All community and technical college educators know that the use of adjunct faculty keeps rising dramatically. Part-time instructors now teach most sections at schools in metropolitan areas. There are a number of managerial and financial issues associated with this trend, not to mention the thorny (and still unresolved with any clarity) dilemma of who gets health and retirement benefits.
But is student learning affected when adjunct instruction becomes the "new normal"?
Obviously this a key question, but difficult to measure. One way to do it might be to look at grades (dissertation anyone?). A few studies have turned up over the years, but nothing conclusive. Speaking hypothetically, if students make higher grades with part-time teachers, one factor we would want to examine is whether this variable is driven by lower job security among part-timers. Such a phenomenon would be difficult to quantify, but must always be in the back of our minds, especially given the current atmosphere regarding student success.
When colleges and universities are accredited (in Texas by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) they are scrutinized in a variety of areas, using criteria that must be validated by current practices. If institutions can't prove worthiness, it's a problem.
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation recently published a paper that is attracting a lot of attention. Here's the full document.
From the group's Web site:
A national advocate and institutional voice for self-regulation of academic quality through accreditation, CHEA is an association of 3,000 degree-granting colleges and universities and recognizes 60 institutional and programmatic accrediting organizations.
Included in the narrative are many negative educational consequences that stem from the exploding numbers of adjuncts. It contains references to important studies and gets right to the heart of the problem.
Please peruse the entire document, but here is a sample:
Connections Between Non-Tenure-Track Faculty and Student Learning
It is important to understand the connections between higher education’s growing reliance on non-tenure-track faculty and student learning and to continue to research these issues. Although working conditions vary across the academy and even within a single institution, many faculty—particularly part-timers—face poor working conditions that are commonly characterized by one or more of the following circumstances:
- Last minute hiring decisions and a lack of time to prepare for providing instruction: Last minute scheduling and hiring of instructional faculty impedes preparation for teaching and diminishes the quality of instruction a faculty member is able to provide to students.
- A lack of access to orientation, mentoring, and professional development opportunities, including on-campus programming and funding to attend conferences and seminars off-campus: A lack of access to professional development impacts faculty adoption and use of current pedagogical approaches and teaching strategies that inform the development of course and learning goals and the sequencing of concepts. Other opportunities for faculty development such as mentoring, wherein NTTFs may be paired with a tenure-track faculty member or an experienced full- or part-time NTTF, may not exist on every campus, limiting sharing of information and ideas about improving instructional practices. Also, when faculty are not provided an orientation to the institution or their department when they are hired, they may not receive important information about academic policies, forms of support that are available to them and their students, or information about the institutional mission and a profile of the students served
- Exclusion from curriculum design and decision making: By excluding non-tenure-track faculty from curriculum design or forcing them to utilize rigid course guidelines, department chairs and others may not recognize the expertise and talents of such faculty, creating scenarios where courses are created without consideration of students’ capabilities and interests, textbooks do not match objectives, learning goals and courses are misaligned, problems with a course or the curriculum broadly are not addressed, and opportunities for capturing non-tenure-track faculty expertise are missed.
- A lack of access to office space, instructional resources, and staff support: Non-tenure-track faculty, particularly those on part-time contracts, are not always provided office space on campus where they can meet with students for advising or to discuss confidential matters, interact with colleagues, and build networks and social capital for improving courses and instructional quality. They may also lack access to basic materials for instruction, equipment such as computers and copiers, institutional email and library accounts, and administrative support staff. If access to resources and staff is not ensured, NTTFs may have to support themselves, procure their own resources or go without them, or find alternatives. This seemingly unnecessary exercise takes time away from teaching preparation and students.
These conditions are problematic, but so are inequitable compensation, job insecurity, the denial of healthcare benefits and retirement plans, exclusion from meaningful participation in governance and professional development, and a lack of respect for non-tenure-track faculty from tenured faculty and administrators on many campuses.
The cumulative impact of working conditions impede the ability of individual instructors to interact with students and apply their many talents, creativity, and varied knowledge to maximum effect in the classroom. Many prior studies and reports have been used to justify a positive working environment for tenured and tenure-track faculty. Yet, the same rationale is not always applied to the fastest-growing segment of the faculty on our campuses. It is important to acknowledge that findings do not—or should not—implicate non-tenure-track faculty, as individuals, as being responsible for negative outcomes. In fact, research finds that these faculty, whose primary responsibility is to teach undergraduate students, are largely committed to teaching and student learning, and often bring useful professional and real-world experience to their work, enhancing the classroom experience. Moreover, many non-tenure track faculty contribute their own time and resources far beyond contractual requirements or compensation out of a sense of commitment or professional duty to support student success. Providing adequate support and opportunities for involvement, though, can contribute to and advance efforts to improve student learning outcomes. In their 2010 study, Jaeger and Eagan uncovered a system of support and development for contingent faculty at several research universities, which included participation by part-time faculty in new faculty orientations and targeted attention to address common challenges that part-time faculty face such as large class sizes and a lack of knowledge of campus academic support services and resources for students. The authors’ findings suggest that more purposeful integration of contingent faculty into the life and operations of the institution promises to contribute to improving student success.
Another recent study by Figlio, Schapiro, and Soter (2013) of courses taught by part-time faculty at Northwestern University demonstrates that NTTFs can foster the same and sometimes even better learning outcomes for students as tenure-track faculty. This research has been interpreted by some as challenging other studies, which suggest that increasing numbers of NTTF, who often experience poor working conditions, are having an adverse effect on the quality of teaching and learning. These findings, though, are limited to students and faculty at a single institution, where even the authors note that the institutional context is different and perhaps more privileged than at many other institutions. As hypothesized by many researchers, it is not the tenure-track status alone that affects quality, but whether or not appropriate policies and practices are in place to support faculty.
Diminished Graduation and Retention Rates
Increased reliance on NTT faculty, particularly part-time, has been found to negatively impact retention and graduation rates. Ehrenberg and Zhang (2004) and Jaeger and Eagan (2009) found that graduation rates declined as proportions of NTT faculty increased. Increases in part-timers have an even greater impact on graduation rates, as well on retention (Jacoby, 2006). Harrington and Schibik (2001) tied lower retention to reliance on these faculty.
Decreased Transfer from Two- to Four-Year Institutions
Gross and Goldhaber (2009) found that students at two-year colleges that had more full-time, tenured faculty were more likely to transfer to four-year institutions. They found a 4 percent increase in transfers to four-year institutions per 10 percent increase in the proportion of tenured faculty. Eagan and Jaeger (2008) also found increased proportions of part-time faculty were correlated with lower transfer rates. About 80 percent of two-year faculty are NTT faculty.
Negative Effects of Early Exposure to Part-Time Faculty
In a study of college freshmen, Harrington and Schibik (2001) found that increased exposure to part-time faculty was significantly associated with lower second-semester retention rates, lower GPAs, and fewer attempted credit hours. Jaegar & Eagan (2010) found similar effects on retention when part-time faculty are not adequately supported. Bettinger and Long (2010) found early exposure had a negative effect on students’ major selection.
Part-Time Faculty Often Have a More Pronounced Adverse Effect
Unlike part-time faculty, full-time NTT faculty practices often parallel those of tenured and tenure-track faculty (Baldwin and Wawrzynski, 2011). Most studies focusing on the differences in effects find that more negative outcomes are tied to part-timers’ limited time for faculty-student interaction and limited access to instructional resources, staff, and development opportunities, as well as a lack of participation in contributing to the design of courses and curriculum (Eagan & Jaeger, 2008; Harrington and Schibik, 2001; Jacoby, 2006).