The number of adjuncts at universities is rising across the country, and institutions need a new and better model to support their needs in order to improve student outcomes, says a report  released this week.
The Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success, a partnership between the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education and the Association of American Colleges and Universities, released the report after a year of discussions. The project, which has brought together 30 higher education experts from disciplinary organizations, unions and universities, among others, will release more guidelines in the coming months, including resources to help campus leaders.
“How can we better working conditions [for adjuncts] that can improve student learning? This is one of the main questions we are looking at,” said Adrianna Kezar, director of the project and an associate professor of higher education at USC. “Not only will we look at where we need to go but how we can get there. This is an effort to look at the whole system,” she said.
So what will this new model look like?
There is no definite agreement yet, but it could resemble full-time faculty members with multiyear contracts who are closely integrated with university life, Kezar said. “Academic unions might favor tenure-track jobs, for example. But there is broad agreement that the existing three-tier faculty system is not working,” she said, referring to tenure-track faculty, full-timers not on tenure, and adjuncts
But before this new model can be developed, the project needs to collect more data to better understand the existing situation. “There are gaps in knowledge and understanding. We hope to fill these gaps,” Kezar said. “For example, we know that students have less access [out of the classroom] to non-tenure-track faculty, but we have no direct data on how this affects student learning.”
The project will collect examples of best practices from different universities and then suggest how these practices can be implemented. Such data would reside on the project’s website, and enable any university to compare their numbers to regional or national data. Another example: developing “financial modeling tools” to look at the cost and benefits of providing more support to adjuncts.
Participants will be divided into subgroups to pursue the goals of the project, which is funded by the Spencer Foundation, the Teagle Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. One group will develop “conceptual papers” and cultivate relationships with different higher education groups to develop this new faculty model. Another group will work on the data collection issues, including raising funds for the data project.
“We should consider how each participant or group can support this issue through their own organizations and professional communities, whether it is human resources professionals, provosts, business officers, accreditation agencies, faculty unions, or state systems,” the report says. “Using our shared base of knowledge and resources, we then might customize publications and data tools for each of these groups based on common data and themes, but tailored to gain traction in particular groups.”