Part-time, adjunct faculty members make up the bulk of teaching staff at the nation’s community colleges. Community colleges have made headlines the last few years as state budget cuts to higher education have negatively impacted these institutions at virtually every level.
Part-time, adjunct teachers often lack vital requirements, experience and work benefits that place the nation’s most vulnerable college students in further need.
According to Contingent Commitments: Bringing Part-Time Faculty Into Focus, a new report by the Center for Community College Student Engagement, community colleges rely on part-time, “contingent” instructors to teach 58 percent of their courses. In real numbers, these part-timers teach 53 percent of students at two-year state colleges.
A lack of access to full-time professors creates a deficient learning environment for students who need the most help, and are least likely to succeed at college. The prime reason is that three-quarters of faculty members who teach remedial courses are not able to give students the support they need since these instructors are employed part-time.
Kay McClenney, director of the center that issued the report said about these findings, “It confirms our worst fears.” McClenney acknowledged that the report findings on remedial instructors are most disturbing. “We’ve got work to do,” she said.
Part-timers typically earn much less and receive little if any benefits, such as health insurance and sick leave. These instructors are hired semester to semester and often do not know if they will be hired again, as their employment usually depends on funding issues which impact course cuts and hiring. As a result of these belt-tightening tactics, part-time instructors have become a “fundamental feature of the model that sustains” community colleges, according to the center’s report. The report adds that part-time instructors comprise 70 percent of community college new hires. Many of these part-time instructors are excellent teachers and committed to their students, but a reality of marginalization wears thin their ability to give students the educational access that full-time or tenured professors can provide.
The report says about part-time instructors, “Their access to orientation, professional development, administrative and technology support, office space and accommodations for meeting with students typically is limited, unclear or inconsistent.” In addition the report states, “Moreover, part-time faculty have infrequent opportunities to interact with peers about teaching and learning.”
The Center for Community College Student Engagement released its report to coincide with the recent annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges (April 5- April 8, 2014). The incentive for the report, according to director McClenney, was the awareness that faculty working conditions are a “stumbling block” to student completion rates at community colleges.
While there has been a shift among community college faculty and leaders to make student retention and graduation rates an increased goal, in addition to keeping the historic focus on open-door admissions, for progress to happen dependence on part-time faculty needs to be addressed.
Community college adjuncts have less of everything compared to full-time professors at their institutions: education, experience, office space, support, and benefits. For many community college part-time instructors a bachelor’s degree is their highest degree earned. They also have less teaching experience, and tenure is nonexistent for them.
As most community colleges are strapped for money, hiring tenure-track professors is out of the question. Dependency on part-time faculty becomes the way to go, with seemingly no other realistic options for the colleges.
In spite of the economic realities community colleges face, the report said there are steps the institutions can take to provide better campus integration for adjuncts, such as inviting adjuncts to participate in curricular discussions or institutional governance, which are low-cost options.
The report also cites several case studies of colleges that have found ways to support their part-time faculty better.
As an example, Richland College in Texas provides a range of professional development opportunities for all faculty, adjuncts included. The college pays an average of $23 per hour for faculty members to take part in training that supports the college initiatives such as the national completion-oriented Achieving the Dream. In addition, part-time faculty have their own work area, and can use the center that includes a copy center, computer support, student records information, mailboxes, lockers, and a break room. Little things like having a locker can make a difference, according to the record. It may be a small effort but attention like that is at least symbolic in its attempts to show that adjuncts are respected professionals and employees.
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