Stating the incredibly obvious.

18 11 2008

The new issue of Academe is devoted entirely to non-tenure track faculty. Here’s the key paragraphs of what I think is the most important story:

In each institutional type analyzed, the effect of exposure to other part-time faculty, such as postdoctoral researchers, adjunct professors, and part-time lecturers, was negative. At doctoral extensive and intensive institutions, students were about 20 percent less likely to persist into the second year for every percentage-point increase in exposure to other part-time faculty in gatekeeper courses. The effect at the master’s comprehensive institution was slightly stronger, as students were 37 percent less likely to be retained into the second year for every percentage-point increase in exposure to other part-time faculty in gatekeeper courses.

Because contingent faculty are typically hired only for classroom duties and may have other gainful employment, travel between multiple campuses, or be restricted by their appointment, they are generally less accessible and less available to students. At the same time, students report that the type of interaction most important to their education is contact with faculty outside the classroom. Thus, it is possible that the negative effects on student persistence of having gatekeeper classes taught by part-time faculty stem from the inability of students to meet or connect with these instructors outside the classroom. Moreover, according to research, students’ perceptions of faculty members’ availability and concern for them has significant effects on their persistence.

As sad as this is, the sadder thing is that someone had to do a study to figure this out.


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18 11 2008
The_Myth

I respectfully disagree.

I think this misses the very clear point that adjunct faculty are often teaching intro courses to an ever-increasing percentage of college students WHO ARE UNPREPARED FOR COLLEGE.

Some evidence suggests that adjuncts tend to inflate grades to ensure job security], so why would students flee the academy if they got good grades? Yes, the accessibility issue might be there, but many adjuncts [and professors in general] also report that students do not come to office hours anyway. Many students *love* to send e-mails, but these missives often lack substance [and tend to be the sort where the more terse will respond with an ever-appropriate “read the syllabus”].

It’s all just one big hot mess. But I think this focus on retention issues always seems to ignore the big elephant in the room that, over the past 20 years, larger percentage of high school graduates choose to attend college in lieu of entering the work force after graduation. [Latest stats I heard were 35% of HS grads went to college in 1983-ish vs. nearly 70% in 2007.]

18 11 2008
Jonathan Rees

Myth:

Passing the blame off on secondary schools doesn’t really help anyone. And if it’s not clear from the above, I don’t blame adjuncts either.

Anyone can learn if they get the education and attention they deserve. Call me an idealist, but I believe most students prefer learning to not learning and respond accordingly to the educational environment they inhabit. You may not believe this study (or perhaps its conclusions aren’t as obvious as I thought), but it does, at least, back up my idealism.

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