Colleges’ HR Practice of Hiring Adjunct Professors

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Introduction

For-profit colleges and universities were the first educational institutions that concentrated on developing a new hiring strategy with a focus on part-time professors and instructors. Regular reductions in funding of not-for-profit colleges and universities also led to adopting this approach widely in the United States. Several years ago, the main focus was on hiring qualified full-time tenured instructors and professors in order to guarantee a high-quality education in the concrete institution (West 2010, p. 22). Recently, the situation has changed because of the necessity to reduce costs associated with hiring full-time professors (Spaniel & Scott, 2013). The solution to the problem was found with the focus on recruiting adjunct professors with lower qualifications to teach introductory and other similar courses. As a result, the number of adjuncts working in for-profit and community colleges and universities became to increase significantly, providing managers and administrators with opportunities to reduce employment costs and improve the effectiveness of education in the concrete institution. The reason is that not all researchers and practitioners view adjunct professors as specialists with lower qualifications because initially, part-time instructors were invited to work in a college or university to share the educational experience and address the necessity of flexibility in education (Klausman, 2010). As a result, the current practice of hiring adjuncts in colleges and universities needs to be discussed from several perspectives.

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The purpose of this research is to analyze why many colleges and other educational institutions in the United States choose to hire more adjunct professors and expand their part in the teaching staff matrix of the institution with the focus on the effectiveness of this human resource management practice. In order to discuss the problem in detail, it is necessary to focus on the development and expansion of the practice in institutions, on its impact on the quality of education, on challenges faced by part-time professors, and on the role of this practice for addressing the financial issue in colleges. The paper also aims to propose recommendations for the further improvement of this hiring practice in order to address issues determined as a result of the problem analysis.

Problem Statement

The problem is in the fact that the modern economic situation in the United States and regular financial constraints faced by managers and administrators in educational institutions caused their focus on alternative hiring strategies. The attraction of more adjunct professors to work in colleges and universities is one such strategy. In order to save financial resources, decrease staff costs, and respond to the situation of financial instability, human resource managers working in educational institutions propose hiring part-time or adjunct professors because costs associated with their compensation are significantly lower than costs associated with hiring full-time professors (Charlier & Williams, 2011). However, the real problem is more complex because the teaching staff and managers note that the organization of the work of part-time professors is a challenging task. Thus, there is a lack of cooperation between full-time and part-time professors, and there are often cases of discrimination of adjunct professors. From this point, it is important to analyze all factors associated with the practice of hiring adjunct professors in educational institutions in order to conclude about the real effectiveness of this practice to be actively used in colleges and universities.

Literature Review

The practice of attracting adjunct professors for working in colleges and universities is not new for the U.S. system of higher education. However, the number of adjunct professors in higher educational institutions has increased significantly only recently (Langen, 2011; Spaniel & Scott, 2013, p. 2). Thus, more than 75% of professors who worked in the American colleges in 2004 performed as part-time instructors or adjunct professors (Klausman, 2010, p. 364). The scholars focused on the problem because there is an opinion in the educational community that credentials and competence of adjunct professors are not enough to educate undergraduate and postgraduate students (Charlier & Williams, 2011; Datray, Saxon, & Martirosyan, 2014). As the improvement of the quality of education is not discussed as a priority for hiring part-time instructors, many researchers are inclined to explain the human resource managers’ focus on hiring adjunct professors with references to the financial question (Herbers, 2014; Li-ping & Tang, 2012).

Economic conditions and the necessity of implementing new programs in colleges at lower costs are the main causes for attracting part-time professors. This practice is discussed as typical for both community colleges and “for-profit” educational institutions (Stenerson, Blanchard, Fassiotto, Hernandez, & Muth, 2010, p. 24). Negative changes in budgets and increases in operating costs of colleges indicate that educational institutions need to develop effective strategies to overcome the problem of reduced funding and try to decrease costs associated with hiring more professionals (Herbers, 2014, p. 3; Levin & Hernandez, 2014, p. 533). To support this idea, Eney and Davidson (2012) note that in this situation, tenure-track professors are discussed as sources to promote the reputation and image of the college when the majority of educational tasks are performed by part-time instructors because of availability of their services. This approach to distributing responsibilities also seems to be cost-effective for managers and administrators.

