3.151.350
Preference for teaching to expertise
  Retired3.191.471
  Working4.171.105
Value of self to the profession
  Retired4.001.155
  Working4.680.701
Sense of identity as an educator
  Retired3.631.360
  Working3.831.221
Reduced tolerance for frustration
  Retired3.561.209
  Working2.871.001
Intellectual stimulation
  Retired3.311.302
  Working4.430.772
Negative outcome of retirement on connectedness
  Retired2.061.289
  Working2.751.329
Change of job to energize a fresh start
  Retired2.311.302
  Working2.981.308
Support for physical challenges
  Retired1.941.289
  Working2.961.300
Love of working with students
  Retired3.561.459
  Working4.361.039
Social stimulation
  Retired3.691.250
  Working3.721.246
Mentoring junior faculty
  Retired3.061.181
  Working3.531.265
Love of teaching
  Retired3.501.549
  Working4.420.929
Receiving recognition for contributions
  Retired3.381.310
  Working3.940.989

Pearson Product Moment Correlations

VariableLove of Working with StudentsSocial StimulationLove of TeachingReceiving Recognition for Contributions
Value of self to profession
  Pearson r0.604
  Significance0.000
Personal identity
  Pearson r0.5420.5020.500
  Significance0.0000.0000.000
Intellectual stimulation
  Pearson r0.5500.582
  Significance0.0000.000
Authors

Dr. Cook is Assistant Dean and Associate Professor, Dr. Williamson is Dean and Professor, Dr. Salmeron is Associate Dean and Professor, and Ms. Burton is Associate Professor and Chair of RN-to-BSN Education, Kramer School of Nursing, Oklahoma City University, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Dr. Goad is Field Supervisor, College of Education, Texas A & M University-Corpus Christi, Corpus Christi, Texas.

Supported in part by a research grant from the Kramer School of Nursing.

The authors have no financial or proprietary interest in the materials presented herein.

Address correspondence to Linda Sue Cook, PhD, RN, CNE, Assistant Dean and Associate Professor, Kramer School of Nursing, Oklahoma City University, 2501 N. Blackwelder St., Oklahoma City, OK 73106; e-mail: .lcook@okcu.edu

10.3928/01484834-20111017-02

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