Adjuncts lack training, support

Community colleges depend heavily on part-time faculty but rarely treat them as “full partners in promoting student success,” charges Contingent Commitments: Bringing Part-Time Faculty Into Focus, a new report by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE).

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Adjuncts teach 58 percent of community college classes, CCCSE reports. They work for much less money than full-time instructors and for minimal or no benefits.

Part-timers teach the neediest students: More than three-quarters of developmental education faculty are adjuncts.

Adjuncts are less likely to refer students to counselors, tutors or labs, perhaps because they’re less aware of support services.

Though many part-time faculty express their passion for teaching and commitment to student success, many also see themselves as outsiders in the colleges where they work. Many do not find out whether they will be teaching classes until just days before the term begins. Their access to orientation, professional development, college services, or office space to do their own work and meet with students is limited or simply unavailable. They rarely, if ever, are engaged in interaction with their peers or in campus discussions about the steps colleges need to take to improve student learning, persistence, and completion.

In focus groups, adjuncts complained they’d never been told how to make copies or find their mail boxes.

Embracing Non-Tenure Track Faculty,, edited by Adrianna Kezar, suggests ways colleges could improve working conditions for the “new majority” of contingent instructors.

For-profit students like teaching, but not costs

Current and former for-profit college students like their school’s quality, but not the high costs, reports Public Agenda. Alumni aren’t certain their degree was worth it.

Students and alumni “agree that their schools have caring instructors, keep class sizes small, and give effective guidance (though alumni are slightly less enthusiastic),” according to the survey. Current students say they’re making good progress in their course of study.

However, students and alumni say their schools are expensive, and nearly half of current students say they worry “a lot” about taking on too much debt.  

A third of alumni say their degree “really wasn’t worth it.” Another 30 percent say their degree’s value “remains to be seen” and 37 percent say their degree was “well worth it.”

About half of the employers surveyed see few differences between for-profit and not-for-profit colleges. The rest see public institutions as superior. However, many employers aren’t clear about which colleges are for-profit or non-profit.

Many students don’t realize they’re attending a “for-profit” school. 

Like community colleges, for-profit colleges draw many low-income students, notes Public Agenda.  These “economically vulnerable” students are not “comparative shoppers.” Just 39 percent of for-profit undergraduates and 32 percent of for-profit alumni had considered more than one school before they enrolled at their current institutions. Even fewer considered a non-profit alternative. Community college students show similar patterns.

When a calling stops calling

Teaching was a “calling” when she had a shot at a permanent job, writes Rebecca Schuman. Now, after “two years as a slightly less-disposable faculty member, with a salary, full benefits, course-design autonomy, and my own office,” she’s returned to “dead-end adjuncting.” As a disposable teacher, she’s “hanging up” on the calling, she writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

George Washington University’s Joseph Fruscione, whose adjunct advocacy has thrust him into the public eye, told me that what “calling” he has felt to teach hasn’t changed—just his perceptions of academe. He wrote to me: “I entered with a (too) idealistic sense of it as a place of knowledge and intellectual inquiry. Being essentially cheap, renewable labor has made me feel cynical and a little angry about how universities are knowingly overusing contingent faculty while adding more administrators, provosts, and the like.”

Calling teaching a “calling” is an excuse to pay less, said Katie Guest Pryal, who teaches legal writing at the University of North Carolina.

The language of “calling” can contribute to the feminization of contingency, a California adjunct said.  “My mother was a second-wave feminist and taught me to see the use of the words ‘calling’ and ‘vocation’ as excuses not to pay women for labor, especially in teaching and nursing.”

Adjuncts demand equality

The plight of temporary, part-time college instructors is getting attention, if not action.

Adjunct college instructors complain of low pay, few benefits, shifting schedules and no job security in The Just-in-Time Professor. The report was compiled from an online forum set up by Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat.

Most respondents said they make $2,000 to $3,500 per three-credit course or an average of $24,926 a year, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

More than 60 respondents reported salaries that would put them beneath the federal poverty line for a three-person family. Some respondents said they were on federal assistance programs like Medicaid or food stamps. One added: “During the time I taught at the community college, I earned so little that I sold my plasma on Tuesdays and Thursdays to pay for [my child’s] daycare costs.”

On top of low pay, 75 percent of the respondents who discussed the topic said they did not receive benefits—either because their employer didn’t offer them or because they were otherwise ineligible. One adjunct wrote: “The health care plan that I could buy into costs more than my take-home pay on even a good year. My retirement plan is to work until they bury me.”

In Equality for Contingent Faculty: Overcoming the Two-Tier System, edited by Keith Hoeller, 11 activists propose solutions to the “two-tier system.”

