Higher education has shifted its employment balance radically from tenure-track to non-tenure-track faculty. Studies show adjunct instructors are effective teachers and schools are saving money, but are adjuncts – and students – getting shorted? (Graph from AWPWriter.org / U.S. Department of Education)
By: Kimiya Manoochehri, Special to the Star
Remodeling higher education in efforts to keep it cost-efficient has included an increased dependency on adjunct faculty.But, while these part-time arrangements can infuse a faculty with fresh, real-world experience studies suggest a disturbing link between that reliance and declining graduation rates.
The accessibility of community colleges has made it possible for millions of people to return to or initially enroll in school. Over the past decade, the Current Population Survey has counted an increase of 4.5 million in annual college enrollment.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that in recent years, we have seen community colleges grow at four times the rate of four-year universities. At most of these schools across the nation are adjuncts, also known as “contingent,” or part-time, faculty. These are the instructors who are hired temporarily, usually on a one-year basis on renewable contracts.
Adjunct faculty member at Valley College Dan Watanabe weighed in on the subject. “Adjunct faculty are a fiscal way of life for most schools in terms of maintaining their budgets as well as having a diverse and robust teaching force.”
Yet, it used to be that adjuncts made up about a quarter of college instructors.Since 2008 surveys have revealed only 27 percent of higher education instructors were full time or on the tenure track to becoming full time. The other 73 percent is composed of adjunct or part-time professors.
Watanabe, a Broadcasting instructor, also teaches in an adjunct capacity at Loyola Marymount. He considers adjuncts particularly beneficial due to the experience they bring into the classroom.
“I work very closely with my students,” Watanabe said, regarding the part-time faculty experience. “[I] feelthat a combination of adjunct and full-time faculty presents students with the best of both worlds in terms of combining the real-world current experience of adjunct with the long term full time experience of tenured faculty.”
However, working in an adjunct capacity means working with the possibility that a contract will not be renewed, creating a lack of job security. Adjunct faculty have at times been paid as little as half as much as their tenured counterparts. Assigned hours for part-time faculty sometimes do not qualify them for health insurance, adding to their financial burdens.
Moreover, surveys conducted by the American Association of University Professors, show that more than half of contingent faculty are looking for full-time positions and working multiple jobs. These temporary positions and limited resources can lead to less time to devote to students. These opportunities, for teachers and their students to meet outside the classroom, are relied on by many students.
According to Adrianna Kezar’s USC-based initiative, “The Imperative for Change: Understanding the Necessity of Changing Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Policies and Practices,” there is a problematic inverse correlation between the increased number of adjuncts on campus and the student transfer and graduation rate; that is, more adjuncts on a campus statistically lead to diminished retention rates.
Cost-effective ways of resolving this imbalance are suggested in a paper by the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success. Better benefits and pay for the contingent faculty, may not be possible in district budgets. Protections for academic freedom in faculty handbooks are one accessible change to the system, as is proportional representation in faculty governance, and due process rights for non-tenure-track faculty in the rehiring process. These existing and efficient strategies are some of many that have been proposed to resolve mistreatment of part time faculty.