A World of Adjuncts: Challenges, Support, and a Way Forward

Concurrent Session 5
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Brief Abstract

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.


Dr. Angela M. Gibson serves as Lecturer in the Higher Education Administration Leadership doctoral certificate program and the Adult Education graduate program at Texas A and M University - Kingsville. Additionally, she serves as faculty for the Online Learning Consortium Institute for Professional Development teaching in the Online Teaching Certificate Program, designing and facilitating professional training, and serving as a mentor to professional educators. She is also a Contributing Faculty and Doctoral Advisor for the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences in the Doctor of Education program. She has taught first-year, undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, and professional students, designed and developed curriculum, and created initiatives and strategic planning for student engagement, first-year experience, strategic learning, and innovation. Dr. Gibson has over 25 years experience in higher education, academics, and student affairs at a diverse set of colleges and universities. She made the rank of Professor at American Public University. Angela received a M.A. in Human Performance Systems, with a Graduate Certificate in Instructional Design, from Marymount University, and an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, with concentrations in Adult Education and Community College Education, from Texas A and M University - Kingsville. She has been published in various peer reviewed journals, is on journal editorial boards, presents at national and international conferences, and served on the Online Learning Conference Steering Committee and was the 2017 Chair of the Technology Test Kitchen. In 2019, Angela was a Campfire Keynote Speaker for the OLC Innovate Conference. Dr. Gibson is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador and volunteers as an informal STEM educator creating learning opportunities at schools and community organizations as well as providing social media outreach for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). She is a recipient of the Online Learning Consortium 2014 Effective Practice Award. In 2021 Dr. Gibson received the USAHS Board Excellence Award for Excellence in Teaching Award.
Lynette provides leadership for the OLC Research Center for Digital Learning and Leadership. Prior, she was the Director, Learning Enhancement for the Center for Learning Experimentation, Application, and Research at the University of North Texas. Lynette’s experience spans the educational pipeline from K-12 to public universities and community colleges, and in addition to her digital learning and leadership roles, she has served in a number of positions in Academic Affairs, Enrollment Management, and Educational Partnerships. She has worked extensively with public, private, corporate, and philanthropic organizations, was involved in two State of Texas Star-Award winning initiatives, and led the statewide Texas Reverse Transfer Initiative, resulting in more than 7,000 degrees awarded within the first year of the program and policy mandate. Lynette also teaches Quantitative Methods and Research Methods courses for the University of North Texas, and has a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration, an M.S. in Educational Psychology, and a B.A. in Psychology. In her spare time, Lynette practices yoga, reads everything from YA to historical non-fiction, and is involved in her community in Denton, TX.
Tina Rettler-Pagel is a Faculty member and Chief Online Learning Officer at Madison College, in Madison, Wisconsin. Tina holds a B.S in Education with an emphasis on Emotional Disabilities from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an M.S. in Administrative Leadership from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has an Ed.D. in Student Affairs Administration from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Tina has completed an Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Online Teaching Certificate, as well as participated in OLC's Institute for Engaged Leadership in Online Learning (IELOL) in 2017. Her research interests include retention and persistence in the online classroom, the success of women of color in online learning spaces, women in higher education leadership and governance, digital equity, and community college approaches to teaching and learning. Tina's hashtags? #Mom #Partner #CommunityCollegeProud #OnWisconsin #A11yAdvocate #OnlineTeaching #Includer #Kindness #Connector #OnlineLearning #TechNerd #Resilience #StrongGirlsStrongWomen #Hockey #Fishing #AnythingSummer #JamMaker #Perseverance #SayYesToNewAdventures #ComeAsYouAre #StartWhereYouAre #ImpostorPhenomemon #Access
Dr. Mathena is the Dean of Post-Professional Studies at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. She is an Occupational Therapist who has been with the University for 19 years. She has held roles faculty, leadership, and in assessment, accreditation, program development and online education. Her passion is developing online education programs in a unique and innovative manner.

Extended Abstract

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