One more cause to invite adjunct professors for working in colleges is the increase in flexibility of proposed education. Although this cause is actively declared by managers and educational leaders as the main one to work with the adjunct faculty, researchers argue that the reality is different, and the promised flexibility is often not supported by administrators (Cucciarre, McCamley, & Harris, 2014, p. 56; Herbers, 2014, p. 4; Langen, 2011, p. 186). However, Stenerson et al. (2010) claim that the interest of human resource managers in colleges toward adjunct professors will continue to grow because the outside experience of part-time instructors can significantly contribute to flexibility in the enrollment of programs and work with students. Ballantyne, Berret, and Harst (2010) also focus on the idea that colleges usually attract adjunct professors for teaching a variety of new courses in a situation when financial resources are limited, but the focus on flexibility associated with inviting more professors are not regarded by managers as a key reason to continue contracts with part-time employees. From this point, the problem is in the impossibility of educational leaders and human resource managers to accept the fact that the adjunct faculty contributes to the development of a college and that these professors need to be supported both psychologically and financially in order to increase their motivation.

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The status of adjunct professors in colleges and universities is one of the most controversial questions in the debates on the problem. According to Klausman (2010), the adjunct faculty is usually discriminated against by managers and other full-time professors because of their low position in the educational institution and the lack of support from administration. In this context, the real credentials of an adjunct professor are not taken into account (Meixner, Kruck, & Madden, 2010, p. 141). Thus, Klausman states that the adjunct faculty has “historically been institutionally marginalized” (Klausman, 2010, p. 363). In their research, Spaniel and Scott also pay attention to the contrast in perceptions of adjunct professors typical for different periods of time, and they state that previously, “part-time teaching fellows were held in high esteem as visiting professors who brought scholarly prestige to institutions of higher education” (Spaniel & Scott, 2013, p. 2). Today, the situation is rather the opposite. West (2010) notes that the problem is in the fact that human resource managers in colleges cannot provide the adjunct faculty with the required job security because the positions of these instructors are part-time. These professors usually do not participate in developing programs, and they have no right to express their vision openly (West, 2010). As a result, human resource managers’ practices often contribute to the marginalization and isolation of these employees because they are not involved in teams and projects, and they are not discussed as candidates for the promotion.

Another approach to save costs of a college and justify the strategy of hiring part-time professors is associated with limiting salaries and decreasing other benefits for part-time instructors. Klausman claims that the adjunct faculty are usually discriminated against while receiving “so little in terms of pay and benefits” (Klausman, 2010, p. 363). Levin and Hernandez (2014) also argue that part-time instructors become discriminated against in terms of all possible benefits because the main goal of managers for hiring adjunct professors is to address the economic constraints. Therefore, the practice of hiring adjunct professors results in creating uncomfortable conditions for professionals who have to work under pressure of being ignored by other professors and without adequate compensation for their expertise and demonstrated skills.

Researchers state that in spite of the fact that managers and administrators in colleges focus on the necessities of treating professionals working in the educational institutions equally, only a few efforts are made for improving teamwork and collaboration of the tenure-track faculty and adjunct professors (Cucciarre et al., 2014; Klausman, 2010, p. 364; Meixner et al., 2010; Stenerson et al., 2010). Because of being excluded from the full-time professors’ community, part-time lecturers do not develop “a sense of institutional belonging”, and they represent the lowest levels in the hierarchy of the educational institution regardless of their competence and experience (Levin & Hernandez, 2014, p. 535; West, 2010). Dailey-Hebert and the group of researchers define such a situation as a paradox because the demand for adjunct professors is constantly increasing, but human resource managers do not work effectively to adapt part-time instructors to the concrete educational settings (Dailey-Hebert, Norris, Mandernach, & Donnelli-Sallee, 2014, p. 68). In a situation when managers are focused on reducing costs, they also ignore the necessity of using resources for improving the work experience of the adjunct faculty (Li-ping & Tang, 2012). From this point, economic savings are still a priority for human resource managers who perform in colleges to arrange the work of adjunct and full-time professors.

