Are Tenure Track Professors Better Teachers?

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“Are Tenure Track Professors Better Teachers?”

Using a quasi-experimental research design and data across all departments on 15,662 students at Northwestern University, the study found that "taking a course with a tenured/tenure track professor in a first-term freshman-level class was associated with (a) a 7.3 percentage point reduction in the likelihood that a student would take another class in the same subject, and (b) lower grades in the next class the student took in the same subject (about one-tenth of a grade point). These differences were statistically significant." WWC Quick Review

Figlio, D. N., Schapiro, M. O., & Soter, K. B. (2013). Are tenure track professors better teachers? (NBER Working Paper 19406). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from

Abstract: This study makes use of detailed student-level data from eight cohorts of first-year students at Northwestern University to investigate the relative effects of tenure track/tenured versus non-tenure line faculty on student learning. We focus on classes taken during a student’s first term at Northwestern, and employ a unique identification strategy in which we control for both student-level fixed effects and next-class-taken fixed effects to measure the degree to which non-tenure line faculty contribute more or less to lasting student learning than do other faculty. We find consistent evidence that students learn relatively more from non-tenure line professors in their introductory courses. These differences are present across a wide variety of subject areas, and are particularly pronounced for Northwestern’s average students and less-qualified students.