Amidst the frequent headlines about budget and personnel cuts in higher education, one bright spot is the continuing growth of the non-traditional, for-profit sector. At Kaplan University, we are hiring between 60 and 70 new faculty members each month in fields such as business, IT, health sciences, criminal justice, legal studies, education, psychology, and political science. A substantial number of our faculty members teach full or part-time at traditional universities. Many of you reading this article may be a good fit for Kaplan or another institution in this sector. There are differences from traditional institutions you may have taught at or attended.
The faculty at non-traditional universities are, well, non-traditional. Some follow the typical professorial career path of undergrad degree, grad school with teaching assistantship, post-doctorate, then faculty appointment. The majority, however, follow other paths. Many are full time professionals who teach part time because they enjoy interacting with students and want to give back to their profession. A growing number are retirees from business and industry or traditional colleges who want to continue working part time with the flexibility of living anywhere and teaching online. Another important group wants part-time work because they are primary caregivers for children or the elderly.
Qualifications and Expectations
What they have in common is a love of teaching. They are energized by student questions, comments, challenges, concerns, and most importantly, success. In surveys of faculty engagement at Kaplan University, faculty members respond very positively that their “job provides a real sense of personal accomplishment.” Scott Robinson, humanities chair, sums it up when he says, “I’m motivated by the students. Many wouldn’t have the opportunity to earn a college degree if it weren’t for schools like Kaplan University. My personal mission is to reach underserved students and some students are underserved by traditional higher education.”
What qualities are non-traditional universities looking for in faculty? A master’s degree in their field is required for undergrad teaching, but not sufficient. There are also two qualities that are essential. First is the ability to give students feedback that helps them improve. Successful faculty members are able to give criticism that is motivating to the student, not demoralizing. The second is flexibility. Non-traditional universities primarily serve adult learners who are generally very demanding and can experience unexpected life changes. Professors who can adapt to the demands and circumstances of adult learners are highly valued. Interviews with prospective faculty include scenarios and case studies that assess candidates on these two qualities. Other desirable qualifications include experience with adult learners and a comfort level with instructional technology.
One doesn’t have to be a technological expert, but one does need to be comfortable using Internet tools and open to learning new ones. If you’re comfortable using email, instant messaging, and group meeting tools like Adobe Connect, you can teach online and we’ll teach you more advanced tools. The number of classes a faculty member teaches and hours spent on class work will vary among institutions. Kaplan has 10-week terms and professors typically spend 10 to 15 hours per week on course-related work such as responding to the discussion board, leading a seminar, and grading. Part-time faculty members normally teach two courses per term, although many teach only one. Full-time faculty members teach three or four per term. The average class size is under 30 students to encourage frequent professor-student interaction and provide the opportunity for faculty members to know students well.
Compensation for part-time faculty is similar to wages offered by traditional institutions and is based on qualifications, experience, which division the faculty member is teaching in and level of course, graduate or undergraduate, among other factors. The pay range on a per course basis is competitive. Part-time faculty members have the option of enrolling in health care coverage and can also participate in all faculty development programs and university governance processes. For example, the KU Faculty Senate president is a part time faculty member.
Although non-traditional universities don’t have a tenure system, they value long-term, successful faculty members. Professional development, therefore, is important. It begins before someone steps into a classroom on campus or online with an extensive orientation program covering basic tools, skills and expectations. At Kaplan University, this continues throughout the first year with two more workshops (online or on campus depending upon the teaching assignment) hosted by the Center for Teaching and Learning and close supervision with feedback from the department chair. Department meetings often include presentations by fellow faculty about teaching methods or new technology. Because courses are standardized, there is collective ownership and a community of scholars is created through discussion, debate and suggestions for course improvement. When multiple people teach the same course there is an abundance of best practices and resources to choose from and the course continually improves. New faculty are mentored by senior faculty and draw from this reservoir of experience and diversity.
At the university level, there are weekly workshops and events for faculty on a wide variety of topics. For example, in one week this summer there was a group discussion of The Art of Changing the Brain by James Zull, a brown bag discussion of the Second Life User’s Group and a presentation on Assessment of Student Learning. There were also six self-paced workshops available on a range of topics, including Advanced Learning Theories; Blended Learning, the Best of Both Worlds; and Using Wikis and Blogs in the Classroom. Each year, there are two faculty off-site meetings for all the full-time and many part-time faculty members as well as a week-long online conference with keynote addresses, paper presentations and forums. Faculty members are also encouraged and financially supported to attend disciplinary professional conferences and meetings.
The trend throughout higher education to rely increasingly on part-time faculty is more pronounced at non-traditional universities like Kaplan. Full-time faculty members and department chairs are typically hired from the ranks of the part-time faculty. Part-time faculty can also move into other full-time, professional positions within the institution such as faculty training and development roles or curriculum development positions. There are examples of individuals who have progressed from part time faculty to full time faculty, department chair, assistant dean and dean. This sector of higher education is growing rapidly, so the career path to academic administration is expanding.
For most faculty members, however, the goal and challenge of the university is to expand careers within the classroom. This includes trying new tools such as writing tablets, voice recognition software, wikis, blogs, audio seminars, and podcasts. Another option is working on course design and development. Curriculum development is an ongoing process both in revising existing courses and developing new ones as programs are added. This may mean faculty members have the opportunity to teach different courses over time. Some faculty members enjoy service on committees or the Faculty Senate while others take on the role of mentoring novices. Non-traditional universities attract faculty members who enjoy innovation and want to try new approaches. As these institutions grow, there is frequent opportunity to experiment, invent and explore.
Do’s and Don’ts
Non-traditional universities generally have a clear, focused teaching mission, which is highly valued. They serve a preponderance of adult students and frequently use online classrooms. The courses are standardized for consistency and quality. Consequently there are some faculty members who thrive here that may not in traditional universities and vice versa. Following is a list of do’s and don’ts to consider.
You don’t have to:
- Live in a particular city or drive to work.
- Get dressed for class.
- Be a great public speaker.
- Publish or perish.
- Be an expert in course design or test construction.
You do have to:
- Love teaching.
- Have at least a master’s degree in your teaching field.
- Give frequent, affirmative feedback.
- Challenge students to take the next step or think at another level.
- Try new methods, tools and strategies.
- Be a good colleague and share your best ideas.
- Help your students learn.
The Modern University
As the face of higher education continues to evolve, the modern university will undoubtedly become an amalgam of traditional and non-traditional faculty roles. Certainly, in the private, non-traditional sector, the focus is primarily on teaching and student outcomes. Course design is dynamic on purpose; it changes to reflect developments in the marketplace and broader workforce needs. The use of innovative teaching tools is central to helping bring greater access to adult learners. Mentoring, evaluation and feedback are ever present at colleges like Kaplan University, where we want to develop our faculty to their fullest potential in terms of engaging students and helping them achieve their personal goals.
David Clinefelter is provost of Kaplan University's online programs. The university, which is part of Kaplan Higher Education, serves more than 59,000 online and campus-based students.