Three-fourths of college faculty are “contingent,” a nearly tenfold increase since 1975, according to the writers. That divides the faculty into haves and have-nots. The book describes successful organizing efforts. 

Hoeller is an adjunct professor of philosophy at Green River Community College, cofounder of the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association and co-organizer of the New Faculty Majority.

Marcia Newfield and Rosalind Petchesky have advanced degrees and decades of experience teaching at City University of New York, reports NBC. As an adjunct, Newfield earns $3,622 for each of the two classes she teaches each semester at Borough of Manhattan Community College. She now has health insurance but “no job security, disability benefits, permanent office, or input in her department’s curriculum, and only a meager pension.” Petchesky, a “distinguished” professor with tenure, makes about $144,000 a year.

Accelerated teaching

Teaching “accelerated” English and math is very different from teaching a traditional remedial class, write Katie Hern and Myra Snell, in Toward a Vision of Accelerated Curriculum and Pedagogy. In the LearningWorks brief, the two community college professors draw on their work with the California Acceleration Project (CAP), a project of the California Community College Support Network (3CSN).

In traditional models of remediation, students often work on sub-skills, such as completing grammar exercises or reviewing a long list of arithmetic and algebra procedures from their prior schooling.

“We don’t believe that the basics should be separated out and front-loaded before students can tackle more challenging – and frankly, more interesting – tasks,” writes Hern. “Instead, we believe under-prepared students need practice with college-level skills, content, and ways of thinking. They need to reason their way through open-ended questions on topics that matter. They need to think. And if, along the way, we see that they are weak in some of the basics, we need to build in targeted support.”

At 12 California community colleges offering accelerated remediation, completion of college-level English increased by 50 percent. Accelerated math students were 3.3 times more likely to complete a college-level math course, according to preliminary results from a study by the Research and Planning Group.

Ninety percent of low-level remedial math students never earn a certificate or degree. That’s “Old Testament bad, rivers of blood bad,” says Uri Treisman, a University of Texas math and public affairs professor.

“The evidence is clear that requiring students to complete multiple semesters of remedial courses is just not working,” says Linda Collins, executive director of LearningWorks. But community colleges “need to think about not only curricular structure, but about how faculty are teaching.”

Study: Adjuncts are just as effective

Adjuncts don’t hurt — or help — student success at community colleges, concludes a preliminary study. Most research shows adjuncts aren’t as effective, notes Inside Higher Ed. But a study released earlier in the fall found students may learn more from adjuncts, “at least at research universities.”

Hongwei Yu, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Office of Community College Research and Leadership, was lead author of The Effect of Part-time Faculty on Students’ Degree and/or Certificate Completion in Two-Year Community Colleges. 

The authors attribute their findings regarding adjuncts and student success to the possibility that community colleges “hire a significant percentage of part-time faculty who come directly from professional fields and  have practical experiences, skills, and knowledge [...] which may help students achieve degree or certificate completion in two-year community colleges. In addition, part-time faculty may provide students connections to workplace or a community.”

Researchers found lower completion rates at large community colleges (10,000 or more students) and at rural colleges. High school grades also correlated with completion rates.

More than two-thirds of community college faculty are adjuncts teaching part-time for low wages, no benefits and no job security.

Some adjuncts are trying to organize for better treatment, but there’s a large pool of people with advanced degrees and limited job prospects.

The Adjunct Question is the topic for the week at National Journal.

Teaching the unprepared

Colleges are trying hard to raise the success rates — or, at least, the pass rates — of unprepared students, writes Eileen F. Toplansky, who teaches writing at two- and four-year institutions. She’s been urged to take an online seminar that promises to teach how to create relevant content, engage students and deal with “incomplete homework” and “course assignments that are sloppily completed or completely ignored.”

. . . as instructors, we are supposed to “tease knowledge out of students, rather than pound it into their heads. Projects and collaborative learning are applauded [whereas] traditional methods like lecturing and memorization are [often] derided as ‘drill and kill’” even though these latter methods do work well.

The vocabulary base of many of my students ranges between the fifth and seventh grade reading level. The dictionary is a foreign object. Yet, incessantly, instructors are told to engage in peer-review; that is, students grade and evaluate other students’ work.

Toplansky supplies unedited passages by community college students:

Interests of people change and people begin to seek a self-defiance. When these things happen, people begin admiring uncharacteristic traits. People fall in love and typically get married. But unlike in the past, people are getting married for a different reason.

and

From the study it was proven that even though the teen had an unplanned pregnancy, theirs evidence suggesting even though the teen got pregnant by accident they purposely don’t use contraception because they would like to get pregnant.

Another student wrote: “Every human being lurks for love from another, same sex or not.”

