Freshmen who have many of their courses taught by adjuncts are less likely than other students to return as sophomores, according to a new study looking at six four-year colleges and universities in a state system. Further, the nature of the impact of adjunct instruction varies by institution type and the type of adjunct used, the study finds. And in some cases, students taking courses from full-time, non-tenure track instructors or from adjuncts well supported by their institutions do better than those taught by other kinds of adjuncts.
This is, of course, no slam against the intelligence and teaching abilities of adjuncts. The last sentence about support from their institutions strongly indicates that it’s the time and attention that instructors put into the course that matters most. If you’re teaching six courses on three campuses, you don’t have time to care. If you don’t have a real office in which to hold office hours, students having problems have trouble finding you.
There’s something else here that is indicative of what I think is the problem of the future:
At all but one of the institutions studied, the average freshman had more than 50 percent of credits earned from courses taught by an adjunct instructor of one of the three kinds identified. Students with typical (for their institutions) use of adjunct instructors would see between a 10 and 30 percent decrease in their odds of coming back as freshmen, compared to students taught by those on the tenure track, the authors note.
I think I’ll start calling this the “I’m paying $20,000/year for what exactly?” problem. Of course, it’s not the students who are going to be asking that question as tuition costs skyrocket, it’s the parents. As my child is only two years away from college, I’m making a note to ask about instruction by contingent faculty at every on-campus visit.