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A Roadmap to Engaging Part-Time Faculty in High-Impact Practices
Part-time faculty account for more than two-thirds of the corps of instruction for community colleges in the United States. This figure has steadily increased from 46.3 percent in 2003 and constitutes a radical change from 1975, when that percentage was only 30.2 percent (American Association of University Professors 2006). While the hiring of part-time faculty certainly increases institutional financial flexibility in times of rapid enrollment changes, recent studies indicate that community college students who have a significant percentage of their coursework taught by part-time instructors experience lower transfer and degree completion rates. With funding formulas and accreditation standards increasingly focused on student completion as an indicator of institutional performance and mission fulfillment, these data should capture the attention of college leaders. If we rely heavily on the part-time faculty teaching corps and do not provide necessary support—even to allow for such faculty to have significant presence on campus—how can we expect to achieve our goals for the quality and completion agendas?
We want to emphasize from the outset that such concerns should not be construed as criticism of part-time faculty generally, only institutional practices that fail to support this group of faculty and the reality that “part-time” means less time on campus to be engaged with students or to be involved with conversations about curriculum and learning. Although our contexts are very different—one of us is from a community college and the other from a university—we find that both of our institutions rely heavily on part-time faculty and their expertise and passion for teaching. We suggest that much of the student success gap has less to do with the classic stereotype of the harried, distracted, and underpaid part-timer, and far more to do with a lack of institutional intentionality in professional development for part-time faculty, a decided lack of access to institutional resources, and a failure to include these faculty in curricular and policy decisions. We concur with the Delphi Project in The Changing Faculty and Student Success report: “In order to create change, we need to challenge the myth that current employment approaches are working. Current practices make it more difficult to serve the institutional mission and are also morally bankrupt” (2013, 16). Rather than viewing part-time faculty as a problem, we advise a careful review of institutional factors that support or fail to support the work of such a substantial percentage of the faculty teaching in our colleges.
Working Conditions and Impact on Completion and Success
A review of the existing literature on the impact of high reliance on part-time faculty points to a single, unshakable conclusion: in a great many instances, we treat these faculty poorly. The typical part-time faculty member
- earns a median per course pay of $2,700 (Coalition on the Academic Workforce 2012)
- shares an office and most likely a computer and phone with other part-time faculty (if any office space is provided at all);
- gains little in the way of credential-associated pay advances or benefits from higher wages based on years of service or other mechanisms for advancement;
- has minimal inclusion in academic decision making; and,
- receives few professional development opportunities or incentives.
As a result of simple gaps in institutional support—access to adequate offices or e-mail or contact with full-time colleagues—student learning suffers. The gaps have very real effects on student success measures: research by M. Kevin Eagan, Jr., and Audrey Jaeger consistently reveals a negative correlation between high exposures to part-time faculty and both graduation (2009) and transfer completion (2009) for community college students. For community colleges, academic administrators need to examine closely how they support the work of their part-time faculty.
Reports from the Field: AAC&U Roadmap Colleges
In this section we share “reports from the field” from several of the AAC&U’s Developing a Community College Roadmap project colleges. The Roadmap project supports community colleges to enhance student success through intentional best practices across academic and student affairs. In preparation for this article, AAC&U’s Roadmap project campuses were surveyed at the High-Impact Practices (HIPs) and Student Success Institute in June 2013. Additionally, both authors are engaged in their campuses’ Roadmap projects.
Lane Community College
Lane Community College is a large comprehensive community college serving a nearly 5,000 square mile district in western Oregon. A few demographics of our faculty illustrate how the recent enrollment surge influenced staffing patterns. In 2007–08, prior to the first wave of the enrollment surge, Lane had 555 faculty, of whom 42 percent were contracted (full-time) and 58 percent were part-time. Four years later we had hired an additional 127 faculty; of these, 83 percent were part-time, bringing the full-time/part-time ratio to 37 percent to 63 percent.
