The Part-Time Satisfaction Gap

Study of community college faculty finds that the lack of benefits is seen by adjuncts as a greater problem than low salaries.
April 16, 2009

SAN DIEGO -- If community colleges want to make an impact on the job satisfaction of adjuncts, it's time to focus on benefits. That was one conclusion of a study of the job satisfaction of part-time faculty members at two-year institutions, presented Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

The study -- by Paul D. Umbach of North Carolina State University and Ryan Wells of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst -- was based on a national database of the attitudes of more than 5,700 community college faculty members at nearly 300 institutions. Umbach said it was important to examine adjunct job satisfaction because so many community colleges depend on part timers to teach a large share of courses, and because adjuncts are so diverse. With some part timers not relying on their teaching jobs economically, but others totally relying on colleges as employers, colleges need a better sense of just what adjuncts think about their jobs, Umbach said.

The bottom line is that part timers are less satisfied with their jobs than are their full-time counterparts.

Adjuncts are 8 percentage points less likely than full timers to say that they would pursue an academic career again and 9 percentage points less likely to say that they are satisfied with their jobs.

It will come as no surprise that adjuncts are less satisfied than are full-time faculty members with their pay and benefits. After all, only about a third of the part-time faculty members in the study receive benefits and their pay, even on a proportional comparison, lags full-time salaries. But on benefits, the gap in satisfaction levels is greater. In addition, the study found that when part-time faculty members receive some benefits, not only does the satisfaction gap on benefits grow smaller, but so does the satisfaction gap on salary.

Umbach said that, given the terrible economy, many colleges may hesitate about equalizing salaries for adjuncts, but adding some benefits may be a sound way to build part timers' sense that their institutions care about them. Umbach said that the tone of some discussions about adjuncts has a "blame the victim" feel, as college officials wonder why part-timers without offices or time to spend on campus don't spend more time with students. Shifting the discussion to looking at what adjuncts need to be more satisfied may be more productive and equitable, he said.

Some of the other findings of the study:

  • Having a union is positively associated with part-time faculty members' job satisfaction.
  • Community college faculty members with Ph.D.'s report lower job satisfaction than those without doctorates.
  • The larger the percentage of a faculty that is part time, the lower the job satisfaction of full-time faculty members is likely to be.

Umbach said that he was not surprised by the last finding, given that faculty members pay attention to how others at the institution are treated, and think about what that could mean for them. "Even if I have tenure, I may feel my position is more tenuous if no one around me does," he said.


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