Purpose of Study        

Purpose of Study


An adjunct instructor is often the first teacher a community college student meets. Community colleges teach nearly 40 percent of all postsecondary students nationally, making this a significant number of students who are taught and advised by adjunct instructors (Horn & Nevill, 2006). Community colleges have long depended on adjunct instructors to accommodate specialized courses and fluctuating enrollments. However, since 1962 the use of adjuncts has risen dramatically - 38 percent of total faculty in 1962, 40 percent in 1971, 50 percent in 1974, 64 percent in fall 1995, and approaching 70 percent in 2010 (Palmer, 1999; American Federation of Teachers (AFT), 2010). Despite the warning by the Commission on Future of Community Colleges that part-time faculty has reached excessive levels, the majority of instructors hired at community colleges today are part-time (Commission on the Future of Community Colleges (CFCC), 1988; AFT, 2010). Given these trends and the level of interaction with students, experts recommend that colleges establish effective practices for integrating adjunct faculty into the college community (Gappa & Leslie, 1993; Rutschow et al, 2011).

Based on national studies and literature regarding adjunct faculty in community colleges, we will: 1) present an overview of the characteristics of adjuncts and the benefits and challenges they bring to the job; 2) address the professional needs of adjuncts and recommendations for community college administrators; and 3) pose our research question and recommendations to Monroe County Community College (MCCC) Department of Mathematics on how best to support the adjunct faculty that they have tasked to teach developmental math.

The Adjunct Faculty – Who Are They?

An increase in hiring part-time instructors fills many gaps in the needs of community colleges, and this increase cannot be explained by any one factor. In the past three decades, community colleges have been confronted with fiscal restraints, accrediting standards, and increased competition while their enrollments are growing both in numbers and age (Gappa & Austin, 2007). Many colleges see adjunct faculty as an efficient way to meet this increased demand, and comply with their mission of open enrollment.

Adjunct instructors bring with them many benefits. They have flexible schedules, and offer new dimensions to the classroom by bringing with them specialized skills and on-the-job experience. Additionally, adjuncts have connections to community employers, fundraisers, and opinion leaders (Lyons, 2007). They also have added demands on their time. Half of all adjunct instructors have a second job. While some teach at more than one college, about 78 percent of those with second jobs work outside the field of teaching, making adapting to different intellectual cultures all the more challenging (Leslie & Grappa, 2002).

Adjuncts come from varying educational backgrounds. About fifty percent of adjuncts at public community colleges have a master's degree, about twenty percent a bachelor's degree, nine percent have a doctorate, and less than five percent hold a professional degree (Higher Education Research Center (HERC), 2007). With diverse educational experience and added demands from competing interests, adjuncts have little time to keep up with the dramatic changes that are being made in the science of learning (Greive, 2005).

They also bring to the classroom diverse motivations for teaching. Some teach part time by choice while holding a full-time job in their field of specialty, others freelance at multiple colleges out of necessity, and still others have a terminal degree without an appointment and are interested in gaining college teaching experience in order to obtain full-time employment. Additionally, there are increasing numbers of adjuncts who are ending other careers and want to maintain a connection to a serious endeavor (Gappa & Leslie, 1993; Lyons, 2007). Community college adjuncts generally teach one to two courses per semester, at more than one college, earn on average $2,500 per course, and have taught for many years (HERC, 2007; AFT, 2010).

A typical adjunct faculty pool may include instructors who meet only the minimum credentials, while others are highly specialized professionals, such as physicians, writers and engineers, who can provide insight into their professions that cannot be matched by any one full-time faculty member (Schwartz, 2007). In general, adjuncts are conscientious instructors who play a significant role in the academic growth of their students and the college.

Yet, as reported by Gappa and Leslie (1993), it is still the case that adjunct faculty are generally hired for a single course assignment; are given no office space, which makes meeting with students difficult; have no opportunity to participate in departmental activities or curriculum decisions; have very few opportunities, or time, for professional development; and have little or no opportunity for advancement, salary increases, benefits, or job security (AFT, 2010). Adjunct instructors are expected to perform their duties with little or no training, without a complete understanding of the institutional mission or values, and without resources for continued professional development (Gappa & Leslie, 1993; Lyons, 2007).

Professional Needs of Adjuncts

To be effective members of the college community, adjunct instructors need a work environment in which they can become active academic partners in the college. They need a culture of engagement: one that treats full-time and adjunct faculty as valuable partners (Lambert, 2007). Community colleges need to provide the resources, incentives, and recognition for full-time and adjunct faculty to engage in the institution’s culture of excellence (Richardson, 2007; Rutschow, 2011).).

What does an adjunct instructor need to be an effective teacher and a contributing member of the college community? Not surprising, they need the same things that any other instructor needs: engagement with student and the college community in designing curricula and student learning (Gappa & Leslie, 1993); an effective orientation to the institution (Gappa & Leslie, 1993; Sillman, 2007; Yee, 2007); a sense of belonging to the institution (Gappa & Leslie, 1993; Zutter, 2007; Nolan, Siegrist, & Richard, 2007); training with ongoing professional development (Gappa & Leslie, 1993; Hutti, Rhodes, Allison & Laterbach, 2007; Peterson, 2007); and recognition of quality work that is valued by institutional decision-makers (Baker, Mercier, 2007; Burnstad, Hayes, Hoss, & West, 2007).

Colleges need to develop effective policies and practices to communicate with adjunct faculty and integrate them into the culture of the college. Colleges also need to make self-development tools available, such as online training, web resources, and space for professional collaboration. Additionally, colleges need to provide opportunities for collaboration with national associations that support adjunct faculty (Gappa & Austin, 2007).

Recent studies have shown six areas that colleges should focus on to support adjunct faculty: 1) recruitment, 2) orientation, 3) teaching support, 4) evaluation, 5) professional development, and 6) integration into the college culture (Kelly, 2008). In addition, accrediting agencies demand that opportunities for professional development should be available for part-time faculty that is commensurate with that provided for full-time faculty. Gappa and Leslie (1993, p. 8) assert that “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.”

Research Question

This research study will focus on the question: How can MCCC Mathematics Department best support adjunct faculty in providing good student instruction?
In addition, the following concerns will be addressed:
  • To what extent is adjunct faculty engagement critical to the success of community colleges?
  • What do individual adjunct faculty members have to offer to the community college?
  • What are the fundamental issues of teaching and learning for adjunct faculty?
  • What are the fundamental issues for staff development for adjunct faculty?
  • How can adjunct faculty be more involved in student development?
  • What incentives and support programs would help part-time instructors make a greater contribution to MCCC?


Our recommendations to the Mathematics Department academic officers will be to develop equitable policies for adjunct faculty, and create customized professional development activities based on the results of our study, the individual needs of the adjunct faculty, and recommendation from national studies.

The goals of the customized professional development will be to create a resource adjunct faculty members can use to gain an understanding of the college’s mission, policies, and procedures; develop classroom management and course development skills; become aware of the adjunct’s role in the college’s learning community; and become knowledgeable about resources available to enhance student learning; gain awareness of their role in the college community, find opportunities to enhance their teaching, and enhance their employment opportunities.

Finally, we will recommend a continuous improvement process, which will include periodic surveys of adjunct faculty to determine their ongoing needs and concerns. This process will lead to adjustments to professional development that align with the needs of adjuncts.


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