Support for Adjunct Faculty is Support for Quality: Recognizing and Supporting Adjunct Needs


Angela Gibson, Ed.D., Faculty, Texas A&M University-Kingsville and Lynette O’Keefe, Ph.D., Director, Research & Innovation, Online Learning Consortium

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The percentage of adjunct college faculty has been rising steadily since the 1970s, and according to the most recent Digest of Education Statistics (Snyder, de Bray, & Dillow, 2017), adjuncts make up nearly 50 percent of college faculty, and if you consider graduate students in teaching roles as adjuncts, that number jumps to nearly 60 percent.  Assessments of the impact that the high adjunct rate has on the quality of higher education range from critical (high adjunct rates reduce quality) to supportive (adjuncts are more focused on teaching and therefore potentially increase quality). Regardless of the veracity of either position, research from both of these viewpoints and those in between does point to two commonalities: adjunct faculty are underfunded and undersupported, and studying the role of adjunct faculty in student learning and success is an essential component of studying quality in higher education.  

Adjunct faculty are tasked primarily with teaching responsibilities, which can run the gamut from instructing a class onsite or online, to full course design, teaching pre-designed courses, advising students, and everything in between.  Institutional support for adjunct faculty is essential to creating an environment optimized for successful teaching and learning. Furthermore, adjunct faculty, and particularly online adjunct faculty, have unique support needs that may include not only basic support but also situational support based on compensation/benefits, family responsibilities, and/or juggling multiple adjunct appointments (Straumshein, 2015).  

Basic institutional support for part-time faculty includes onboarding, employee orientation, and training on the institutional LMS. Additionally, such areas as standard procedures and policies, expectations, and reporting structure can offer the faculty a foundation as a new hire.  Professional development opportunities afforded to full-time faculty at a college or university can be made optional or offered with additional pay to adjuncts. One example of such a program is the Teaching with Purpose training at Front Range Community College in Colorado (Ashford, 2017). Required for all new full-time faculty, regardless of prior experience, part-time faculty may opt in and be paid extra for this two-year professional development training.

At Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), the administration is mindful of the time constraints of adjuncts as well as the need for further connections to those at the institution, including students. RIT offers an abbreviated faculty orientation to adjuncts with much of the material available online. Additionally, the university’s career development team “created an adjunct faculty mentoring community offering special events each semester for adjuncts to build community and to provide networking opportunities” (Herdklotz & Canale, 2017).  Being able to create a culture of inclusivity promotes further engagement by faculty and a deeper bond with both the institution and those they serve. 

Adjunct faculty need awareness of the design and re-development processes at an institution as well as their responsibilities as a part-time faculty and who are the contacts and supports, such as the Instructional Design team or the IT Support Desk, if and when there are issues. 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). This goes back to the need for proper training on the institutions’ elearning platform as well as the need for clear and delineated expectations and responsibilities. Administrators with part-time faculty must be proactive in communicating such a structure for part-time faculty to avoid frustration on the part of the faculty as well as their students.

Connection to a place of employment needs to go beyond the front facing of service to the client.  Basically, adjunct faculty can feel more a part of the process and the place, when they feel they have a stake and say – and this sense of belonging is essential for professional success and in this case, providing an optimal experience for students. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) offered eight recommendations for more part-time faculty shared governance opportunities in their report,  “The Inclusion in Governance of Faculty Members Holding Contingent Appointments”. Such recommendations include the ability for instructors in such roles to be able to vote and hold applicable offices at institutions of postsecondary education. Also, that part-time, or contingent faculty, would be part of governance activities including informing on regulations, policies, and procedures (AAUP, n.d.).

At the end of the day, whether the increasing proportion of the adjunct faculty workforce adds to or detracts from quality isn’t really the question to answer when considering immediate quality needs; those are complex and systemic questions that take time to answer and address.  The imperative question, rather, is that given current trends in adjunct faculty positions, how can we best support adjunct faculty in their diverse roles? Addressing this question, and ensuring that all faculty – including adjunct faculty – have the support and resources they need to do their jobs effectively is a core component of ensuring educational quality and student success.

Angela Gibson

Dr. Angela Gibson has been serving in higher education, in academics and student affairs, for over 20 years. As an advocate for student learning and success, she promotes quality design and delivery of instruction through effective support and training.  She is an OLC Effective Practice Award winner and is the current chair of the OLC Effective Practice Awards Committee.

Lynette O'Keefe

Dr. Lynette O’Keefe is the Director, Research & Innovation at OLC and provides leadership for the OLC Research Center for Digital Learning and Leadership and OLC publications. 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. 

Along with colleagues Tina Rettler-Pagel and Cindy Mathena, Lynette and Angela will be speaking more in-depth about effective models and practices for adjunct faculty support, challenges, and success for adjunct faculty, their students, and institutions in a featured session at OLC Accelerate.  Feel free to join in this panel discussion and audience conversation at the conference on Thursday, November 21, 9:45-10:30am ET.  On-site attendees can join the session in Southern Hemisphere II, and virtual attendees are welcome to join online.




American Association of University Professors (AAUP). (n.d.). The inclusion in governance of faculty members holding contingent appointments: Recommendations. Retrieved from 

Ashford, E. (2017, August 11). Good faculty onboarding pays off. Community College Daily. Retrieved from

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

Herdklotz, C., & Canale, A. M. (2017, December 19). Made to order. InsideHigherEd. Retrieved from 

Snyder, T.D., de Brey, C., and Dillow, S.A. (2019). Digest of Education Statistics 2017 (NCES 2018-070). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC. Retrieved from 

Straumshein, C. (2015). Supporting online adjuncts.  InsideHigherEd. Retrieved from 

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