Academic Exchange Quarterly      Spring  2011    ISSN 1096-1453    Volume  15, Issue  1

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Engaging Community College Adjunct Faculty


Robin L. Spaid, Morgan State University, MD

Michael H. Parsons, Morgan State University, MD


Spaid, EdD is Associate Professor of Higher Education, Morgan State University, MD and Parsons, EdD, retired dean and professor Hagerstown Community College, MD Adjunct faculty, Morgan State University, MD.


President Obama has called for 500,000 more community college associate degrees and certificates by 2020.  How will this task be accomplished with increasingly fewer resources--by using adjunct faculty?  In 1980, Parsons reported that over 50% of the faculty in community colleges was adjunct.  The challenge will be to meet the president’s goal while providing instructional parity between adjunct and full-time faculty.  A strategic system for integrating adjunct faculty into the college culture is presented in this article.


Introduction: The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same 

President Obama’s call for more community college associate degrees and certificates by 2020 is a double-edged sword (Gonzalez, 2010).  Gonzalez highlights the importance of community colleges and their vital role in economic development; however, the President’s challenge to the nation’s community colleges presents problems.  In tough economic times, who will teach the courses needed to realize his goal?  Increasingly, the answer has been adjunct faculty.  Most community colleges, as well as many four-year institutions, are relying more heavily on this instructional cadre (Kelly, 2008).  Is the strategy viable? 


For the last 30 years, community college researchers have been analyzing the status of adjunct faculty.  Parsons (1980) reported that over 50% of the faculty in community colleges were adjuncts.  Much of what he said 30 years ago is true today.  “In an era of consumerism, colleges must ensure that the instruction being provided by part-time faculty is commensurate with that provided by full-time faculty.  New students may develop their impressions of the College based solely on contact with part-time personnel (Parsons, 1980).  The most important question raised by Parsons is: “Can we afford to rely on chance to ensure that parity of instruction exists?”  (Parsons, 1980, p.7).  Our students have right to consistent quality regardless of the instructor’s status or rank.  

Between 1980 and 2010, the employment of adjunct faculty continued to be examined without making much progress towards parity with full-time faculty.  Biles and Tuchman (1986) published Part-Time Faculty Personnel Management Policies.  Their reason for the publication   is presented clearly.  “This book is designed to provide an integrated set of major personnel policies and practices for part-timers . . . . We strongly believe appropriate personnel policies can be devised to ameliorate whatever unfair advantage that institutions might be taking of their part-timers – whether consciously, unconsciously or through benign neglect” (Biles & Tuchman, 1986, p.5).

Gappa and Leslie’s (1993) work became an often-quoted assessment of the conditions experienced by adjunct faculty and a design for providing them with greater equity.  “It is time for cooperation and for making common cause.  That common cause is academic excellence which can only be ensured when the best faculty members, both full-and part-time are working closely together” (Gappa & Leslie, 1993, p. 8).  

In 1995, The National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development sponsored a national study of adjunct faculty (Roueche, Roueche & Milliron, 1996).  Strangers in Their Own Land was directed by Milliron at the University of Texas.  A synthesis of the study was published in the Community College Journal of Research and Practice in 1996.  They conclude with two points that reinforce the lack of progress:  

1. The Adjunct cohort is an untapped resource.

2. C.C. leaders can no longer afford to “ignore” this resource (Roueche, Roueche & Milliron, 1996).  

While the challenge was clear, little action resulted as indicated in Palmer’s research (1999).

In 1999, Palmer (1999) found that the use of adjuncts had increased from 50% in 1980 to 64% in 1995.  Second, his data revealed that “almost half” of America’s college students began their post-secondary studies at public two-year colleges.  Finally, he raised the question, can a college sustain a commitment to students with an ever shrinking full-time

Two issues are paramount in this discussion of adjunct faculty.  America faces ever-increasing competition worldwide.  We have fallen steadily in the number of degrees earned and the graduates’ ability to do knowledge work (to work at the tasks of developing or using knowledge).  Second, community colleges have re-directed their focus from access to excellence and achievement.  From 1945 until the mid 90’s, the primary issue engaged by these institutions was access.  Beginning in 1995, the issue of excellence became a priority.  The “Learning College” and “learning communities” became the hallmark of the change.  The purpose of this article is to reiterate the essential elements that will make the transition from access to excellence and achievement, a reality as they relate to adjunct faculty. 

