The troubling truth is that college costs tend to go up every year. And yet, at many schools part-time, non-tenured staff is also rising. Where is all that extra tuition money going if not to pay for more teachers?
Yes, adjunct professors and graduate students can make great teachers. However, they aren't paid as well as tenured professors, nor are they given the same amount of office space and time on campus necessary to support their large class loads. Both students and the teachers suffer as stressed adjuncts juggle multiple classes across multiple campuses.
A Look at the Landscape
Today, the composition of staff at a university looks much different than it once did. Between 1987 and 2012, the number of administrative (non-instructional) staff doubled adding more than 500,000 positions across the country. Also, the number of full-time instructors has dropped significantly in the last forty years. For example, in 1975, over 55% of faculty were considered full-time. As of 2014, that number is just 45%.
Full Time or Part Time: Does it Matter?
Part-time faculty, also referred to as adjunct or contingent faculty, are temporary instructors hired by colleges and universities. Colleges may hire adjuncts to help fill in a need for an area where they don’t have enough full-time resources or they may be looking to save money by cutting back on the number of full-time staff.
Adjuncts and Teacher Assistants can be very passionate about their career and be excellent instructors. They do have one advantage over tenured professors as they don't have to focus on research and can focus more on instruction. However, the lifestyle of an adjuct professor has many downsides as well.
Adjuncts by their very nature are often teaching multiple classes and sometimes at completely different colleges. They may stay at one school for a few hours before racing across town to spend the rest of their day at a different school. Office space in many colleges is limited and adjuncts often have to share office space if they get an office at all. The limited time and space available cuts down on the amount of time they have to spend with students.
Another issue is that adjuncts earn significantly less than a full-time professor. According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the average amount paid to a part-time faculty member is just over $16,000 yearly. The low pay more or less forces adjuncts to work multiple jobs further reducing the amount of time they have for instruction and preparation.
What can be done?
We can all hope that universities will get the message around the alarming rise of part-time faculty. The exploitative nature of hiring adjunct faculty needs to stop. It’s not good for the hard working part-time faculty who are forced into a life of poverty for doing what they love and it certainly isn’t good for college students.
For a student like yourself looking at colleges, pay attention to the percentage of full-time teachers on campus. For example, we can see that the University of Maryland has 73% full-time teachers. This is great considering the national average is 49%!
Try to find colleges that have a higher number of full-time teachers as well as a student to faculty ratio that is on par with the national average or lower. Most students do well with a healthy mix of both large and small class sizes.
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