May 6, 2014

What Types of Support Do Adjuncts Need?

By: in Faculty Development

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With part-time faculty now the majority of instructors at most higher education institutions, it’s important to provide them with the support they need to succeed. But what kind of support do they find most useful? The answer to this question can help administrators meet adjuncts’ needs and make the best use of limited resources.

In a recent quantitative study, Dr. Judy Colwell, vice president for academic affairs at Northern Oklahoma College, compared the perceptions of adjuncts and administrators as to the importance of various types of support for part-time faculty. Because the study was limited to community colleges in Oklahoma, it’s not clear how the results might apply in other states or in other institution types, but the study can serve as a model of how to determine what adjuncts need and how those needs align with the types of support an institution emphasizes.

The study used a five-point Likert-scale survey that asked part-time faculty and administrators to rate the importance of each of the following types of support for adjuncts: 

  • Orientation
    • Orientation to campus
    • Orientation to job duties
  • Professional development
    • Assignment of a full-time faculty mentor
    • Activities/workshops in classroom management and/or pedagogy
    • Participation in college/divisional meetings
  • Access to support services
    • Faculty handbook of policies/procedures
    • Access to copier, supplies, office space, computer, etc.
    • Technology support and training
  • Evaluation and recognition
    • Evaluation of classroom support and training
    • Recognition

More administrators than part-time faculty members ranked each type of support as very important. (Mean scores ranged from 4.225 to 5 for administrators and from 3.515 to 4.730 for adjuncts.) Both groups gave the highest ratings to orientation to job duties; technology support and training; and access to copier, supplies, office space, computer, etc.

There was no significant difference between adjuncts’ and administrators’ ratings of access to copier, supplies, office space, computer, etc. However, there were significant differences in all other areas.

Highlights

  • Opportunities to participate in college/divisional meetings and activities/workshops. Administrators and part-time faculty members gave relatively low rankings to this type of support. However, administrators’ mean ratings were significantly higher (4.225) than were part-time faculty members’ mean ratings (3.515).

“As an administrator, I thought [adjuncts] would be eager for opportunities to attend workshops and professional development sessions. I attributed the fact that many such events were not well attended by adjuncts to the possibility that I had just never hit the time frame that was convenient for them to attend. However, the results of this study indicated that they just want the support necessary to do their jobs,” Colwell says. 

  • Evaluation of teaching. Seventy-five percent of academic administrators and 40.5 percent of the part-time faculty members ranked this as very important.
  • Orientation to campus culture. Overall, part-time instructors in the survey indicated that they wanted the materials and access to be able to do their jobs and that they didn’t feel that being part of the culture of the institution was particularly important.

    Administrators, on the other hand, indicated their desire to make adjuncts part of the culture (administrators’ mean rating was 4.408 and adjuncts’ mean rating was 3.814) and emphasized the importance of mentoring (administrators’ mean rating was 4.551 and adjuncts’ mean rating was 3.521). “Adjunct faculty make up a significant percentage of the overall faculty corps and therefore share responsibility for the main mission of the community college—teaching and learning. Regardless of the fact that the adjuncts participating in this study did not rank ‘orientation to campus culture’ as important as did the administrators, it is really important to have [adjuncts] engaged as they play a significant role in accomplishing that teaching and learning mission,” Colwell says.

Recommendations

Based on this study and her experience as both an adjunct and an administrator, Colwell offers the following recommendations: 

Make workshop/meetings convenient and relevant. In order to cultivate adjuncts’ connection to the institution, Colwell recommends trying to schedule workshops and meetings at times that are convenient for adjuncts and to provide opportunities for mentoring. To expand such opportunities, Colwell recommends conducting some of this professional development online. In addition, any workshop or meeting must be relevant to the adjuncts. “With any kind of training or development, if [adjuncts] don’t see value in it, then they are probably not going to attend. Other than making sessions relevant, interesting, and convenient, there are very few incentives for the part-timers to participate,” Colwell says.

