Engaging Part-Time College Faculty to Improve Student Success

By McGlynn, Angela Provitera | The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, October 6, 2014 | Go to article overview

Engaging Part-Time College Faculty to Improve Student Success


McGlynn, Angela Provitera, The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education


Part-time college faculty, known as adjuncts or contingent faculty, are now teaching approximately 58 percent of courses on community college campuses and yet are not fully integrated into most of their institutions. Community colleges, vastly underfunded, are relying on adjuncts to teach so many of their courses in order to stay within their budgets and yet there are inequities both to the adjuncts themselves and, in some ways, to students as well.

A recent special Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) report entitled, Contingent Commitments: Bringing Part-Time Faculty into Focus, aims to aid college leaders in more effectively and extensively engaging part-time faculty in order for more students to have educational opportunities that support their academic success.

Many adjuncts are excellent teachers and bring to the classroom outside work experiences that enhance student learning experiences. Flowever, there are also many downsides. Contingent faculty members are incredibly underpaid for the time and effort they put into their classes. They often don't have enough time or space within the college to do their own work and to meet with students outside of class, and understandably, many part-time faculty members feel like outsiders at their institutions.

Contributing to the injustices regarding adjuncts, many don't know if or what they will be teaching until days before the courses begin and a great many institutions don't include adjuncts in orientations, college services, or in professional development opportunities.

The CCCSE report reveals that more than 75 percent of faculty members who teach developmental courses are part-time. Developmental education is an area in critical need of improvement to aid in student success. A large number of community college students enter college underprepared to do college level work and these developmental courses are aimed at bringing them up to the task.

Adjuncts are more likely to teach this at-risk population - students in greatest need. And yet the report shows adjuncts teaching developmental courses are more likely to have fewer years of teaching experience and are less likely to have advanced degrees.

Add to this CCCSE's previous research findings showing that while the use of high-impact teaching practices is low across the board in higher education, in most cases, part-time faculty members use these practices even less often than do full-time faculty.

This year's special CCCSE report shows that adjuncts rarely engage in discussions about pedagogy with their colleagues or about college policies and practices that would improve student retention and completion of degrees. Professional development activities for faculty related to best practices in pedagogy often exclude part-time faculty members from participation.

The Contingent Commitments report is based on extensive data: Between 2009 and 2013, more than 70,000 faculty responses were gathered from the Community College Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (CCFSSE).

Then in 2011, the center added survey items focusing on high-impact best practices for community college student academic achievement. More than 47,000 faculty members responded to that survey. Additionally, the center ran 32 focus groups, listening to perspectives from part-time faculty, full-time faculty, administrators, and staff at community colleges across the United States.

The report suggests a strong connection between student outcomes and faculty effectiveness in preparing students to reach their college completion goals. There are recommendations regarding strategies and discussion tools for college leaders to strengthen faculty development, including parttime faculty, in areas such as hiring, setting expectations, and orientation. Included are numerous examples from many community colleges around the country that are working well toward that goal.

CCCSE Director Kay McClenney summarizes the findings of the report this way:

'The practice of effectively engaging community college faculty has a lot in common with the practice of effectively engaging community college students. …

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