Community Colleges Can Foster Student Success by Supporting Their Adjuncts

April 07, 2014

When community colleges fail to support the part-time faculty members who teach more than half of the classes offered at such institutions, they are fostering a culture that creates a barrier to student success, according to a new report.

Part-time faculty members, themselves marginalized on campuses, are more likely to teach struggling students, says the report, which was produced by the Center for Community College Student Engagement, at the University of Texas at Austin. And that dynamic is most pronounced in developmental (or remedial) courses, where more than three-quarters of faculty members are adjuncts.

"Too often, students’ education experiences are contingent on the employment status of the faculty members they happen to encounter," reads the report, "Contingent Commitments: Bringing Part-Time Faculty Into Focus." It is being released here today during the American Association of Community Colleges’ annual convention.

One of the report’s main points—that faculty working conditions equal student learning conditions—is consistent with the message laid out in other recent examinations of the professional lives of adjuncts, including the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success and "Who Is Professor ‘Staff’?," by the Center for the Future of Higher Education and New Faculty Majority.

Adjuncts typically are hired at the last minute, and, once on the job, they lack access to orientation, professional development, administrative and technology support, and office space. They also don’t get the chance to network with peers about teaching and learning, and they’re shut out of campus discussions on how to improve student learning.

As a result, many part-time faculty members are "essentially working with one hand tied behind their backs," the report says.

An Incentive for Change

With the stakes so high when it comes to student success, the report says, community colleges have a real incentive to change the environment in which part-time instructors work. The report suggests that community colleges have conversations about how to support adjunct faculty members, include them in discussions, create clear pathways to full-time employment, and recognize part-timers’ accomplishment with additional pay when possible.

Alternatives to extra money could include allowing them to demonstrate effective teaching strategies to their peers or giving them titles, such as "associate faculty," that don’t imply second-class status on the campus.

"Colleges need to do a better job of working with part-time faculty because engaging all faculty is a vital step toward meeting college-completion goals," the report says.

The report also includes data on the characteristics of part-time faculty members at community colleges. A bachelor’s degree is the highest level of education earned by 13 percent of adjuncts, compared with 8 percent of full-time faculty members. Meanwhile, 37 percent of part-timers have fewer than five years of teaching experience, compared with 13 percent of full-timers.

A handful of colleges that have made exceptional efforts to engage adjuncts are highlighted in the report. Among them are:

  • Valencia College, in Florida, which offers campuswide and department-specific orientation programs, an extensive array of professional-development opportunities, and the chance to become "associate faculty," a designation that comes with a pay increase and the possibility of full-time employment.
  • North Central Michigan College, which created a new position, director of adjunct faculty, to oversee the hiring of part-time faculty members and to coordinate orientation and professional development for them.
  • Bristol Community College, in Massachusetts, where administrators allowed part-time faculty members to take the lead on developing a seminar designed to prepare first-year students to succeed in gateway courses.