Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Adjuncts and Retention
Most of us can rattle reasons off the top of our heads: lack of student advisement, lack of connection to campus culture, frequent turnover leading to relationships not forming, freeway fliers not having time to hold office hours. On the flip side, I suspect that the optimal number of adjuncts is non-zero, given the insights that working professionals in their fields can offer, and the inevitable semester-to-semester enrollment fluctuations that affect all but the very top tier schools (what a social scientist I knew once called “the squiggle”).
We can also easily fall into the predictable round-robin of claiming that a preference for full-time faculty constitutes a slap in the face to adjuncts, who are well-qualified and hard-working, and why don't they get credit too, and blah blah blah. The reason this debate perpetually goes nowhere is that it's the wrong debate. When looking at the trend toward adjuncts, don't look at adjuncts. Look at the institution hiring them.
Over at Cold Spring Shops, Stephen Karlson ups the ante by pointing to the pressure on adjuncts at many schools to get glowing (or at least non-complaining) student evaluations as a condition of contract renewal. Let the Darwinian process work itself out over the years, and you'll gradually get a dumbed-down level of teaching, presumably leading to higher fail rates. Unless, of course, the dumbed-down teaching occurs all the way through, at which point you'd presumably get lower fail rates. It's not clear to me why the former is obvious and the latter impossible. If anything, in my days at Proprietary U, it was an article of faith that if you staffed the faculty with enough people who passed enough students, retention would increase. (Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is another issue.) You may or may not pay a long-term price in prestige, but that's not the same thing.
I'd add another variable (which, to be fair, the actual scholarly article may or may not address). Beyond a certain minimum, you can probably take the percentage of adjunct faculty as a pretty good indicator of the financial health of a college. (This may not apply in very rural areas, or in colleges with very narrowly-focused missions.) Broadly speaking, the higher the adjunct percentage, the more the college is hurting financially. Since the study specifically looks at community colleges, for which the economics of the local community are broadly determinative of the economics of the college, I'd take the next step: when you're looking at the adjunct percentage of a community college, you're looking at the level of wealth of the community it inhabits (allowing some fluctuation for political climate, such as the presence or absence of a TABOR-like law).
If that's right, then what we're saying is that more affluent communities have higher graduation rates than less-affluent ones. Well, yeah. That holds true in the high schools; it seems plausible that it would continue to hold true in community colleges, since they're almost as place-specific as high schools are.
For reasons I still fail to understand, most community colleges don't have endowments in any meaningful sense. To the extent that we get private donations, they invariably go to student scholarships. I'm all for student scholarships, both for need and for merit, but I'm also for providing the funding base for a college to do its job right. Our operating funds come almost entirely from a combination of dedicated taxes and/or government subventions, and tuition.
To answer a perceptive question from Dr. Karlson, yes, community colleges generally price our tuition well below the market-clearing or profit-maximizing level. We do this deliberately, out of a sense of mission. Since cc's exist to provide access to higher education to those who otherwise might not have it, we struggle to keep tuition low enough for the struggling working single Mom to be able to afford to take classes. Does that mean that we leave money on the table sometimes, charging some folks much less than they would have been willing to pay? Yup. Could we conceivably use that money to, say, hire more full-time faculty? Yup. Would that make my life immeasurably easier? Yup.
Were it up to me, we'd take some pages from the four-year school playbook. We'd develop endowments for purposes other than scholarships, and use the interest income to improve the quality of what we do. We'd shift from 'everyday low prices' to a 'higher-price, higher-aid' strategy. (Obviously, that assumes a considerably streamlined financial aid system.) We might charge different tuition for different majors, based on the extraordinary differences in institutional cost between, say, Nursing clinicals and Intro to Sociology. We'd embrace merit aid, both out of general principle (let's tell high school kids that good grades, as well as a good jump shot, will pay off) and out of a realistic recognition that part of what makes a good education is good peers. Done properly, the wealthier kids would benefit from having another high-quality option, and the poorer would benefit by having a new high-quality option. Yes, there would be more financial aid paperwork, and that's a pain. But it strikes me as far less painful than the continued watering-down of the only option realistically available to many people.
