Where does Cultural Resource Management fit in higher education?

In the past few days there have been two articles presenting diametrically opposed views of the job prospects for US archaeologists. One article by Miranda Willson, “An Archaeologist Shortage Could Stifle the Climate Law,” in Energywire, a publication of Politico’s E&E News, outlines the shortage of qualified archaeologists in CRM and how this might affect the administration’s clean energy agenda. Willson argues that archaeologists, along with specialists in other fields required to comply with components of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), are in critically short supply. Jamie Pleune of the University of Utah captures the dire nature in which many project proponents find themselves: “The problem I encountered was when you don’t have enough archaeologists, you’re just waiting in line to get that one archaeologist—waiting for them to be available.” But it’s not just field workers that are in demand. Willson notes that according to Erik Hein, Executive Director of the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, “about 30 percent of positions at historic preservation offices in some states are now vacant.” Without these positions, the regulatory process breaks down, leading to project delays and increased project costs. These delays and cost increases are not lost on Congress. Currently, there are numerous bills to further restrict the time allocated to complete NEPA compliance as well as the reach of the law for entire classes of projects.

The second, published two days later by Anemona Hartocollis in the New York Times, is entitled “Can Humanities Survive the Budget Cuts?” The article begins with a report from the state auditor of Mississippi, Shad White, which questions the degree programs offered by state universities. According to Hartocoliis, White argued that “state appropriations should focus more on engineering and business programs. . . and less on liberal art majors like anthropology, women’s studies and German language and literature.” Speaking specifically of anthropology, White stated that “more than 60 percent of anthropology graduates leave to find work.” Mississippi is not alone. Other institutions announcing cuts to humanities include the University of Alaska, Eastern Kentucky University, North Dakota State University, Iowa State University, and the University of Kansas. At Miami University, which is reappraising 18 undergraduate majors, Provost Elizabeth Reitz Mullenix is quoted as lamenting, “It’s an existential crisis . . . There’s so much pressure about return on investment.” A related, and perhaps more serious, problem, is that even when the existence of the department is not threatened, numbers of relevant faculty are being reduced when faculty positions are simply eliminated with retirements rather than being rehired.

It may be true that some anthropology majors have a difficult time entering the labor force in jobs remotely related to their field of study. But that is not the case for archaeologists! Two of us (Altschul and Klein) have forecasted that the current shortage of CRM archaeologists will continue for at least a decade. As archaeologists make the case to expand programs to train CRM professionals, we need to mindful that CRM is not encapsulated in a single discipline but a field that includes archaeology, architecture, cultural anthropology, curation, history, historical architecture, museums and public interpretation, collections management, law, and planning. Further, CRM professionals not only need technical skills of their professional specialization but also the social skills needed to engage and consult with tribes and descendent communities, work with stakeholders and the general public, and much more.

Clearly, if we are to maintain the legal and regulatory requirements to consider and address the effects of government actions on cultural resources, the industry will have to have the capacity to accomplish the needed work and the government will have to have officials to manage and review this work. However, we know that, as things stand, the number of new professionals entering the CRM workforce is nowhere near current or projected demands. So, what can be done? Of course, there are no easy answers, but we can begin to outline some of the challenges and pose a number of questions that need to be answered. We don’t have good answers to these questions, but we invite your comments and discussion on this blog. We will focus on mainly the archaeology component of CRM but similar problems apply to other CRM specializations.

Meeting the demands for new professionals will require both an adequate supply of individuals who are interested in CRM employment and an increased capacity to properly train and credential them. Solving the first of those problems will require having well-paid jobs with attractive benefits and job security. As has been argued previously in the CfAS blog, entry-level pay for archaeological technicians has been, and continues to be, significantly lower than similar jobs in the construction and environmental industries. Certainly, all sectors of CRM (professional societies, trade associations, government agencies, etc.) need to work together to raise entry-level pay rates and benefits. We also need to make the career path in CRM more attractive. Simply put, we need to shorten the time spent between working as an archaeological technician and the next rung of the career ladder: crew chief, a position that generally is permanent (i.e., staff position with benefits) and paid reasonably well. The second problem—credentialing CRM professionals with the proper skills and in a timely manner—has to be solved within the training infrastructure provided by educational institutions and the industry itself (e.g., via internships and on-the-job training).

So, how do we get the word out to prospective CRM practitioners that there are jobs and rewarding careers in this field? The word needs to get out, likely in different ways, to several audiences: high school students looking to go to college, students in community colleges, students in colleges and universities, and current majors in anthropology or archaeology departments. The job is easiest for the existing majors, and the major conduit would be archaeology faculty, and mainly the US-focused faculty. For all the potential audiences, professional societies can conceivably play a role, but it will need to be greatly expanded from what they have been doing. TwinCairns and other archaeology job web sites provide some key information on jobs available, pay, and benefits by region—but that information is probably not reaching those who are not already in the field.

