Who's Really Teaching Your Courses?

A lot has been written about adjunct faculty in the last decade. The increase in the number of adjuncts teaching college courses (more than 70% according to The Chronicle of Higher Education), the plight of those with PhD's in the humanities and social sciences, who teach off the tenure track because of reduced demand and budgets, and the rising number of adjunct professors who are organizing on campuses, are just a few of the story lines.

Most experts agree that the trend to hire more adjunct faculty will likely continue. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects faculty hiring to increase by 13% through 2024, with most of this hiring for part-time faculty. What does that mean for your institution, for this important group of faculty, and most importantly for students?  

The word adjunct means "something added to another thing but not essential to it" (dictionary.com). Originally the label "adjunct" was given to those instructors who taught alongside the full-time, tenure-track faculty to deliver or expand a curriculum. Most adjuncts were professionals, like lawyers and business people, who taught a course or two, to add to the teaching coverage or specialized expertise of the researching faculty.  

Today, the term adjunct is used to describe a variety of relationships: 

Instructors who teach full-time off the tenure-track at a single institution;

Those who teach part-time and have another full-time job; 

Those who teach part-time at just one institution;

Those who teach part-time at more than one institution;

A study sponsored by the Spencer Foundation (2016, Chad Evans and Frank Furstenberg) provides important, and maybe surprising, insights into this diverse group we call adjuncts.  

Nearly 50% of those adjuncts who teach full-time, teach a full load at one institution; 

The other half of adjuncts work part-time; 

14% of these part-time adjuncts working as itinerant faculty;

Of this 14%, one-third to one half are teaching in the humanities;

The vast majority of PhD's are teaching full-time, not part-time; 

66% of part-time adjuncts have full-time jobs other than teaching; 

Finally, most part-time adjuncts are teaching part-time for personal reasons like professional development, encore careers, and family-work balance.

What does all this mean for an institution? Many schools have at least some of each of these four types of faculty teaching at their institutions. The roles, responsibilities, career goals, teaching training, on boarding requirements, and compensation vary greatly among the four groups. Different types of adjunct faculty also search for their positions and evaluate the merits of their options differently. It is vital that academic administrators understand these differences and know who makes up the ranks of their adjunct faculty, and what their motivations are, so that they can develop appropriate communication plans, career development, and teaching training.

Given the increasing numbers of adjunct faculty, accreditors' scrutiny of adjunct faculty hiring, increasing adjunct faculty organizing efforts, and the plethora of research that shows the importance of having qualified, trained and engaged adjunct faculty, the most successful schools are thinking more about their adjunct faculty.   

So, how well does your institution know your adjunct faculty?