Part-time adjunct instructors tend to bring “real-world” experience to their jobs but are poorly compensated and in many cases feel undervalued compared to full-time colleagues, according to a new report from Cengage, an educational content, technology and services company. Few of Cengage’s findings will surprise anyone following other research on adjuncts, but the new paper perhaps stands out for its truly third-party take on faculty issues. The study is based on 417 responses from adjuncts at two- and four-year institutions to a quantitative survey and 63 adjuncts’ participation in online focus groups. Adjuncts represented a range of disciplines.
Cengage asked questions about adjuncts’ goals and motivations, job search and hiring processes, workloads, choices regarding digital and other teaching materials, and engagement with colleagues. Respondents said their top priorities for teaching were sharing knowledge and making a difference in the lives of students. They’re also just as likely to use digital course materials as full-time faculty, according to Cengage: about half were interested. Two-thirds of respondents participate in professional development when it's offered, though many participants noted an interest in webinars since on-campus offerings don't always align with their schedules.
Some 42 percent of adjuncts said their primary “value add” in the classroom was their nonacademic professional experience, and 68 percent said they had a career outside of education before they started teaching. About half (55 percent) currently hold some other job than teaching. That’s the finding with which adjunct advocates are most likely to quibble, since many have argued that the traditional definition of an adjunct as someone who teaches “on the side” of some other career is dangerously outdated. A major 2012 report on adjuncts from the Coalition on Academic Workforce, for example, said that more than 75 percent of respondents in its own study “sought, are now seeking or will be seeking a full-time tenure-track position, and nearly three-quarters said they would definitely or probably accept a full-time tenure-track position at the institution at which they were currently teaching if such a position were offered.”
In Cengage’s study, some 80 percent of respondents had master’s degrees and 25 percent had Ph.D.s. About one-third of adjuncts said feeling “disrespected or less valued than full-time faculty” was one of their primary challenges, while “inadequate compensation” ranked even higher as a top challenge (54 percent). “Lack of office space, irregular assignments, limited opportunities to select class times or to expand their role, and lack of adequate communications and support from colleagues are other ways that adjuncts feel disrespected or unappreciated,” the study says. One adjunct at a four-year institution said, "The adjuncts are prohibited from participating in administrative activities. The college does not recognize that adjuncts exist. … We are not even listed as faculty on the departmental websites."
Getting a job can be tough, too, according to the study, with 72 percent of instructors reporting that they renew their contracts every semester. Interestingly, 19 percent of adjuncts at two-year institutions said they don’t even have a formal contract.
Adjuncts also have limited influence on which courses they teach, the study says. “Adjuncts have some input regarding course preferences and timing but must often work within certain syllabi and course material requirements. While two in three can request specific courses, only 25 percent usually receive the courses requested. One adjunct said, ‘I always teach the same courses. I cannot request courses -- they offer me courses that are available -- nor can I develop my own courses.’” For that reason, among others, few adjuncts strongly advocate for specific course materials.