A significant issue that permeates higher education is the need for better preparation for a substantial sector of the instructional workforce: occasional, part-time, and non-tenure-track instructors, known generally as adjunct faculty. Most colleges and universities rely upon this group to offer numerous courses to both undergraduate and graduate students, since it offers universities a means to serve a rapidly growing number of students in a cost-effective manner. However, little attention has been paid to ensure that adjunct faculty members have the tools they need to be effective in the classroom, and this cohort is often viewed as an appendage rather than as a vital component of a campus community.
Approximately, 800,000 faculty members nationwide are considered adjunct. Depending upon the source cited, this represents approximately 60 percent to 67 percent of all faculty. Since the 1970s, part-time faculty have increased 376 percent, about five times faster than the rate of increase of full-time faculty. More recently, between 2007 and 2010, the number of full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members and part-time faculty members each grew at least 6 percent. During the same period, tenured positions grew by only 2.4 percent and tenure-track appointments increased by 0.3 percent. These increases in the number of faculty appointments have taken place against the background of an overall 12 percent increase in higher education enrollment in those three years. The most substantial growth has been in non-tenure-track appointments, which grew by 7.6 percent during the three-year period.
Hiring on an adjunct basis gives academic departments the flexibility to adapt programs to meet the often rapidly changing needs of their students, and it costs less than hiring a full-time, tenure-track professor. Certainly, it is understood that creating a highly educated workforce is an expensive enterprise due to the labor-intensive nature of academia. Community colleges, which rely very heavily on the adjunct workforce, have been at the forefront of creating professional development programs for this group. However, traditional four-year colleges, both public and private, have not universally invested in opportunities for the workhorses that continue to shoulder a majority of teaching responsibilities.
If we want to increase postsecondary success, improve graduation rates and prepare students for work, civic life and lifelong learning, a key starting place must be professional support of both non-tenure-track and tenure-track faculty. An instructor who is enthused about his or her subject and able to engage students effectively can positively affect retention rates and produce students with the writing and quantitative skills needed to succeed in a competitive marketplace. Faculty members who take risks with their teaching, experiment with innovative pedagogical approaches, and make teaching and learning a collaborative activity are more likely to foster student success.
Enhanced teaching effectiveness creates efficiencies in a trickle-up effect. Results include more engaged students and instructors, a more cohesive and collaborative environment for university faculty, and ultimately a better-prepared workforce. A 2011 American Association of University Professors study strongly "remind[ed] legislators, administrators, trustees, and regents that the path to global competitiveness requires rigor in the classroom — and rigor requires investing in the faculty members expected to provide it." The rate of return on investments in human capital deliver compounded rates of economic return that raise gross domestic product, employment, incomes, and wealth far beyond any other investments that can be made.
Adjunct faculty, whether part-time or full-time, instructors of traditional undergraduates or graduate students in pursuit of professional advancement, tend to be in the classroom because they enjoy the opportunity to share their knowledge with others in a constructive environment and are driven to succeed and help their students succeed. Adjuncts welcome the opportunity to better themselves, either in their disciplines or in general pedagogy. Institutions of higher education owe it to this cohort to provide the means to pursue this desire for growth. Some suggestions to meet this need are: offering workshops on a variety of topics at convenient times or via recorded videos; providing engagement for adjuncts with division deans; encouraging discussion about the role of adjunct faculty in the broader scope of the institution; and creating peer-mentoring opportunities.
A program that offers adjuncts advanced training in best practices in the classroom, immersion in the application of the university's core values and opportunities for advancement in their own disciplinary study would increase adjuncts' level of dedication to their students as well as their overall effectiveness in the classroom. Students taught by enthused, engaged faculty will typically connect better to the material and ultimately be more successful and motivated to continue with their studies.
The establishment of a campus culture that views professional development for adjuncts as equally important to that of its tenured/tenure-track faculty is critical. By providing adjunct faculty members with professional development opportunities, establishing better communication channels with the broader campus, and underscoring how the institution values the contributions of the adjunct faculty member, students will be the ultimate beneficiaries.
Lynne C. Elkes is an instructor of economics and director of the Affiliate Faculty Training Programs at Loyola University Maryland. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times