How do we then train the prospective practitioners? For decades, the CRM industry has been pointing out that universities are not providing the training that CRM professionals need. Yet with few exceptions, not much has changed. ACRA has recently begun a University Partnership Program that recognizes colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher learning that prepare their students for a career in CRM. As of this writing ACRA lists 15 programs with their program foci.

Achieving the needed changes in the educational infrastructure will require that the demand for the CRM training is recognized by the key University officials, from department chairs on up. University resources, including faculty lines, are often allocated based on the charmingly labeled metric, butts-in-seats (in classrooms of offered classes). If we are to get increases in the numbers of relevant faculty or investments in new degree and certificate programs, Liberal Arts and Sciences deans will need either to see opportunities or to feel pressures that warrants a response. It will be in the interests of department chairs—especially in potentially threatened programs—to create and staff course offerings that attract students to their classes and enable them to make the case to university administrators to further enhance CRM training.

There is probably no single best model for the needed training—what will work will depend on the university structure and existing staffing as well as the local context of CRM. On the university side, certificate programs, which can be at an undergraduate or graduate level, are easier to establish than degree program and have the potential to certify different levels of expertise and sorts of specializations within an overall CRM certificate. A certificate program might span several disciplines (e.g., archaeology, public history, historic architecture, and historic preservation) and share some courses, such as in cultural resource law. Professional master’s degree programs (e.g. MBA) are explicitly designed to move graduates from the academy into professional jobs. They are attractive to universities because students are expected to pay full tuition (and not be supported by the university, e.g. through teaching assistantships) but are not attractive to students who are not in a position to pay for them.

Field schools and other field training opportunities in colleges and universities are becoming much less common. Where they exist, they often do not involve what is the bulk of CRM archaeological investigations (i.e., survey and assessing site significance) and are rarely equipped with the technology commonly employed in the industry. It seems clear that both industry and agency internships will be one essential tool to provide key training for new professionals. An incentive for companies and agencies to offer internships is that they create a pipeline to, at graduation, move promising interns into professional positions in their organization. ACRA will soon be issuing internship guidelines for industry.

The problems are daunting, and they are immediate. Even if CRM–focused programs were already in place (which they mostly are not) the university supply chain has a lag measured in the years it takes for a student to complete a program. Much worse, is likely to take several years in order for the demand to be felt by university administrators, for the completion of the academic bureaucracy needed to create certificate or degree programs, for schools to staff the programs, and for substantial numbers of students enroll and graduate. Employing part-time CRM industry professionals as professors of practice would both benefit quality of the programs and speed and ease the process (given that hiring regular faculty is often contested and typically takes a year after approval of the position).

The problems we face will not be remedied by universities, by the CRM industry, by government agencies, or by professional societies alone. It will require major efforts by all of them that are both quick and sustained. And even then, we’ll need to figure out how to best face the shortages in the meantime.

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7 thoughts on “Where does Cultural Resource Management fit in higher education?”

  1. This article nicely encapsulates the problem. As a former professor at one of the universities of a targeted state (Mississippi) I suggest bypassing archaeology professors and going to decision-makers to make the case: Deans (both Liberal Arts and Graduate) and Provosts. Most cultural anthropologists have little idea of what CRM is, and certainly non-anthropologists who run shared departments have even less of an idea. At the same time, we need to start utilizing career counseling offices and advising offices at universities, and flood them with information they can pass on to students about jobs in the sector. Endowed chairs are really the only way to ensure that CRM will be taught by experienced faculty. Note too that 80% of faculty jobs in academia are held by adjuncts. To change the degree structure to focus on CRM will take even more time and money.

  2. There is a distinction between the college wage premium (the expected difference in income for a person with a college degree versus a person with just a high school diploma) and the college wealth premium (the same, but for lifetime wealth accumulation). The former has been steadily rising over the last several decades, but the latter has experienced a precipitous decline, probably owing to the sky-high costs of higher education [1]. Of course, this is the average trend across all majors. The situation is not so bad for STEM degrees, but it’s absolutely dire for the humanities and social sciences (especially if you are a minority) [2].

    So, my question is: do you all think that a career in CRM can ensure a sufficiently large college wealth premium to make the financial risks of pursuing CRM training in higher education worthwhile?

