A World of Adjuncts: Challenges, Support, and a Way Forward
Concurrent Session 5
During this session, a panel of experts will share challenges faced by adjuncts and the institutions which employ them, effective models and practices to support and develop contingent faculty, and a way forward for all educational institutions to develop pathways for adjunct, student, and institutional success. Questions from participants welcomed.
This panel of seasoned individuals with experience in higher education and elearning, includes an adjunct faculty, a Chief Learning Officer, a full-time faculty member, a Director of Research, and a Director of Online Learning, with a moderator. The panel will present several challenges faced by adjuncts and institutions, the effective practices and models in training, supporting, and ensuring the success of online adjuncts in their work to teach students and represent the college or university, and a pathway forward for all educational practitioners working with adjunct faculty.
Panelists will share items from the literature and from industry standards in support of the pedagogy, andragogy, and effective models. Participants are encouraged to bring questions from their own professional or institutional examples.
By the Numbers – Increase in Part-Time Faculty
As of 2016, adjuncts, also known as part-time faculty or contingent faculty, make up just under 50% of the faculty at four-year and master’s level institutions of higher educations. At two-year colleges, over 65% of the faculty are teaching part-time (“AAUP”, 2018). This number does not include graduate assistants in a teaching role. Between 2008 and 2012 part-time faculty at post-secondary institutions increased 18% (“GAO”, 2017).
In the 2017 U.S. Government Accountability Office report on the contingent workforce in higher education, administrators of colleges and universities interviewed shared that “part-time contingent faculty generally focus solely on teaching” (“GAO”, 2017, para. 2). However, responsibilities of the those hired to focus on teaching seem to increasingly widen in scope.
Overview Benefits and Challenges
As of 2012, more than half of the faculty teaching part-time make less than $35,000 a year, and that is with many of the instructors teaching at multiple institutions (The Coalition on the Academic Workforce, 2012). While there are benefits to part-time teaching, such as a flexible schedule and time to focus on the students, there are limitations which affect the adjunct faculty member professionally and personally. From the U.S. Government Accountability Office report of 2017, of those contingent faculty surveyed the following were listed as disadvantages to the role: uncertainty due to short-term contracts, untimely contract renewals, pay – including lack of compensation for some of their work, limited career advancement opportunities, no voice in institutional decision-making, and not having certain institutional support (“GAO”, 2017, para. 5).
The American Association of University Professors state that the current trends in faculty hiring provides an illustration of a “problem of instability that contingent faculty have throughout all academic institutions” (Flaherty, 2018, para. 16). Tenure, for full-time faculty, has been seen as insurance for a continued position at the college or university; however, for part-time faculty such an option is not available. Such instability may stem from insecure and unsupported positions, little job security, and inadequate due process protections (“AAUP, 2018; “GAO”, 2017; Flaherty, 2018).
Recruitment and Training
Inherently, educational institutions want quality instructors to teach their students. As such, and also to align with accreditation agencies, faculty must have subject-matter expertise and academic credentialing in their field of study. With the increase in elearning courses and training opportunities for students and professional learners, colleges and universities may seek part-time contracted faculty with prior online teaching experience. However, not all desired faculty, especially those currently in the industry offering real-world practitioner knowledge and skills, may have backgrounds in online teaching let alone online course design and/or use of a particular Learning Management System (LMS).
Hiring is one thing, retention of an employee is another. There is less cost, in monies and resources, to retaining quality employees. Quality contingent faculty may be hired, have a difficult onboarding experience and/or low enrollment which equates for their particular contract for low pay and determine that there is less hassle and more opportunities for pay at other institutions (Edmonds, 2015).
Conversely or concurrently, these part-time instructors may have experience in online education and teaching and be superb deliverers of content, however, if the institution does not support the educator in their onboarding and/or or training, they may not be able to best perform their expected role.
Design considerations are, at times, a concern for faculty as instructors are typically hired as subject matter experts in their field and not instructional designers. Some may balk at the need to learn a system which provides the medium for online learning or the tools and strategies used to design or even instruct such courses. Though there are opportunities for professional development and for leveraging the expertise of those in an institution, faculty may see the design process for blended and online learning time consuming, arduous, and complex (Freeman & Tremlay, 2013).
Institutional Support and Human Costs
The rise in part-time, or contingent faculty, may have correlation to a decrease in the budgets available for salaries and benefits for full-time faculty. As a way to cost cut, colleges and universities may hire multiple part-time faculty at a much lower pay rate, and without benefits, allowing for cost savings.