Seek input from adjuncts. Colwell’s biggest takeaway from this study is the need for adjunct input. “As an administrator, I need to listen. It affects our institution’s bottom line if I don’t listen. If they don’t see value in [workshops or professional development], then the sessions will not be well-attended and therefore ineffective,” Colwell says. “All faculty, both full-time and part-time, need to feel connected and engaged in order to most effectively carry out the teaching and learning mission. Therefore, institutions must do something that is relevant, interesting, and convenient. One way to do this would be to conduct a similar survey annually asking all adjunct faculty to rank proposed professional development activities in terms of importance and then plan the professional development and training activities based on their feedback. This would inform decisions for offering the most effective types of development and efficient use of resources.”

The availability of online survey programs makes getting this input from adjuncts relatively easy. Colwell recommends asking adjuncts to rate workshops they participated in and the perceived value of upcoming workshops.

Other ways to get input from adjuncts include online discussions, focus groups, and open forum meetings.

Giving these faculty members the opportunity to voice their opinions is, in itself, engaging. When I sent out my surveys, I also provided my email address, should they choose to email me. I sent 1,027 surveys and received 485 total responses to the survey [49 (51 percent) of the administrators and 436 (47 percent) of the adjunct faculty surveyed]. Additionally, I received approximately 100 unsolicited responses, not from administrators but from adjunct faculty saying that they’d never been asked their opinions before and that they really appreciated that opportunity. Many of them voiced concerns, some things that they’d like to have, some things they needed, and suggestions for improvement in a variety of areas. Salary was a topic mentioned frequently. These unsolicited email responses confirmed to me that is it important to provide adjunct faculty a mix of face-to-face and online (email or survey) opportunities to share their concerns, suggestions, and in general voice opinions. And then, it is important for administrators like me to listen and be responsive to their needs and concerns,” Colwell says.

Keep adjunct input in perspective. While input from adjuncts about the support they value is important, it is not and should not be the only factor in determining how the institution supports them. “There are some things that are my responsibility as an administrator to provide (updates to policies and procedures, training for new technologies, etc.) that adjunct faculty members may not realize they need to know,” Colwell says.

Reprinted from Academic Leader, 29.2 (2013): 2,7. © Magna Publications. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments

drsh | May 6, 2014

Very important to recognize needs and to prioritize them at a time when some institutions parse support based on expense so we are hearing more about "cosmetic" or lower ranked services provided (costing less or nearly nothing) and less services more highly valued as meeting needs by contingent faculty. Did the survey ask faculty to assess the value/need for suffrage? Were there questions about increased compensation (or is that simply assumed?)

TRS | May 9, 2014

I agree with drsh that time and compensation are limiting factors for adjunct faculty. I agree with the resource initiatives presented above and engage as much as possible but with multiple jobs required to pay the bills, I have to be selective about what I participate in. I strive to be a top-notch instructor and serve students extremely well and value the support given by an institution of higher education. Just imagine what adjuncts could accomplish if they had the financial resources to spend more time devoted to each class and professional development!

org.studiesPh.D. | May 9, 2014

Does administration/institutions in high education really expect participation and dedication from part-time, underpaid adjuncts? It is a part-time job and expectations should reflect that commitment. Professional development and other similar categories imply adjunct positions are a stepping stone to full-time faculty positions. I have my PhD in organizational studies. I sympathize with those piecing together several adjunct positions to pay their bills because I was in that position for more than a year. It is demoralizing when you can't support your family with an advenced degree. With few opportunities in high education, I left academia for full-time work in the private sector. I still adjunct to make extra money and participate in a profession that I greatly miss, but reality trumps my nostalgia. If my part-time job was selling clothes at the mall, what would my employer expect? I don't mean to sound trite with this comparison, but I'm cynical about the changes in high education and the deprofessionalization of our industry. Fostering an ideal academic environment takes time and commitment from members of the entire community. When full-time faculty is a distinct minority, the professional population on campus has limited, human resources to build a vibrant and rich academic community. If administrators want employee participation and identification with the larger institution, then they need a larger population of full-time professionals on campus. I have plenty of orientation, training, career development, meetings, and community requirements from my full-time employer. As an adjunct, I give my best based on the requirements for my assigned courses, so I need supplies, like photocopies and access to library resources. My past experience makes many of the above survey categories unnecessary.

DrB | May 9, 2014

Well said. I concur.


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