Development of a Practice to Hire Adjunct Professors

The tradition of attracting part-time professors to read lectures in colleges and universities of the United States became developed in the first part of the twentieth century. The main goal of hiring part-time professors was the need for sharing experience within the academic community and the increase of the institution’s reputation (Stenerson et al., 2010, p. 25). In this context, well-known professors were attracted to read lectures in order to improve the level of education in and the status of a certain college and university. In the 1970s, human resource managers began to discuss adjunct professors as contributing to the realization of policies of cost savings in institutions in addition to improving the status of a college (Datray et al., 2014; Klausman, 2010, p. 364). As it is noted by Langen, adjunct professors can bring the “real-world experience and expertise to the classroom, while providing the institutions greater flexibility in adding or deleting classes” (Langen, 2011, p. 186). The researcher also continues that “this increased flexibility comes at a lower cost” (Langen, 2011, p. 186). Therefore, during the period of the 1970s-1980s, the human resource managers in the U.S. colleges and universities were oriented to contribute to the quality of education while saving costs and attracting part-time professors (Li-ping & Tang, 2012, p. 99). This approach was associated with the further beginning of the era of adjuncts in institutions.

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In the 1990s, the situation changed significantly, and the financial benefits became the priority for administrators who planned ways to reduce costs. According to Dailey-Hebert and the group of researchers, the main causes of increasing the number of adjunct professors working in colleges and universities are “reductions in financial support for both state and private institutions and closer oversight of budgets” (Dailey-Hebert et al., 2014, p. 67). Human resource managers in the majority of the U.S. institutions began to discuss the practice of hiring adjunct faculty as a cost-efficient alternative to attracting full-time professors to work in colleges and universities. As a result, “over a 20% increase occurred in the use of part-time faculty to teach college courses” during the period of 1970-1997 (Datray et al., 2014, p. 36). The hiring of part-time professors became the common practice for many educational institutions in the United States in spite of their status, and the main reason was the possibility to overcome financial obstacles while planning courses for the next academic year.

Expansion in Using Adjunct Professors for Introductory Courses in Private Colleges

In comparison with non-for-profit and community colleges, the practice of recruiting the adjunct faculty became more typical for private colleges. As it is noted by Cucciarre, McCamley, and Harris, the reason is in the higher focus of administrators on saving costs associated with the staff management and compensation (Cucciarre et al., 2014, p. 56). The problem is in the fact that administrators and managers in for-profit institutions use all opportunities to save costs spent on compensation and benefits, and at the same time, they aim to attract more students and improve the quality of education. In this context, the expansion of the adjunct faculty seems to be a reasonable response to the financial tensions (Dailey-Hebert et al., 2014; Herbers, 2014, p. 2). Thus, managers and administrators work to develop a schedule according to which high-level courses are read by full-time professors, and introductory courses and seminars are conducted by adjunct professors (Herbers, 2014; Li-ping & Tang, 2012, p. 99). Levin and Hernandez explain the expansion in attracting adjunct professors for reading introductory courses in for-profit colleges stating that there are “greater numbers of diverse students demand access”, and “public confidence in higher education and its tenure system has decreased” (Levin & Hernandez, 2014, p. 533). As a result, human resource managers find new hiring decisions to improve the faculty and address the needs of institutions in saving costs and increasing the enrollment rates.

