SAGE Musings: Adjuncts

Carol Ormand, SERC, Carleton College
Author Profile
published May 31, 2017

Nearly half of the people who teach undergraduate courses are part-time/adjunct faculty members, sometimes called "contingent faculty," and that number approaches 70% at two-year colleges (AFT Higher Education, 2010). Part-time or contingent instructors teach 58 percent of community college classes and 53 percent of their students (CCCSE, 2014). Responses to a national survey of part-time/adjunct faculty members indicate that of the part-time/adjunct faculty in the U.S.:

  • Nearly 3/4 have taught at their institution for more than five years, and more than 2/5 have taught at their institution for more than ten years;
  • Approximately half would prefer full-time employment;
  • Only 2/5 have retirement benefits; and
  • Just over 1/4 have health insurance through their institution (AFT Higher Education, 2010).

"[W]hen colleges' commitment to part-time faculty is contingent, the contingent commitment may be reciprocated". In other words, salary and benefits for part-time/adjunct faculty are disproportionately lower than those of full-time permanent faculty, and many part-time/adjunct faculty are therefore minimally engaged in activities beyond the courses they teach (CCCSE, 2014). Just how disproportionate are salaries? "While the average faculty member makes anywhere between $60,000 to $198,000 a year (frequently for a course load of two or three courses per semester) most adjuncts are paid somewhere between $2,500 to $4,000 per course" (Hoff, 2014). Of course, these statistics include faculty at 2YCs and 4YCUs.

The use of part-time/adjunct faculty has many consequences. Everything that happens outside of the classroom falls to full-time faculty: student advising, developing programs/curricula, and institutional governance. Part-time/adjunct faculty may or may not be expected, or even invited, to attend department meetings. In addition, part-time/adjunct faculty are less likely to participate in professional development opportunities and less likely to use high-impact educational practices (CCCSE, 2014). There is considerable speculation about how this impacts student learning.

Working with adjuncts

Given that the use of part-time/adjunct faculty is ubiquitous in higher education, what can we do to engage them in activities related to the goals of the SAGE 2YC project? And what can we do to become their allies? Despite the fact that part-time/adjunct faculty are responsible for the majority of instructional time at two-year colleges, they typically receive significantly less support than permanent, full-time faculty (CCCSE, 2014). Here are a few suggestions from Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE, 2014), all of which can be implemented by any two-year college faculty member:

  • Invite part-time/adjunct faculty to participate in professional development activities, such as SAGE 2YC regional workshops and webinars you hear about through your networks;
  • Make sure that part-time/adjunct faculty are aware of institutional resources that provide support to faculty members;
  • Make sure that part-time/adjunct faculty are aware of institutional resources that provide support to students;
  • Lobby your institution to designate secure spaces for part-time/adjunct faculty to store their teaching materials between classes and quiet spaces for them to meet with students outside of classes;
  • Connect part-time/adjunct faculty members with faculty mentors;
  • Provide opportunities for part-time/adjunct faculty members to connect with other faculty in the department, program, and institution; and
  • Offer opportunities for performance review and feedback, and recognition of professional contributions and excellence, to all part-time/adjunct faculty.

Some of these are easier to implement if you are the department or program chair, but anyone can make a point of publicly praising colleagues for their work. Likewise, any faculty member can suggest that a group of faculty take turns sitting in on each other's classes to offer feedback to each other, and part-time/adjunct faculty may be more comfortable with peer feedback than with a more formal performance review. In fact, because of the nature of their positions, many part-time/adjunct faculty members may worry that a poor formal review will jeopardize their employment.

There are also strategies that can be implemented at the institutional level (CCCSE, 2014). For example, William Rainey Harper College, in IL, has a Center for Adjunct Faculty Engagement (CAFE), which offers professional development specifically for the college's adjunct faculty members. CAFE staff, who have no hiring or supervisory role over faculty members, visit classrooms and offer pedagogical feedback to all new part-time/adjunct faculty. Richland College, in TX, has a support center and work area called the Adjunct Faculty College Center and Evening/Weekend Support Services (ACCESS). ACCESS is open six days a week, including evenings. Lake-Sumter State College, in FL, has an online orientation program - making it easy for part-time/adjunct faculty to find the information they need about institutional offices and services. Institutions can also mitigate second-class status by calling part-time/adjunct faculty "faculty" (rather than instructors, for example) and by recognizing long-term part-time/adjunct faculty with titles such as "associate faculty" (CCCSE, 2014).

If you would like to start a conversation on your campus about how to strengthen the engagement of part-time/adjunct faculty, the Center for Community College Student Engagement has suggestions for framing the discussion, in their report cited here (CCCSE, 2014, p. 25). Is it time to start a conversation on your campus?


AFT Higher Education, 2010. American Academic: A national survey of part-time/adjunct faculty. Retrieved from

Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE), 2014. Contingent Commitments: Bringing part-time faculty into focus. Retrieved from

Hoff, James, 2014. Are adjunct professors the fast-food workers of the academic world?. Retrieved from

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