Ah, yes. Lurking for love in all the wrong places.

Kickstarting lives

Teaching at a community college is inspiring, writes Stacia L. Brown, an adjunct writing instructor at the Community College of Baltimore County, on Vitae.

Listening to my retired veterans, my 18-year-old recovering addicts, and my young parents trying to drive a wedge between themselves and poverty, I unearthed which social causes were worth my championing. And I learned how vastly different someone’s reasoning can be from my own, based on the environment in which he or she was raised.

. . . I was empowering ex-convicts to combat recidivism, encouraging low-income kids to persevere toward the four-year degree they’d always wanted. I was inspiring young mothers. And most important, I had the great privilege of convincing my students they they had not just valid, but vital, academic voices and that they were a critical part of intellectual discourse.

To teach community college is to have the constant sense that something is beginning to happen. We are kickstarting lives, in ways we will never entirely know.

Instructors don’t always see their influence, writes Oakland Community College (Michigan) professor Linda Boynton in Hidden Harvest. “Parents become positive role models for their children or other family members. Cycles of failure get broken. Students, once content with low-paying, unfulfilling jobs, begin to want more, which means they find the courage to face rejection instead of letting it control them.”

Keep it real, says top math prof

robert chaneyThe top community college professor of the year is Robert Chaney, a professor of mathematics at Sinclair Community College in Dayton. The Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching presented awards to four professors at different levels of higher education.

Chaney’s students use math to “study a personal hobby, program a robot or start a mock company,” reports Inside Higher Ed. “I want them to look at real-world problems and be able to see math as something that is helpful and useful,” said Chaney, who teaches algebra and trigonometry courses, as well as business statistics and math for engineering students.

Chaney uses a blend of traditional teaching, real-world examples and activities. The goal is to help students understand the math they’ll need for future courses and apply math skills to solve problems.

 In one class, students use algebraic functions to program a calculator-controlled robot called SAM (which stands for “science and math”).

“They see algebra working right before them and it puts meaning and definition behind the algebra,” Chaney said.

Through his work with Math Machines, a nonprofit he started with a colleague, Chaney is helping educators at high schools and community colleges create control devices, like SAM, and build lesson plans for science, math and technology courses.

Also honored for teaching were: Gintaras Duda (for master’s universities and colleges), an associate professor of physics at Creighton University, in Omaha; Steven Pollock (for doctoral and research universities), a professor of physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Ann Williams (for baccalaureate institutions), a professor of French at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Online students want more guidance

Online students expect a lot of support from instructors. Online teachers think students should be independent. The misaligned expectations lead to “frustration, confusion, and tension,” concludes a Community College Research Center study by Rachel Hare Bork and Zawadi Rucks-Ahidiana. They interviewed students and instructors at two Virginia community colleges.

. . . most instructors felt that students should be solely responsible for being motivated, identifying the most important material, prioritizing course-related tasks, reviewing assignments in advance, and asking any questions of the instructor several days before assignments are due.

While students agreed that students should manage their time well and perform course tasks and assignments on schedule, they expected instructors to work more actively to make key tasks, material, priorities, and assignments clear; to motivate student learning by ensuring that materials were engaging; to inject their own presence into the course; and to support student learning by being proactive in providing substantive feedback.

Students expected written feedback on assignments. Instructors typically provided only a grade, expecting students to ask questions if they needed more information.

Students were disappointed when instructors didn’t comment on their discussion board posts. One student complained:

She’ll give us questions and in those questions it might ask you “Discuss such-and-such, being in depth with this, be specific with that” and you can put your opinion in there. But the thing is … you don’t get any feedback. And so it feels like “Why am I telling you anything if you don’t really [read it]? I mean like you are not responding to me in any kind of way.”

While students liked YouTube or PBS audiovisual clips, but they strongly preferred multimedia presentations created by the instructor. Hearing and seeing the instructor “provided a personal touch . . .  giving students the sense that the instructor was actively teaching them.”

Students wanted teachers to “have a strong and frequent presence” online to guide them through the learning process.

Another student suggested that online instructors were implicitly telling students that they had to learn course content independently. “I think the problem with online teaching is that the teachers kind of tell you ‘Okay, here’s the book, you know, study pages 12 through 23 and know this for a test in a few days.’” The student continued that this approach did not work for him because “I can’t teach myself math.”

Many instructors saw themselves as course designers and managers rather than teachers.

Colleges should prepare students for the demands of studying online, the researchers suggest. Distance-learning orientation — offered before and during registration — could help students decide if they should take the course online or in a face-to-face classroom.

Readiness activities should provide practice in skills and knowledge needed for online learning, they add. They recommend “mandatory modules on time‐management, self-directed learning and computer literacy.”