Nowadays, the trends of expansion related to hiring adjunct professors lead to significant changes in numbers associated with the employment of full-time and part-time professors in for-profit colleges. The difference in the percentage of the full-time and adjunct faculty working in institutions is often significant. Thus, in 2007, the percentage of full-time professors hired in the U.S. “degree-granting institutions” decreased to “only 51%”, and “the part-time faculty community rose … to 49%” (Dailey-Hebert et al., 2014, p. 67). These changes in numbers showed the considerable expansion in hiring adjuncts in private and community colleges of the country. The situation in two-year colleges is even more remarkable because “78% of English faculty are adjunct” there (Klausman, 2010, p. 365). These numbers also indicate that human resource managers in for-profit colleges discuss the opportunity to hire adjunct faculty as promising to address the issue of financial difficulties and to preserve the quality of education. From this perspective, managers see the process of hiring adjuncts as a more profitable strategy than the recruitment of full-time faculty (Klausman, 2010, p. 365). The expansion in the approach is associated with the idea that more adjuncts working in institutions often provide a college with opportunities to limit their obligations regarding compensation packages (Li-ping & Tang, 2012, p. 99). As a result, the equality in payments of adjuncts and full-time professors becomes a significant challenge as a result of focusing on a policy of saving costs.

Discrimination and Stigmatization Faced by Adjunct Professors

Adjuncts are usually discussed by their colleagues as temporaries in institutions, and full-time professors do not work to improve relations with part-time instructors. The problem is in the fact that adjunct professors are often viewed as less experienced and qualified than tenure-track professors, and the full-time faculty usually ignores the necessity of collaborating with part-time instructors (Herbers, 2014, p. 2). Therefore, stigmatization is one of the main causes of the adjunct faculty’s “sense of isolation” (Klausman, 2010, p. 363). The attitude toward adjuncts that is typical for the full-time faculty is often reflected by students who also begin to discuss adjunct professors as inexperienced and less authoritative (Cucciarre et al., 2012). In this case, adjuncts can suffer from stigmas associated with both instructors’ and students’ attitudes.

Discrimination and stigmatization of adjuncts in colleges and universities have two main effects. On the one hand, the constant ignorance demonstrated by full-time professors toward part-time instructors leads to problems in interaction and communication. Thus, the quality of collaboration in the organization decreases, and human resource managers have to choose adjuncts for working as instructors for online courses (Meixner et al., 2010, p. 142). On the other hand, perceptions and attitudes of managers and colleagues toward adjuncts influence their commitment to the organization where they work. Therefore, human resource managers state that the level of turnover among adjuncts is high not only because of the contract nature of their work but also because of their attitude to work (West, 2010, p. 22). As a result, human resource managers try to address a problem when part-time professors “have no dedication to instruction and have no real need for the job” (Datray et al., 2014, p. 37). Researchers state that the level of adjuncts’ commitment to the organization can be minimal because of the character of interactions with colleagues and because of the ineffectiveness of managers and administrators’ strategies. In this context, managers need to pay more attention to planning the benefits for the adjunct faculty in order to contribute to increasing their motivation and commitment, avoid inequity in payments, and increase the quality of education in the institution.

Quality of Adjunct Professors’ Work

In addition to saving costs in an organization, human resource managers also focus on taking more advantage of institutions. Focusing on the quality of part-time or adjunct professors’ work, researchers state that these professors often “lack the training and background that would enable them to utilize quality instructional practices” (Datray et al., 2014, p. 37). Therefore, the quality of instructions and organization of the work with students can be negatively influenced, if adjuncts lack the required qualification. Aiming to attract more adjunct professors to cover the need in the academic staff, human resource managers often attract instructors without doctoral degrees (Meixner et al., 2010, p. 142; Spaniel & Scott, 2013, p. 2). Moreover, managers in for-profit colleges also adopt the practice of community colleges and choose candidates with a master’s degree, which is often not enough to address the academic standards in an educational institution.

