Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Adjunct Faculty as Key Stakeholders in Distance Education

Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Adjunct Faculty as Key Stakeholders in Distance Education

Article excerpt

AGROWING NUMBER of colleges and universities have opted to expand their academic footprint by offering distance education courses and fully online degree programs. Distance education provides an opportunity for students to pursue higher education outside of the traditional classroom regardless of time and location. The U. S. Department of Education (DOE, 2016) reported in the Digest of Education Statistics 2014 that of the 20.4 million students enrolled in fall 2013, some 5.5 million took at least one distance education course as part of their program.

Student demand for distance education continues to grow and so does the need for academically and experientially qualified faculty to provide all types of instruction in colleges and universities across the country. The American Association of University Professors (2014) provides statistics that indicate from 1975/76 to 2011 the number of parttime faculty rose from 199,139 (25.1%) to 768,430 (41.5%) representing 16.4% growth. Furthermore, the DOE in The Condition of Education 2016 reported that 49% of instructional faculty at colleges and universities serve as adjuncts. Offering faculty development that engages this growing cadre of part-time or adjunct faculty as key stakeholders in distance education programs encompasses both challenges and opportunities.


Academic leaders continue to face the challenge of ensuring a balanced portfolio of academic programs with the appropriate number and type of faculty (Johnson & Turner, 2009). As higher education institutions continue to experience the shift in hiring part-time or adjunct faculty it is imperative to allocate resources that support comprehensive recruitment and hiring processes, provide structured and consistent orientation experiences, and promote engagement opportunities for adjunct faculty to participate as decision makers in the delivery of distance and online educational programs.

Extensive literature exists in higher education that focuses on the exponential growth in part-time or adjunct faculty. There is a wealth of research that discusses the value of mentoring new faculty, institutional support for teaching, and professional faculty development (Elder, Svoboda, Ryan, & Fitzgerald, 2016; Forbes, Hickey, & White, 2010; Green, Alejandro, & Brown, 2009; Kezar & Maxey, 2014; Meixner, Kruck, & Madden, 2010; Morton, 2012; Wood, 2016). Yet, little generalizable research has been published regarding best practices or innovative strategies regarding engagement of adjunct faculty who may be geographically isolated from institutional support and teach primarily in distance education programs. Thus, an opportunity exists to continue to explore innovative strategies that support the needs of adjunct faculty who work at a distance. Furthermore, a consistent approach to the engagement of adjunct faculty that fosters a sense of belonging to the department, provides opportunities to participate in decision-making, and recognizes scholarly and service contributions are valuable to both the program and the institution (Lyons, 2007; Morton, 2012).


The purpose is to share the development of a successful online adjunct faculty orientation and engagement program (OEP) that was implemented in a mid-sized faith-based institution of higher education. The OEP evolved over a two-year period and included 25 or 100% of adjunct faculty who work at a distance and teach in an online asynchronous graduate nursing degree program. The program was developed by full-time and adjunct faculty with extensive experience in faculty development and online education. Video support and editing services were provided by the institution. The existing learning management system and electronic library resources were used in the development of the OEP. No direct costs were incurred with either the development or implementation activities.

Best practices that emerged from a comprehensive review of the literature in faculty development, engagement, and distance education served to inform the content of the program. …

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