The Significant Six

In the first decade of the 21st century, there has been increased interest in the use and treatment of adjunct faculty (Jaschik, 2010; Fox Valley Technical College, 2010).  The reason is two-fold.  First, the transition from access to excellence and achievement emerged as a major issue.  As America’s community colleges awarded fewer degrees and the education system declined in comparison with the other industrialized nations, attention to adjunct faculty, who provide education for an increasing number of students, has expanded (Friedman, 2006).  Second, the increase in adjuncts has affected the culture of the college (Kelly, 2008).  To maintain a positive climate in times of economic and social stress, increased support for adjunct faculty has become paramount.  In the last decade, the number of studies examining adjunct faculty increased (Kelly, 2008).  An analysis of this research has produced six basic service components.  The “significant six” provide a comprehensive, strategic system for adjunct faculty recruitment, orientation, teaching support, evaluation, professional development, and integration into the college culture.  In the following segments, we analyze each of the components and provide insight into a process for making them operational.


Step 1: Recruitment of Adjunct Faculty

For many years, colleges assumed that adjunct faculty were and would remain easily accessible (Strycker, 2008).  With the increasing rate of change and technological development, the assumption is less accurate.  A recruitment plan is the first tile in an adjunct support system mosaic.

Some of the strategies that have been operational for years remain effective.  Local educational systems continue to have K-12 teachers who are interested in college teaching.  If carefully screened, they provide several strengths.  Those chosen should present a record of teaching success and facility with the latest instructional development technology.  Finally, they must be comfortable with educational culture and the process of facilitating learning (Strycker, 2008). 

Another viable source is professional groups that exist in the institution’s service area.  Accounting associations, social work agencies, state and local employee professional groups, the American Association of University Women and the League of Women Voters all have individuals with appropriate degree preparation and expertise to be useful, however, they are lacking in teaching experience.  The employing college will need to invest time in developing the pedagogical skills of these new recruits.

These strategies provide ways to overcome a lack of qualified, interested candidates.  They are available to virtually all higher education institutions (Parsons, 1980).  Each institution will need to identify and employ strategies suited specifically to its service area.  The next challenge is to ensure that these individuals do not become the proverbial “strangers in their own land” (Roueche, Roueche & Milliron, 1996).

Step 2: Orienting Adjunct Faculty

 Since 2000, a somewhat systematic process for adjunct faculty orientation has evolved (Kelly, 2008).  The process is tripartite.  The first phase is the initial interview.  In most instances, that interview is conducted by the division or the department head or, in some cases, the program director.  Following the  interview, the adjunct is recommended to the Dean or Vice-President for Instruction to validate their expertise and readiness to teach. That phase is more structured.  A formal checklist can be used to prepare the candidate for college teaching.  Fox Valley Technical College provides an example of the checklist at their website (2010).


Step 3: Teaching Support for Adjunct Faculty

Teaching support falls into two categories, technical and personal (Fox Valley Technical College, 2010).  A critical change in the first decade of the 21st century has been growth in electronic support for instruction.  Elements include nearly universal use of computers, telephones, copying and fax machines.  An equally essential component is access to and training in electronic support systems.  Colleges need to make instructional technicians available to adjunct faculty so that they may mediate their instruction.  Twenty first century learners are technologically sophisticated and visually literate.  These tools engage their preferred learning style (Fox Valley Technical College, 2010).  The Blackboard system, or its equivalent, is becoming a relied upon instructional support system.  Technology including Power Point, You Tube, and Adobe Connect for “face-to-face” interaction over distance, are equally important for building community among students.  These students have lived their entire lives in a visual world; they expect to be taught in a similar manner (Barr & Parsons, 2000; Fox Valley College, 2010).


Since the mid-90s, emphasis on the Learning College has re-focused what teachers do (Roueche, Roueche & Milliron, 1996).  Today, they facilitate learning, adapting content to the diverse learning styles of students.  To do so, it is essential for adjunct faculty to have office space to work and meet with students.  Personal interaction with full-time faculty or adjuncts fosters student success.  Many colleges provide a shared faculty office space for adjuncts to work with students.  Further, adjunct faculty need a support system to assist students when they are not accessible.  A Teaching/Learning Center or Student Success Center is a major contributor to President Obama’s emphasis on success following access.  These elements are required to make it possible for adjunct faculty to reach parity with their full-time colleagues.

Step 4: Adjunct Faculty Evaluation

In the classroom, the support role for the college becomes more focused (Barr & Parsons, 2000).  Along with the services analyzed in the preceding section, the college needs to be accountable to its clients – the students.  Strycker (2008) synthesized the issue: “Adjunct faculty need and deserve feedback in the form of assessment from either a supervisor or a seasoned faculty member in their discipline” (para. 10).  Further, the students deserve an opportunity to provide evaluation of the services they receive.  A systematic evaluation design serves as a base for institutional accountability, increasing the quality of instruction, and the provision of feedback to the college’s clients.


