Leadership Summit - Part 2: Engaging with Adjunct Faculty

Brief Abstract

There are four types of adjunct faculty: specialists and experts, freelancers, career-enders, and aspiring academics. The goal of this session would be to identify the needs and characteristics of each group, and brainstorm ways they can be supported and engaged with by the institution.

This session is included in the Leadership Summit at OLC Innovate 2023, focused on the theme of The Engaged Leader: Attending To The Complexities Of Digital Learning.  With the rapidly-changing environment of online and blended education, it is essential to understand the complexities and impacts on teaching and learning in order to create digital learning environments that meet the needs of those they serve. Today’s leaders in digital learning must be attuned to the needs and priorities of many people: faculty, staff, students, executive leaders, vendors and business partners, and the community.


Dr. Jennifer Linch has been an adult educator for over 20 years and is currently serving as the Director of Training and Development with the American College of Education. She has earned her bachelor of arts in organizational management and her masters in teaching, with an emphasis on learning and technology. Her EdD is in Instructional Technology with a focus on adult and continuing education. Jennifer is a dedicated lifelong learner, passionate about helping adult learners find their own styles of learning and seeking out opportunities for growth. In her spare time, Jennifer enjoys spending time with her family doing water sports such as scuba diving and kayaking.

Extended Abstract

Adjunct faculty are key stakeholders in academia (Ridge & Ritt, 2017). They are essential when it comes to the growth of an institution, and their expertise should be relied upon. With over 70% of faculty at institutions across the United States considered adjunct or temporary, adjunct faculty are a vital part of the growth of an institution (Bolitzer, 2019). When institutions offer an increased number of online courses and degree programs, the number of remote adjunct faculty needed at these institutions increases (Nolan-Bock, 2018).  Adjunct faculty have a unique set of characteristics and needs institutions should recognize to best utilize the talents of this group of faculty members (Bickerstaff et al., 2018). When an institution understands the diversity of groups among faculty members, the support and engagement offered may be tailored to specific needs to help increase teaching effectiveness (Starcher & Mandernach, 2016). There are four categories of adjunct faculty: specialists or experts, freelancers, career-enders, and aspiring academics (Starcher & Mandernach, 2016). Each category of adjunct has different motivations and characteristics, bringing various strengths and areas of opportunities to the institution. Understanding the differences associated with each category of adjunct faculty will help institutions meet the needs of faculty members.

There are four types of adjunct faculty: specialists and experts, freelancers, career-enders, and aspiring academics.

Adjunct faculty are part-time employees who are the experts within professional fields, often holding a position outside of the institution (Bolitzer, 2019). Many adjunct faculty members are contracted to teach based on the knowledge, experience, and education learned in the professional field (Bolitzer, 2019). When adjunct faculty hold positions elsewhere, real-world experience is brought to the institution and offered to students through courses (Starcher & Mandernach, 2016). Many full-time faculty members have exclusively taught in higher education, lacking outside experiences adjunct faculty can bring (Starcher & Mandernach, 2016). An example of an expert in the field might be an experienced nurse choosing to educate nursing students at a local college on a contract basis to supplement a concurrent position at a hospital. Specialists and experts want to share knowledge with students; however, teaching online can be frustrating if no prior experience exists (Starcher & Mandernach, 2016).

Freelance adjunct faculty members are not typically seeking full-time employment at any one institution (Bolitzer, 2019). Faculty members with multiple part-time positions, possibly at other institutions, are considered freelance employees (Bolitzer, 2019). Adjunct faculty members in the freelance category often supplement earned wages from other jobs or teaching for fun (Pyram & Roth, 2018). In addition, freelance adjunct faculty members are generally motivated by their students to continue teaching (Pyram & Roth, 2018). Freelancers, having worked in specialized fields at one time, can also be experts, even without holding a current professional position outside of teaching (Bolitzer, 2019). Supporting and engaging freelance employees on a regular basis is important for an institution to consider so as to not lose loyalty (Bolitzer, 2019).

Career-ender adjunct faculty members have retired or are near retirement (Starcher & Mandernach, 2016). Adjunct faculty members at the end of a career seeking to remain active in the professional community, continue with research on some level, and continue networking with others can be considered career-enders (Bolitzer, 2019). Because adjunct faculty members are hired on a contract basis, benefits such as creating a personalized schedule offer flexibility to travel or enjoy other hobbies, while still maintaining teaching skills and professional networks (Pyram & Roth, 2018). Career-enders can remain loyal to one institution while holding multiple teaching positions (Starcher & Mandernach, 2016).

Aspiring academics are seeking full-time academic positions and need to start in a part-time role as an adjunct (Pyram & Roth, 2018). The aspiring academic could be someone who has changed career fields and desires to teach full-time or someone who wants the career of a full-time professor (Starcher & Mandernach, 2016). Adjunct faculty positions provide the aspiring professor and the institution the opportunity to identify if teaching is the right position (Starcher & Mandernach, 2016). The courses taught by aspiring academics can be varied but generally are related to a prior field of experience (Bickerstaff et al., 2018). Keeping aspiring academics engaged and supported is critical to the success of the adjunct faculty member and the institution (Bickerstaff et al., 2018). Aspiring academics can frustrate easily, as teaching online could be a new unfamiliar role (Starcher & Mandernach, 2016).

Session Objectives:

  • Identify the needs and characteristics of the four categories of adjunct faculty.
  • Determine ways to engage with and support each group of adjunct faculty.
  • As a group, analyze the ways the engagement and support suggestions could be implemented.


Bolitzer, L. A. (2019). What we know (and don’t know) about adjunct faculty as teachers at four-year institutions. The Review of Higher Education, 43(1), 113–142. https://doi.org/10.1353/rhe.2019.0092

Ridge, A., & Ritt, E. (2017). Adjunct faculty as key stakeholders in distance education. The Journal of Faculty Development, 31(2), 57–62. https://www.magnapubs.com/product/leadership/faculty-support/journal-of-faculty-development/

Starcher, K., & Mandernach, B. J. (2016). An examination of adjunct faculty characteristics: Comparison between non-profit and for-profit institutions. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 19(1), 1–16. https://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/