    [1] Emmons, Kent, & Ricketts (2019). https://doi.org/10.20955/r.101.297-329
    [2] Webber (2018). https://thirdway.imgix.net/pdfs/override/IsCollegeWorthIt-FINAL.pdf

    • The short answer is “I don’t know.” For some, like successful entrepreneurs or project managers at large design/build firms, the answer is a clear “yes.” For those who do not advance beyond a crew chief, the answer is a probable “no.” The most recent twincairns jobs report shows that entry level salaries for field techs remains low (ca. $22/hr or $45K annually), decent for crew chiefs ($29.5/hr or $61K annually) and reasonably good for principal investigators/project managers ($44.44/hr or $90K annually). Presumably once hired, permanent staff will get raises so the average pay for crew chiefs and above is somewhat higher. Evern so, pay for field techs is terrible in relation to other jobs in the US with a B.A. (average about $75K), better for crew chiefs (which can have either a MA or BA depending on experience (MA average $86.3K) and reasonable for PI/PM (PhD average is about $108K) (from Bureau of Labor Statistics). From a strictly economic standpoint, a career is CRM is viable if you can get up the ladder quickly, i.e. move from field tech to crew chief in a year or two and then up to a project director in a few more years and ultimately as a PI/PM by the time you are about 40.

      Pay, of course, is only one component of job satisfaction. The question any person considering a career in CRM must ask themselves is “is this what I want to do.” There is lots of opportunity in CRM. It’s much more than archaeology and it’s much bigger than just the US. I think before one asks economic questions (can I make a living?), they owe it to themselves to explore the field and the types of opportunities that exist. For someone interested in balancing economic development with historic preservation; safeguarding sites and areas important to indigenous, local, and descendant communities; addressing how the nation will protect its historic fabric in the face of sea level rise and forest fires; etc., then CRM might be a good career choice. Finding a mentor that can then guide them through career choices (including economic ones) would be the next step.

  3. We hear the call at the University of Florida and have stepped up to retool our curriculum for careers in public archaeology: https://anthro.ufl.edu/2023/07/20/new-ma-program-in-public-archaeology/

    Besides adding courses and technical training, we have launched a series of local field projects centered on the more common aspects of CRM archaeology, notably reconnaissance survey. We still offer field schools but realize that they are typically structured by faculty research priorities, not the industry. The local projects are an effective alternative to formal field schools because they are logistically simple, low cost, and customized for student needs. We are running these free-of-charge and without credit, mostly on weekends. It takes commitment on part of faculty to avail themselves to extracurricular projects and training, but so far, so good.

    Like many in the industry, I fear that a lack of well-trained technicians and managers in CRM will result in the gradual dismantling of preservation law and regs.

  4. You are correct that, “CRM is not encapsulated in a single discipline but a field that includes archaeology, architecture, cultural anthropology, curation, history, historical architecture, museums and public interpretation, collections management, law, and planning….CRM professionals not only need technical skills of their professional specialization but also the social skills needed to engage and consult with tribes and descendent communities, work with stakeholders and the general public, and much more.
    The “Social Skills” piece is imperative yet very difficult to teach or to certify. Speaking from the perspective of a professional in historic preservation (not an academic) I would say learning how to express the who, what, why, when to lay people, stakeholders and decision makers outside of the field can most readily lead to wage earner’s career success, and the survival of CRM.

    Between earning undergrad and grad degrees in historic preservation I spent a few years working directly as a legislative research analyst, in a variety of state regulatory agencies, primarily within the advocacy, planning and communications realm.
    It seems to me that we need to emphasize cross-disciplinary training and the strength of telling the “real-life” stories of those who were educated in fields of archeology, anthropology and history and evolved their expertise and skillsets to work in other higher paying industries— as well as those who were working in allied professions (planning, government, construction) and were able to gain specialized knowledge and certification to take on regulatory roles for CRM. Let’s face it, most people at the grocery store have only a hazy idea of what we do as museum curators, interpreters, preservation planners or outreach advocates, because we haven’t brought this stuff to life for young students, in the way STEM is now presented in schools.
    So let’s do it.

  5. We are trying to help at Cal State Channel Islands. With support from our president’s office, I formed a campus CRM Team with our undergraduates, training them to identify cultural resources; they monitor on campus when irrigation lines are repaired, etc.
    We also have a certificate in heritage and CRM going through the curriculum process. It will be unit heavy (ca 30 units/10 classes), but includes lab and fieldwork, as well as organizational communication (with all groups: tribes, construction firms, landowners, etc,. The heritage emphasis was axed by administration, but we are keeping the name in, since most of the classes touch on broader heritage issues, not simply archaeology.
    Finally, we are in communication with local CRM firms and state/national parks, discussing internships, projects, etc.
    My goal is to be “the” academic institution to attend in California, if interested in a career in heritage and resource management.


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