Strategic Utilization of Adjunct and Other Contingent Faculty

June 2014
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The evolution of the faculty workforce model has far-reaching implications for colleges and universities, students and other stakeholders. Today, approximately 30% of faculty are tenure track. The remaining 70% who are nontenure track, also commonly referred to as contingent faculty, can be further divided into full-time (20%) and part-time (50%). Part-time nontenure-track faculty are also known as adjunct faculty. A range of individuals fill adjunct and other contingent faculty positions. At one end of the spectrum are faculty who bring expertise from the nonacademic sector into the classroom, sometimes referred to as "professors of practice." At the spectrum's other end is the stereotypical adjunct, i.e., a professional academic employed part-time. Drivers for employing nontenure-track faculty include bringing professional experience into the curriculum, providing institutional flexibility, and cost savings. Concerns have been raised regarding the student experience and learning outcomes in adjunct-taught courses. Any negative effects likely result from the environment of adjunct-taught classes rather than poor teaching by the faculty. In particular, mentoring and advising of students outside the classroom is typically missing. Adjuncts may be fine classroom teachers, but they don’t have the time to do other things that socialize students to college academics. What then constitutes best practices for ensuring good outcomes in courses taught by adjunct and other contingent faculty? This was the focus of a pair of sessions at the 2014 TIAA client forum and prior interviews with higher education administrators and researchers who study higher education.