Led by a long-time adjunct and former University of Phoenix administrator, a new business announced plans Wednesday to offer certification to adjuncts. The idea is to provide training on teaching and then to test adjuncts on that training before providing a certificate that could be used to impress would-be employers. One more thing: The program costs $395, and renewals cost $75 a year.
Whether the business will take off remains to be seen. But the Society of Certified Adjunct Faculty Educators  says that participants in beta testing said that they found the program helpful, and that officials at several colleges have already expressed interest in using the certificates -- even perhaps paying for adjuncts to participate or indicating that they prefer candidates with certification.
When many adjuncts start teaching, "they don't know what they are doing.... They are going into it blindly," said Rochelle Santopoalo, the president and founder of the company. Santopoalo is an adjunct at Phoenix and at Benedictine University, and she has worked off and on as an adjunct for 21 years. Formerly she was academic affairs manager for Phoenix's Chicago campus, and in that capacity, she sat in on numerous classes, leading to her conviction that training is essential for part-timers. "I saw hundreds of faculty, teaching all kinds of courses," she said.
The curriculum for certification is focused on 10 "core competencies,"  on which participants would be tested. The competencies include: staying current in one's discipline, the ability to "construct and deliver course content aligning objectives, methodology and evaluation that supports the learning objectives," using "appropriate teaching strategies that active engage students," the ability to work with diverse student populations, the ability to use technology to support classroom objectives, and so forth.
Santopoalo said she thought many adjuncts would welcome the training, and the opportunity to demonstrate their skills through certification. In an era when some adjuncts complain about lacking health insurance, will they pay $395 for certification?
"We debated that [the price] may be too high, but colleagues I ran this by said it was modest and too low," Santopoalo said. "From a professional development standpoint, what you get for that price is a lot. People blow that money on so many other things for which they don't get real value," Santopoalo said. "I don't think it's an exorbitant amount of money. We are looking for the people who are really invested and see themselves teaching for some time."
She also said that as colleges see the value of certification, they may pick up the tab.
Whether the service will take off remains to be seen.
Desna Wallin, a University of Georgia professor who is the editor of Adjunct Faculty in Community Colleges: An Academic Administrator’s Guide to Recruiting, Supporting, and Retaining Great Teachers, said that certification "may appeal as a short-cut to colleges seeking qualified adjuncts." But she doubted that much time would be saved, as colleges will still want to check out those they are about to put in classrooms. Further, she said that if certification catches on and those seeking it must pay for it, "it would be another financial burden on already underpaid adjuncts."
Keith Hoeller, chair of the Adjunct Faculty Committee of the Washington State Conference of the American Association of University Professors, said he was bothered by the premise of the new business. "The assumption behind certifying adjuncts appears to be that adjuncts are somehow lacking in both knowledge and teaching skills to do an effective job in the classroom. I do not agree with this assumption, and I have seen no evidence to support it," he said.
Since both new adjuncts and new tenure-track professors emerge from the same graduate programs, either with or without training for the classroom, he said it was wrong to assume the adjuncts "are somehow inferior to full-time tenure stream faculty," adding that the new business "appears to be trying to fill a need that does not exist."
The new business prompted discussion Wednesday on an e-mail list for adjuncts. One person suggested that the concept could be positive for adjuncts -- especially if some sort of training (paid for by someone else) led to increased pay. Others appeared skeptical, with one person writing: "Is there perhaps a Society of Indentured Servants as well? Complete with certification. Pay money and someone will count and certify the number of holes in your head."