This could all be wrong, of course, but I'm thinking some prospective Ed.d. could generate a pretty good research project out of it. Hint, hint...
As it is, on our campus, ANY move toward either or these options would be met with near hysteria... sigh.
I have tried to begin a larger discussion. My take.
Yes, that would be wonderful. It will never happen. This is my last semester as an adjunct (my 10th semester)mainly because once you add in all the time I spend on class prep, grading, etc, I'm not making minumum wage.
My school will never pay adjuncts to spend time on campus because there's no place to put us all; there's over 400 adjuncts and 80 full-timers. Administrators just moved into the "ghetto office" that was shared by 10-15 adjuncts so I hold office hours when needed in a coffee shop. If they had to pay us for the time spent answering email, they'd go broke.
I agree with ummm about that quote, if I were paid for anywhere near the hours I actually work I would hold more office hours, spend more time tracking down fantastic material and prepping even more interesting lectures. Even better I could actually advise the students interested in my area of teaching, as it stands they are out if luck if they want help in this area; there isn't anyone who could advise an honours thesis in this area for example. This could improve retention.
On the other hand you would create a three-tiered system of faculty that might be more bizarre than the current two-tier one. Can you imagine pitting adjuncts against each other for two types of positions, one better paid, more like a 'real' job, with more status? The Uni would love to take advantage of the extra work people in the lowest positions would do to gain acces to the new tier, but departments would hate having yet another request for funding to justify! Most probably depts would be told to cut a couple of adjuncts to fund these new positions and that would not serve students very well because it would further narrow their course choices. It sounds like a big mess that really pleases no one!
That is the administrative fantasy, that adjuncts are busy professionals who give up a few evenings to teaching.
What about the adjuncts teaching your English, composition, math, history, etc.? Adjunct teaching is their job.
And what are you paying them?
Not an adjunct anymore...
I am an adjunct at two places. And I am on my last month of one place where I have taught for ten years.
Retention--now we are replaced. Full time faculty should teach freshman. Retention rates are better.
Perhaps though these full time faculty should be qualified.
I can add and subtract and I know where Kansas and Korea are. But no one lets me teach arithemetic or Geography.
Yet anyone, it appears, anyone at all, can teach writing.
And I choose to be an adjunct...No full time work for me. I choose to work with my students, not go to faculty meetings. I choose to have a life and make money somewhere else.
But still my college is getting rid of me...
One month to go....
Retention....I wonder if the students leave who they will find to adjunct for the adjuncts they did not retain....
I recently published an article on the dangers and benefits of student loans and other forms of college financial aid – here is a quote from it, in case you are interested:
Student loans repayment can be a real nightmare without adopting some strategies that would help the new graduates to organize their social and financial life. Here are some strategies they can use to do this:
- An additional part-time job;
- Freelancing is another option (meaning that they can do particular pieces of work for different organisations, without working all the time for a single organisation);
- They should try to keep their living expenses as low as possible (live in a smaller apartment, live with a roommate to share some of the expenses, find an apartment that is closer to the job, to eliminate the extra-expenses for transport etc.);
- To apply for forbearance (this is an immediate solution for hard times when the new graduate is in impossibility to re-pay the amount of money and the need for student loan consolidation becomes apparent; it is a temporary period, when the graduate can postpone or delay his or her re-payments until a later time on a federal or direct loan after the beginning of the re-payment, and when the student doesn’t qualify for deferral). The forbearance must be applied through the lenders of the loans.
- To consolidate the payments.
If you feel this helps, please drop by my website for additional information, such as federal student loans information or additional resources on private student loans .
What is worse than the out-right looking-down-the-nose-at are FT faculty who claim to champion my cause. As if I am not capable of speaking for myself, lowly creature that I am.
And yet, I remain. I clearly do not continue to do it for the money. I do it for the opportunity to change lives, to provide critical thinking skills, and to offer an alternative future for our largely working class student body.
Yes, I am really that idealistic, and it is precisely that hope I bring with me to the classroom.