Behrendt and Parsons (1983) examined the process of part-time faculty evaluation. They present a series of recommendations.  Included are a growth and improvement plan, use of self- evaluation, a 360-degree evaluation system, regular validation of the system, and a system for professional growth.

These recommendations are central to the development and maintenance of a productive system leading to instructional parity.

Step 5: Professional development for Adjunct Faculty

If adjuncts are expected to achieve parity with their full-time colleagues, they must have  professional development opportunities.  Given the current rate of change in society, today’s knowledge will be outdated by tomorrow.  Kelly, in Faculty Focus (2008), presents an interesting concept.  He reported that Johnson County Community College (JCCC, KS) seeks to develop a “seamless” system in which the services available to adjuncts mirror those provided to the full-time faculty.


There is a series of strategies that may be used to facilitate professional development.  Many colleges have a workshop model at the start of each instructional session (Kelly, 2008). Both the full-and part-time faculty attend the workshop.  At the conclusion of the general session, faculty re-form in their teaching departments or divisions.  Full-and part-time personnel have the opportunity to interact and share common concerns.

The Community College System of Maryland has a two-component system for professional development (Barr & Parsons, 2000).  Maryland Consortium for Adjunct Faculty Development meets annually to discuss issues related to instruction and student learning. Second, faculty from across Maryland developed an Association of Faculty for the Advancement of Community College Teaching (AFACCT).  Full-time and adjunct faculty meet together to explore instructional issues of shared concern.  The system aids in developing and integrating adjunct faculty.  

Step 6: Integrating Adjunct Faculty into the College Culture

Essential to parity between full- and adjunct faculty is a system to integrate adjuncts in the culture of the college.  Several strategies exist that are effective (Kelly, 2008).  One is electronically based.  Divisional or departmental meeting minutes are sent via email to all faculty who teach in any instructional period (Roueche, Roueche & Milliron, 1996).  Some of the content may not be relevant, but the connection serves as a reinforcement of the part-timers’ engagement with the division or department.


Second, is to include an adjunct faculty representative in the department or division’s regular meeting.  Thus, the adjunct point of view will receive a regular hearing.  Third is to invite a representative to serve on faculty standing committees.  Again, their interest, insight and expertise will prove helpful in any decision making process.  (Fox Valley Technical College, 2010; Kelly, 2008; Strycker, 2008).

Conclusion: Engaging Adjunct Faculty in the Pursuit of Excellence.

The analysis of strategies for improving support for adjunct faculty produces several conclusions.  First, the needs of adjunct faculty do not differ greatly from those of the full-time 

(Parsons, 1980; Biles and Tuchman, 1986; Gappa and Leslie, 1993; and Kelly, 2008).  Second, because adjuncts are on campus for a limited amount of time, it is imperative that college personnel establish a systematic support for them so that student support services are covered (Biles & Tuckman, 1986; Gappa & Leslie, 1993).  Third, Bolt and Charlier refuted the assertion that adjunct faculty have a negative impact on the educational experience of community college students (Jaschik, 2010). 


In 2000, Barr and Parsons, presented a list of imperatives for engaging adjunct faculty.  The items included are participation in the college’s culture, infrastructure support, planned and structured professional development opportunities, availability of local and state information sharing networks and collaboration with national associations that support adjunct faculty.

A decade has passed since these recommendations were published (Barr & Parsons, 2000).  Some progress has been made.  However, the rate of their implementation fails to keep pace with the need (Gonzalez, 2010).  For 30 years, Community College scholars have been documenting that parity of instruction is demanded and deserved by students and college stakeholders.  The foregoing synthesis of research and strategies, focus on meeting the needs in the next decade.  Due to the diversity of the community college mission and changing competition, parity between full-time and adjunct faculty is imperative. 


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Behrendt, R.L. & Parsons, M.H. (1983).  Evaluating faculty and staff.  New Directions for Community Colleges, 41(3), 33-43.

Biles, G.E. & Tuckman, H.P. (1986).  Part-time faculty personnel management policies. New York: American Council on Education.  Macmillan Publishing Company.

Fox Valley Technical College (2010, November 29) New Adjunct Faculty Orientation Checklist.  Retrieved from

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Parsons, M.H. (1980).  Using part-time faculty effectively.  New Directions for Community Colleges, 30, vii-ix.

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