What is the Problem with Using Part-Time Faculty?

Let us be clear

Part-time (also called adjunct or contingent) faculty are generally excellent instructors who care deeply about the success of their students.

The problem is that providing a satisfactory, much less a quality, learning environment requires that a high percentage of those providing the instruction be full-time professionals. Providing a satisfactory learning environment requires

  • excellent teaching
  • opportunity for contact with students outside of the classroom
  • full, unfettered access to all of the resources of the college, including office space, support staff, and equipment
  • ongoing professional development, to provide content and teaching methods that are up-to-date
  • career advising
  • program advising, which requires knowledge of the full range of the curriculum
  • time for reflection and discussion with colleagues
  • job security and a consistent, ongoing role in the department.

Part-time faculty are underpaid, have no health or retirement benefits, and have poor or no access to college facilities and the instructional environment outside of their classroom. It is the nature of the job that this occurs, not the fault of the dedicated indivdual. At best, the individual can provide quality teaching, but the other equally important factors can only be supported with a full-time position. Research and common sense both support this. This table illustrates some of the differences.

It is the position of the Massachusetts Community College Council that a much higher percentage of our teaching professionals need to be in full-time positions, and that many of the current adjunct faculty are both willing and able to fill these positions.

Here’s What the Research Says

  • In his 2008 study, Dr. Daniel Jacoby of the University of Washington summarized the result of his research this way: “Community college graduation rates decrease as the proportion of part-time faculty increases.”
  • In a study done for the National Bureau of Economic Research by Ehrenberg and Zhang, it was found that for every 10 percent increase in the use of adjuncts there was a 2.65 percent reduction in graduation rates.
  • Jacoby concluded this on the rationale for the decrease in student success: “It is more likely that the ill effects are the consequence of multiple disincentives inherent in current part-time faculty contracting.”
  • The part-time or “permatemp” system provides few incentives to foster rich interactions, and thus undermines the campus-learning climate.
  • In a Washington State study approximately 50 percent of adjuncts preferred full-time faculty employment, and another 20 percent wanted more courses than their current workload.
  • In 1999 the average pay for a full-time faculty was $46,636 and they taught on average 17.3 hours per week; the average pay for a part-time faculty was $9,782 and they taught on average 8.4 hours per week.
  • “There now appear to the few real defenses that can justify maintaining a system of employment that evidence increasingly suggests has adverse results for students as well as faculty.”
  • In her 2008 study, Dr. Audrey Jaeger South Carolina State University had the following findings: 
    • According to Schuster and Finkelstein in their 2003 book, in 1969 part-time faculty were about 22 percent, in 1987 they were 52 percent, and by 2003 they were about 70 percent.
    • “Students who had between 76 and 100 percent of first year credits with contingent faculty were significantly less likely to persist than their counterparts with the least exposure (25 percent or less) to part-time instructors.”
    • There is “a significant and negative relationship between a student’s likelihood of transfer and their exposure to contingent faculty instruction.”
    • “Students who had all of their courses taught by contingent faculty were 20 percent less likely to transfer.”

Massachusetts Higher Ed. Vision Plan

Dr. Richard Freeland, Commissioner of Higher Education, has put forward an ambitious plan to raise the stature of higher education in Massachusetts. The plan has many laudable objectives. Two key outcomes are to become a national leader in:

·        Graduation (or student success) rates at our public colleges

·        Production of graduates in key areas of workforce need

·        Percentage of adult/working age population with college degrees or certificates

Community colleges have a vital role in achieving these objectives. But as the studies show, the increasing use of part-time faculty is a significant impediment to the Vision Plan’s success.

How About the University of Phoenix Model?

Isn’t this the model for the future of higher education?

The New York Times looked into this model and found it seriously deficient. “According to federal statistics and government audits, the university [of Phoenix] relies more on part-time instructors than all but a few other postsecondary institutions, and its accelerated academic schedule races students through course work in about half the time of traditional universities. The university says that its graduation rate, using the federal standard, is 16 percent, which is among the nation’s lowest, according to Department of Education data.”


Dillon, Sam. “Troubles Grow for a University Built on Profits.” New York Times. 11 Feb., 2007. 


Jacoby, Daniel. “Effects of Part-Time Faculty Employment on Community College Graduation Rates.” The Journal of Higher Education, Nov/Dec 2008. Vol. 77 Issue 6, 1081-1103.


Jaeger, Audrey. “Contingent Faculty and Student Outcomes.” Academe, Nov/Dec 2008. Vol. 94 Issue 6, 42-43.

What Can Parents and Students Do?

Contact your local community college presidents and ask them to increase the number of full-time faculty to increase student success.

Let your legislators know that your local community college, and that college's President and Trustees, need more financial support for full-time teaching positions.




Daniel Asquino

Mt. Wachusett


Wayne Burton

North Shore


Gail Carberry



Carole Cowan



Mary Fifield

Bunker Hill


Terrence Gomes



David Hartlieb

Northern Essex


Carole B. Joseph

Mass Bay


William Messner



Robert Pura



Dr. Paul Raverta



Ira Rubenzahl

Springfield Tech


Dr. John Sbrega



Kathleen Schatzberg

Cape Cod


Charles Wall