How to Screen, Train, and Keep Quality Adjuncts

Adjunct faculty make up approximately half of all instructional faculty in degree-granting institutions (National Center for Education Statistics, 2008). Some teach online and some in a traditional classroom-based setting. Some work at private colleges, others for large public universities, and still others at community colleges. Adjuncts represent a diverse group professionals with a wide variety of backgrounds, but they do have at least one thing in common: they’re under increased scrutiny to demonstrate their effectiveness.

“Adjuncts have been getting a lot of bad press lately — accusations that they’re inferior and that we’re exploiting adjuncts — but the reality is adjuncts bring an important degree of flexibility to our work in higher education, and adjuncts are not an inferior workforce at all,” says Dr. Cynthia Tweedell, associate dean for Institutional Effectiveness at Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU).

In the recent online seminar, Managing the Adjunct Pool for Consistent Learning Outcomes, Tweedell and Dr. George Howell, associate dean of the School of Business and Leadership at IWU’s College of Adult and Professional Studies, outlined the processes IWU uses to screen, train, and keep quality adjuncts.

In addition to its full-time faculty members, Indiana Wesleyan employs more than 1,800 adjunct faculty at 80 different locations across Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio as well as online. The school uses a rigorous five-step selection process where prospective adjuncts are evaluated based on their academic qualifications and credentials, teaching experience, understanding of the adult learning model, and overall fit with the school’s mission, Howell says. The screening process includes multiple interviews, a live teaching demonstration, and formal orientation workshops.

Upon successful completion of the orientation, the candidates are brought on board and paired with a mentor within their discipline. The new adjuncts undergo formal peer review by full-time or affiliate faculty and are assessed by students at the end of each course and program. Because IWU uses a prescriptive curriculum administrators are able to assess student learning outcomes between adjunct and full-time faculty, as well as online and on-site classes. There have been no significant differences in the quality of student learning outcomes, says Tweedell.

“The bottom line is education is about consistent student learning outcomes and adjuncts don’t jeopardize consistent student learning outcomes because adjuncts can be carefully selected, well oriented, trained and mentored,” Tweedell says. “If you are operating a complete assessment system — with both direct and indirect measurement — you can document that you have consistent learning outcomes using adjuncts. And if you don’t have consistent learning outcomes, then you can do what you need to do to get them.”