Qualifications of adjuncts are discussed as the main factor influencing the quality of their work with students. In a situation when only 25% of the adjunct faculty have a terminal degree, human resource managers can face a problem of attracting more qualified adjuncts, and administrators can be challenged with the necessity of adapting the schedule and assigning part-time professors for reading only introductory-level lectures (Stenerson et al., 2010, p. 24). In addition, human resource managers in colleges and universities seem to pay little attention to training part-time instructors and developing their academic and teaching potential. According to Ballantyne, Berret, and Harst, the activities oriented to the faculty development are often “varied with little consensus in terms of format and value to the adjunct”, and institutions need to develop “stronger programs in this area due to the ever-increasing numbers of this type of an employee” (Ballantyne et al., 2010, p. 3). Researchers agree that the problem of the adjunct faculty’s qualifications and the low quality of their work can be resolved with the focus on improving the human resource management strategies when much attention is paid to training, adequate compensation, and retention of part-time professors (Cucciarre et al., 2014; Li-ping & Tang, 2012, p. 98). From this point, the quality of adjuncts’ work directly depends on the appropriateness of strategies followed by human resource managers.

Outcomes of Hiring More Adjunct Professors

Human resource managers in for-profit and community colleges discuss the process of hiring adjunct professors as an effective strategy to respond to the problem of economic strains because they can save costs associated with maintaining the workforce in the organization. However, it is important to pay attention to the fact that the high demand for education in society is also associated with the increases in operating costs. In addition, the increase in operating costs is connected with the reductions in funding for colleges and universities in the United States (Meixner et al., 2010, p. 141). According to Charlier and Williams, the financial benefits of “employing part-time faculty members have become a critical part of the plan to meet enrollment demands in a climate of ever-tightening budgets” for many colleges (Charlier & Williams, 2011, p. 160). As a result, managers and administrators choose to hire part-time professors whose salaries are lower than the payments of full-time professors, and managers also receive the opportunity to save costs associated with non-provision of compensation packages.

The practice of hiring adjuncts became popular in many colleges and universities of the country because it allowed the effective distribution of financial resources between the faculties, and the quality of teaching remained unchanged in most cases. In addition, as it is noted by Levin and Hernandez, while decreasing expenses of managing the faculty in an institution, administrators attract more students, and this practice leads to the increases in “revenue in the form of student tuition” (Levin & Hernandez, 2014, p. 533). The researchers have found that significant cost savings are possible because part-time professors earn “64% less per hour at their institutions than full-time faculty” (Levin & Hernandez, 2014, p. 533). Therefore, in addition to the increased students’ enrollment and associated tuition, the practice of hiring the adjunct faculty can be discussed as rather beneficial for organizations (Meixner et al., 2010; Langen, 2011, p. 186). In this context, managers are inclined to agree that outcomes of recruiting adjuncts are mostly positive because it becomes possible to plan the annual budget effectively and save costs.

Effectiveness of the Hiring Practice

While evaluating the effectiveness of hiring the adjunct faculty and focusing on the trends to expand this practice in U.S. colleges and universities, researchers and practitioners are inclined to support two opposite positions. On the one hand, the practice of hiring more part-time professors than full-time professors is effective because it is associated with significant cost savings and with the increased flexibility in instructions and teaching strategies used by professors. On the other hand, as it is claimed by Langen, “cost savings is not the same as cost-effectiveness” (Langen, 2011, p. 186). Researchers state that the qualifications of hired adjunct professors are often lower than it is required according to the college standards, and the teaching experience can be not enough to work with postgraduate students (Eney & Davidson, 2012; Levin & Hernandez, 2014; Spaniel & Scott, 2013). Therefore, more attention should be paid to the additional training of the adjunct faculty. From this point, the expected benefits cannot be rather high because of other associated costs. Moreover, human resource managers need to pay more attention to training and rewarding part-time instructors in order to influence their commitment and improve performance.

Nevertheless, annual budget plans and changes in the students’ schedules and curricula connected with attracting more professors specializing in different areas indicate that the practice of hiring adjuncts is rather effective. Managers note that few efforts are required to recruit adjunct professors because of the high availability of the academic staff, and the results of this recruitment are usually positive (Herbers, 2014, p. 3). Therefore, the chosen hiring practice helps decrease costs associated with recruitment, selection, and management of adjunct professors. The critics of this approach state that the lack of human resource managers’ efforts in selecting appropriate candidates is often a cause of problems with the quality of teaching (Langen, 2011, p. 187). From this point, to make the practice more effective, managers need to improve their approaches to selection and recruitment as parts of the hiring process.

