Bringing Adjuncts to the Table

Six colleges will pilot an initiative to increase adjunct faculty engagement in their campuses’ completion agendas.

August 5, 2016

Student success initiatives tend to work better on campuses where faculty members are engaged.

So Achieving the Dream, the nonprofit organization that advocates for institutional improvement at community colleges, is unveiling a new initiative that will help part-time faculty members become more active in their colleges' reform efforts, with the help of full-time faculty.

"The idea is to have faculty leading this," said Jon Iuzzini, associate director of teaching and learning for Achieving the Dream. "Faculty members have sometimes been left out and they're not the starting point, but in this initiative they are …. There will be teams of full-time faculty, adjuncts and other administrators from academic and student affairs that will be collaborating to develop new programs to support adjunct faculty."

Each college and campus will develop its own method or programs that will eventually increase adjunct engagement. They can do so by creating mentoring programs between part-timers and their more experienced adjunct or full-time colleagues, or it could mean adjuncts and full-time faculty teach courses together.

"We want adjunct faculty more strongly connected to everything their institution is doing around student success, and that begins in the classroom and supporting their development as teachers, but also showing them how an institution handles advising or an early alert system," Iuzzini said. "We want adjuncts just as well informed of these opportunities for students."

ATD is piloting the two-year initiative at six colleges -- Harper College in Illinois, the Community College of Baltimore County, Patrick Henry Community College in Virginia, Delta College in Michigan, the Community College of Philadelphia and Renton Technical College in Washington state.

"It goes to the heart of the classroom and what happens with the student -- that's probably the most significant part," said Angeline Godwin, president of Patrick Henry. "So for every student, regardless if they're with a full-time or adjunct faculty, they have the same learning experience."

Godwin said the college is looking to connect full-time and adjunct faculty who work within the same disciplines like history or psychology to team up and develop new teaching strategies. They're also looking to provide more professional development for adjunct courses delivered by distance learning.

At Harper College, the campus had already established a Center for Adjunct Faculty Engagement that provides classroom support and professional development.

"We felt we had a pretty robust support network already for adjuncts, and we wanted to make more of an impact in the classroom with the professional development we're doing," said Michael Bates, associate dean of the Academy for Teaching Excellence at Harper, which houses the adjunct center. "It's a white whale. We can offer things to people and they can show up and say they're satisfied and they learn. They can even show they changed their practice, but it's difficult to see how that impacts student learning. It's difficult to measure, and the only way to measure that is through research in the classroom."

The plan at Harper is to integrate adjunct faculty into learning communities, which are composed of instructors helping to improve their teaching practices, with full-time faculty members to help improve their professional development. 

"The other piece that we've struggled with for as long as I've been here is how do you motivate, incentivize and recognize the work by adjuncts," Bates said, adding that the institution has about 700 adjunct faculty members. "So the other part of this grant will be used to develop a framework to recognize and incentivize adjunct faculty."

That framework may center around paying adjuncts more than they receive now or guaranteeing them interviews for full-time positions if they serve on a shared governance committee, develop curriculum or provide some additional services to the college, he said. Many adjuncts report that they are often overlooked when full-time positions open up.

An initiative like this one from ATD is long overdue, said Maria Maisto, an adjunct at Cuyahoga Community College and president of the New Faculty Majority, which advocates for adjunct and contingent faculty. It's bringing adjuncts to the table, but hopefully not stopping short of providing compensation and academic freedom to adjuncts, she said.

"There's a lot of good thinking about being more inclusive and bringing core faculty into the life of the institution," she said. "But I would hope some of the proposals [from the colleges] discuss how they can transform their budget models and spending models so they could afford to pay these faculty what they're worth."

Meanwhile, the Community College Research Center at Teachers College at Columbia University will be studying the initiative and providing data and information on just how well the adjunct initiative is doing at each campus.

Sue Bickerstaff, a senior research associate with CCRC, said they're looking to see not just whether adjuncts are more engaged, but if this type of engagement is useful to them and if it helps them feel more connected to the college.

"We're hoping to see some real impacts at the faculty level, both for the adjuncts and the full-timers, too," she said. "We hypothesized that within the departments the full-time faculty will benefit from trying to have more relationships and engagement with colleagues, too."


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