Support for adjuncts and collaboration with other parts of the institution open lines of communication which promote sharing of resources as well as problem solving for instructional issues in the classroom. Development of assets with librarians, instructional designers, and fellow faculty as well as from repositories of other shared content address the transfer of learning and application of strategies to increase engagement with students. Tools aid in the design and delivery of instruction (Beetham, 2013). Connections to concepts help students tune into the course. The cognitive load is lightened through well designed instructional assets (van Merrienboer & Ayers, 2006).
Conditions of Work
Colleges and universities may provide training and professional development and invites to meetings and opportunities to participate in committees, however, some adjunct faculty are hustling between full-time day jobs or multiple gigs of part-time teaching and/or other contracted or consulting roles. As such, a determination needs to be made by the institution – and the program or department – of what are the required items for adjunct attendance and participation and what would be nice.
Clear expectations are important. A college may impart to the adjunct that the course will be turn key and set up the faculty to do minimal design updates – course instructor information, syllabus upload – and then focus on prepping for instruction. Yet, upon receiving the course, there may be numerous corrections, technology issues, or other design items now put upon the faculty to fix prior to course start and often on their own. Additionally, institutions may offer adjuncts a blank shell and a previous semester syllabus and, for the same pay as teaching part-time in a face to face course, require the instructor to now design the course online.
Impacts on Students, Institution
Interestingly, some research has indicated students taking more courses from adjunct faculty may have a lower success, persistence, and matriculation rate than students taking more classes from full-time faculty (Edmonds, 2015). Variables influencing such outcomes are wide-ranging.
Depending on type of post-secondary institution, and faculty teaching models, some universities may relegate the larger survey courses or first year student courses, which may be general education classes, to the part-time faculty. Connecting back to the training and/or sharing of expectations by the institution with the adjunct, the faculty member may not be aware of policies or given the resources to support students best in their learning and success. Additionally, faculty may not have been given critical resources to prepare for the course in time or at all – for example the course textbook before class start.
As that online teaching is not yet accepted by all institutions and administrators as equal to, or even better in, the quality of face to face instruction, some faculty may be concerned about “commitment to scholarship” (Ubell, 2017, para. 3) and status. And the consideration of quality of online content and the ability to have valued instruction in such mediums is still a question amongst our fellow colleagues at various institutions (Ubell, 2017).
Faculty who have limited time on campus or online due to other obligations – commuting, day jobs, limited connections or technology - may also unintentionally impact student success. Making space, virtually or on site and with adequate supports and resources, for adjuncts may not only increase a sense of support and connection back to the institution but also offer further connections to students (Edmonds, 2015).
During this session, the panel of experts will share challenges faced by adjuncts and the institutions which employ them, effective models and practices to support and develop contingent faculty, and a way forward for all educational institutions to develop pathways for adjunct, student, and institutional success.
“AAUP” - American Association of University Professors. (2018, October 11). Data snapshot: Contingent faculty in US higher ed. Retrieved from https://www.aaup.org/news/data-snapshot-contingent-faculty-us-higher-ed
Beetham, H. (2013). Designing for Active Learning in Technology-Rich Contexts. In H. Beetham and R. Sharpe (Eds.), Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=F7On-O2VrYUC&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=multimodal+learning+engaging+students&ots=k5MV8Jh-cG&sig=64sSi-d8mL_-TLpr7_SfxbVFUpE#v=onepage&q&f=false
Edmonds, D. (2015, May 25). More than half of college faculty are adjuncts: Should you care? Forbes. Retrieve from https://www.forbes.com/sites/noodleeducation/2015/05/28/more-than-half-of-college-faculty-are-adjuncts-should-you-care/#45af4a881600
Flaherty, C. (2018, October 12). A non-tenure-track profession? Inside HigherEd. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/10/12/about-three-quarters-all-faculty-positions-are-tenure-track-according-new-aaup
Freeman, W., & Tremlay, T. (2013). Design considerations for supporting the reluctant adoption of blended learning. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(1). Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol9no1/freeman_0313.htm
“GAO” – U.S. Government Accountability Office. (2017, November 20). Contingent workforce: Size, characteristics, compensation, and work experiences of adjunct and other non-tenure-track faculty. GAO-18_49. Retrieved from https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-18-49?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
The Coalition on the Academic Workforce. (2012). Summary of findings on part-time faculty respondents to the coalition on the academic workforce survey of contingent faculty members and instructors. Retrieved from http://www.academicworkforce.org/CAW_portrait_2012.pdf
Ubell, R. (2017, January 10). Why faculty still don’t want to teach online. Retrieved from https://onlinelearningconsortium.org/faculty-still-dont-want-teach-online/
van Merrienboer, J. J. G., & Ayers, P. (2006). Research on cognitive load theory and its design implications for e-learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 53(3), 5-13. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02504793