When we look at sections taught by part-time faculty we see the direct impact of these hiring patterns. In the Science Division, for example, 59 percent of transfer sections were taught by part-time faculty in 2007–08; in 2011–12, this percentage had increased to 66 percent. A memorandum of understanding between the college and the faculty association allowed both full-time and part-time faculty to teach “overloads” of up to two classes above a normal load. For full-time faculty at Lane a normal load is typically nine to twelve classes over three quarters. For part-time faculty, the load was five to seven classes over three quarters, depending upon credit-load. With the overloads the lines between workload, but not pay levels, of contracted and part-time faculty begin to blur.
At Lane, many adjuncts are long-time employees and care deeply about course outcomes and student success. Like their full-time counterparts, they teach the way they want to, using pedagogies they feel best support student learning. Outside the classroom there is less commonality. Full-time faculty are on campus more. They have larger, private offices, some with windows! They are likely to have a newer desk and a decent desk chair with one or more side chairs for students who visit during up to five designated office hours each week. By contrast, part-time faculty have few office hours, share their offices and office equipment with up to four “time-sharing” colleagues, get the hand-me-down desks and chairs, rarely attend discipline or division meetings, and often feel detached from the work of the college.
All faculties are represented by the Lane Community College Education Association (LCCEA). The faculty union has successfully bargained many provisions that support the work of part-time faculty. These include a structure for part-time faculty seniority and step-advances in pay; access to faculty professional development funds and activities, such as faculty interest groups; and developmental faculty evaluations that support the professional growth of faculty. Beyond these measures, part-time faculty may request curriculum development funding for projects of value to their disciplines and may participate in funded projects sponsored by learning communities, the assessment team, and other sources of funding on campus. Project funding ranges from anywhere from $300 to $3,000 depending upon the objectives; even small projects allow faculty members to work with others on topics relevant to engaged learning and assessment in the classroom. Increasingly college committees are developing membership by-laws that include at least one part-time faculty member in funded roles. Both full-time and part-time faculty can receive faculty recognition awards which are based on student nominations. These are steps in the right direction to engage part-time faculty as contributors to the broad work of the college.
The University of North Georgia
The University of North Georgia (UNG) is a public institution in a right-to-work state, serving some thirty counties in northeast Georgia. UNG, a newly consolidated institution, is a public master’s institution that maintains a significant emphasis on associate’s and transfer-bound students through the University College. As of fall 2012 (prior to consolidation), part-time faculty at UNG accounted for approximately 43 percent of the instructional faculty; for University College campuses, the percentage was 52 percent. Part-time faculty at UNG and within the University System of Georgia (USG) are typically limited to a teaching load of less than half of that of full-time faculty, which amounts to about fifteen credit hours per academic year for UNG, and system policy forbids exceeding these credit hour limits through employment at multiple USG institutions. Our part-time faculty members have access to shared offices and office support, usually with comparable equipment. Some of the offices do have the ever-coveted windows, but many lack places to lock away personal items. All UNG faculty are assigned institutional e-mail addresses, phone numbers (though sharing the numbers limits their usefulness), and access to the student information system on all of UNG’s campuses.
All part-time faculty at UNG are required to attend an orientation and are assigned a faculty mentor, though support for the mentorship program has declined as the budgets have tightened. The orientation covers expectations, the handbook, FERPA, and other essentials. Though part-time faculty were not included in our professional development model within our Roadmap project, our work within it has made clear the need to extend development in engaged pedagogies to the entire faculty. UNG’s part-time faculty are encouraged to attend on-campus professional development opportunities, but attendance is not incentivized, so exposure to development focused on high-impact practices (HIPs) may be very limited. Further, while students evaluate UNG faculty every semester, robust peer evaluations are less common and could be valuable in assessing how widespread HIPs are within the part-time faculty. However, many of our part-time faculty, as with Lane’s, have been with the institution for several years, and we witness time and again their deep commitment to student learning and to professional development, which they often seek out for themselves. To that end, we are fortunate to have an administration supportive of recognizing the teaching success of part-time faculty through annual awards.
