The Rise of the Adjuncts
As you may have noticed in recent years, the hiring of adjuncts has increased considerably, most notably after the 2008 GFC (Global Financial Crisis). Almost all adjuncts I’ve ever worked with are passionate instructors, dedicated to their students’ success and willing to help them just as any good teacher would.
But it saddens me to see so many adjuncts being hired because I know its purely a business decision. It’s to save an institution money, and does not help the students at their institutions. Adjunct pay scales are typically far less than tenure-track, full time, or even staff training scales. Possibly the biggest motivator to hire adjuncts is to save money on providing benefits to those who teach below a certain level of credits or hours. That, and if schools can get away with paying them less., they will.
This situation simply isn’t fair to the adjunct instructor or to their students.
More and more our educational institutions are being run like businesses, thinking of the bottom line over student success and the quality of the educational experience. We have become a conveyer belt of FTE’s, and nothing more.
Many adjuncts work at multiple schools. They go to School A, typically don’t have an office of their own or any permanent space. They teach their course, and instead of being able to stay and work with their students as a full time instructor would, they have to say “I’m sorry, I can’t stick around, email me!” as they rush out the door, to drive across town or even to a different town to School B to teach their next class. These people do the best they can, but they’re getting a raw deal and so are their students.
When students work with their teachers, they expect them to be around, to answer questions after class, to visit their offices if they need help with something, but with the increase of adjunct instructors, these students have less support than those taking classes from more permanent instructors.
From the adjunct’s side, having to rush from school to school, not having a sense of permanence at an institution, decreases their investment in the school. They cannot engage with their students on the same level and they cannot engage with their fellow instructors in professional development activities or contribute to the advancement of their department or their school as a whole. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s just that they don’t have time to become invested. Most adjuncts are not part of any shared governance at their hiring institutions either, and this decreases their investment as well.
At many schools, they aren’t there to be invested, they’re there to fill in the gaps because it’s cheaper than hiring full time instructors.
They are disconnected for a reason. And that reason is increasingly to save money.
With all this being said, I have to wonder if this trend is localized to the United States. With increasing cuts to education and increasing costs of providing benefits to employees, it makes perfect sense that this is happening. Imagine though, that institutions did not have to pay benefits for their employees, especially health benefits. Take away that cost to the institutions. Would this change hiring practices? Would there be fewer adjuncts?
Adjunct, part time and sessional instructors have always been in our institutions, and they will always have a place because some folks just don’t want to work full time. They have full time day jobs and enjoy teaching night classes, they have families and other sources of income or they are students themselves and want some teaching experience and a little extra money.
In some of our schools, they form the majority of our teaching staff. They should be treated more equally in their compensation and they should be included in the decision making processes as well. At my school, I actually have decided to stop teaching because I’m paid so much less than full time instructors are, per credit. Many teachers don’t have this choice though.
So what to do, when students can’t connect with these instructors in the same way as full time instructors?
What to do when adjunct instructors are seen as temporary?
Well there are things that can be done. At some institutions, adjuncts are hired days before a quarter or semester begins, lending to the idea that they are just filling in the gaps. How about we invest more in our teachers, regardless of whether they are full time or part time? Maybe we’ll get a return on that investment in the form of better student experience, higher success rates and happier and more invested employees.
But there’s no money for this you say. You’re right. Where are our priorities?