Are colleges doing all they can to assure that their online adjunct faculty are successful?

Institutions employing adjunct faculty for online courses were surveyed about the practices they use in supporting them.  With the frequent use of adjuncts and growing enrollments in online education, adjunct faculty importance in the academic community is increasing. To properly support them, we sought advice on successful practices used by institutions in recruiting, orienting, and supporting these faculty.

WCET is pleased to have partnered with The Learning House, Inc. to have conducted this study over the summer. While full survey results will be released at next week’s WCET Annual Meeting, this post gives you a taste of some of a few of our findings and tells you about next steps.

Change in Percentage of Online Adjunct Faculty in the Last Year

In 2012, the Coalition on the Academic Workforce published seminal research that provided  “A Portrait of Part Time Faculty Members“. There surveys showed that roughly half of all instructors in higher education were adjunct or part-time faculty members.

We were curious about recent growth in online adjunct faculty over the past year. The responses reflected in the chart show that more than half of the institutions increased the number of adjuncts, and one-quarter increased.

While we do not have base numbers for the number of online adjunct faculty, these trends show significant growth. They also underline the importance of having good practices in on-boarding and supporting these faculty.

600x469-blog-chart1_4-WCET 450 px

Level of Customization Permitted in Courses Taught by Online Adjuncts

Some colleges expect the adjunct faculty person to develop their courses from scratch. Others provide a “master course” with all the lessons intact and allow very little customization of the course. This question addresses two very different models of how institutions interact with their adjunct faculty. For institutions that expect faculty to develop their own course, it raises expectations of additional support to help those faculty be successful.

More than half of the respondents either expect faculty to design their own courses or allow for complete customization. Just under one-quarter of respondents allowed minimal or no customization. When you see the final report, one of our main recommendations is to: “choose a model for course design and fully develop it.” We became concerned that it appeared that some colleges expected the faculty to develop courses, but provided little or no help for them.

600x538-blog-chart1_5-WCET 450

Limits on the Number of Courses Taught by Online Adjuncts

Administrators are very aware of the impact of crossing the part-time vs. full-time threshold in employing faculty. While there were probably other reasons (quality, accreditation concerns, etc.) for limiting the number of courses taught, the few administrators who participated in verbal interviews with us were quite aware of the full-time status.

Just under one-quarter (21%), have no limits. While the rest had limits, some of their limits were so high that they may have unwittingly passed the full-time threshold.


What’s Next?

These are just a few of the findings that will be released next week. We invite you to learn more:

  • Watch for the full release of the report on November 12. WCET members and Learning House constituents will receive notices. If you would like to receive the notice, you can pre-register to receive a copy. We will also post the link to the final survey as a comment to this blog post.
  • Attend the WCET Annual Meeting session (November 12 at 3:00 pm) in which we will talk about the results.
  • Participate in a free webcast to discuss the results on December 3 at 2:00 Eastern time.

Thank You!
It has been great working with The Learning House crew on this survey. Thank you to Andrew Magda for his tireless work and to Dave Clinefelter for his keen insights. Thank you to Cali Morrison (WCET) and Wendy Parrish (The Learning House) for their support throughout the process.


Photo of Russ Poulin with a bat.Russ Poulin
Director, Policy & Analysis
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies

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