More Stories from the Field
Lane and UNG offer differing stories about the opportunities for part-time faculty support, but they collect within them many of the common practices we found within Roadmap institutions. Here again we found a range of situations, but several of these community colleges do mandate or provide professional development opportunities for their part-time faculty. Two particularly noteworthy institutions are Brookdale Community College (BCC) and the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC). BCC does not mandate professional development nor incentivize it, but part-time faculty are encouraged to attend summer workshops, and the college runs a statewide adjunct network in New Jersey. CCBC has a well-regarded institutional commitment to culturally responsive teaching, and they reach out to part-time faculty to ensure their development within this framework. Such simple commitments, where the only incentive available may be food, can go far to improve both the situation for part-time faculty and the student learning in their classrooms.
Steering in a New Direction: Supporting and Engaging Part-Time Faculty
What makes the Roadmap campus experiences so intriguing is that the projects each campus developed, or are in the process of developing, are fundamentally rooted in George Kuh’s work on HIPs as a means of engaging students. Many of the HIPs are classroom-based, in keeping with the substantial research by Vincent Tinto and others that reminds us that “for many students, especially in community colleges, if involvement does not occur in the classroom, it is unlikely to occur at all” (Tinto 2012, 68). Pedagogies and practices of engagement, such as service learning, diversity/global studies, and project-based learning, require professional development support for all faculty. Most of us did not experience these ourselves as students, and we were less likely to experience rich, authentic assessments related to engaged learning. We know that well-constructed HIPs are transformative for student learning, so connecting part-time faculty to these practices seems an obvious thing to do. However, the too common practices of single-term contracts and just-in-time hiring, as well as weak or non-existent formative evaluation procedures, may themselves inhibit pedagogical exploration (Kezar 2012; Rhoades 2013). What can well-intentioned colleges do to improve the working conditions of the growing part-time faculty and student engagement with them? Here are a few suggestions we can offer, based on our read of the literature and our practical experiences as academic administrators and former faculty members, both full-time and part-time:
- Examine existing professional development structures, including those supported by committees, divisions, or disciplines to see how opportunities can be expanded to include part-time faculty. Can a relatively small investment of funding broaden your inclusivity?
- Examine “power and privilege” differences in the “geospatial” aspects of faculty work. Can you replace worn out computers, desks, and chairs to make faculty life for all members more equitable?
- Evaluate the orientation, mentoring, and recognition opportunities for part-time faculty. Does the orientation position part-time faculty to be integrated into the life of the institution? Are engaged pedagogies discussed? Is the mentoring program formal or casual? Do your recognition systems value all faculty? Can contract structures be altered for long-time part-time faculty members to cover multiple years or multiple terms?
What we know about why students succeed and the significance of their engaging with faculty demands that we create spaces and situations where such opportunities can occur. An institutional roadmap toward improving conditions for two-thirds of our faculties will help higher education improve student outcomes and, more importantly, help students to reach their educational goals.
American Association of University Professors. 2006. AAUP Contingent Faculty Index.
Coalition on the Academic Workforce. 2012. A Portrait of Part-Time Faculty Members. http://www.academicworkforce.org/survey.html.
The Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success. 2013. “Report on the Project Working Meeting.” http://www.thechangingfaculty.org/.
Eagen, Jr., M. K., and A. J. Jaeger. 2009. “Effects of Exposure to Part-time Faculty on Community College Transfer.” Research in Higher Education 50: 168–188.
Jaeger, A. J., and M. K. Eagen, Jr. 2009. “Unintended Consequences: Examining the Effects of Part-Time Faculty Members on Associate’s Degree Completion.” Community College Review 36 (3): 167–194.
Jaeger, A. J. 2008. “Contingent Faculty and Student Outcomes.” Academe 94 (6): 42–43.
Kezar, A. 2012. “Toward High-Impact Non-Tenure-Track Faculty.” Peer Review 14 (3): 31.
Kuh, G. D. 2008. High-Impact Educational Practices: What They are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Rhoades, G. 2013. “Bargaining Quality in Part-time Faculty Working Conditions: Beyond Just-In-Time Employment and Just-At-Will Non-Renewal,” Journal of Collective Bargaining in the Academy: 4(4). http://thekeep.eiu.edu/jcba/vol4/iss1/4
Tinto, V. 2012. Completing College: Rethinking Institutional Action. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Kristen Roney is an associate vice president and dean at University College, University of North Georgia. Sarah L. Ulerick is the division dean, Science, at Lane Community College