In spite of possible challenges associated with managing adjuncts in colleges and universities of the United States, researchers are inclined to view the discussed hiring practice as rather effective. The reason is that the practice is associated with not only cost savings but also with the expansion of new approaches to the organization of education in institutions. Thus, part-time professionals are more willing to read online or hybrid courses for students and they can propose experience in areas that only become popular and integrated in the form of new courses, like courses in the use of social media for advertising and others (Levin & Hernandez, 2014, p. 532; Spaniel & Scott, 2013). While referring to the statements of Dailey-Hebert and the group of researchers that “with the enrollment of undergraduate students expected to increase by 15% by 2020, the use of a lower-cost adjunct faculty pool is likely to increase”, it is possible to note that this hiring practice will remain to be a trend (Dailey-Hebert et al., 2014, p. 67). The practice becomes more attractive for human resource managers because it allows responding to many issues such as costs, flexibility, diversity, and variety in higher education.

Recommendations

The demand for adjunct faculty in colleges and universities of the United States tends to increase proportionally to the demand for higher education in society. As a result, many new courses are launched each year, and colleges need to address the tendency while attracting part-time instructors in order to integrate more courses and programs in the curricula of institutions (Dailey-Hebert et al., 2014). Currently, the approaches used by managers to organize the work and cooperation of the full-time and part-time faculties seem to be unsuccessful, but the outcomes associated with cost savings are important to be taken into account, and administrators do not want to reject using the cost-effective hiring strategy (Cucciarre et al., 2014; Li-ping & Tang, 2012). From this perspective, the practice of hiring adjuncts needs to be expanded, but few recommendations are necessary in order to improve the currently followed strategy of managing part-time professors.

Managers and administrators are interested in recruiting adjuncts because of economic conditions. Moreover, the practice needs to contribute to improving the quality of part-time instructors’ work. This condition is important to attract more students to the concrete for-profit college or university (Levin & Hernandez, 2014; Spaniel & Scott, 2013). As a result, the practice needs to be cost-effective as well as appropriate for the realization of goals in institutions regarding the education of students. Therefore, the following recommendations should be proposed: (1) hiring new adjuncts, human resource managers need to focus more on qualifications of candidates to choose the most appropriate among available ones; (2) managers need to guarantee the provision of adequate training for newly hired adjuncts to help them adapt in the academic community of the concrete institution; (3) and managers need to provide the support for adjuncts and promote their collaboration with full-time professors.

In addition to mentioned recommendations, it is also important to concentrate on the question of payment. Even if it is almost impossible to achieve equity in benefits, it is necessary to develop the individual plan of payments and rewards for part-time professors because of the necessity to motivate instructors to perform better (Langen, 2011; Meixner et al., 2010; West, 2010). Human resource managers should follow two different approaches in managing the full-time faculty and adjunct faculty in order to address various needs of these professors (Eney & Davidson, 2012, p. 30). In order to eliminate stigmatization of adjunct professors and improve their relations with tenure-track instructors, it is necessary to propose adequate training for part-time instructors, during which they have an opportunity to improve their experience and become ready to participate in the development of projects and educational programs.

Conclusion

Economic conditions influence the work of higher educational institutions in the United States significantly, and human resource managers aim to decrease costs associated with hiring and promoting the full-time faculty while recruiting more adjuncts. Managers and administrators discuss this strategy as successful in order to reduce overall costs and maintain the work and status of colleges and universities while adding more courses and implementing new programs. This tendency develops, and it is possible to expect even more adjunct professors in the staff matrix of colleges and universities in the future. The reason is that the practice is effective to reduce expenses associated with supporting the faculty. Payments of adjunct professors are significantly lower than salaries of full-time instructors. Additionally, colleges often do not provide any other benefits for part-time professors, and the costs for their management become to decrease. From this point, the practice is appropriate to be used intentionally to cut expenses, but it is also used to contribute to the integration of new courses and programs in educational institutions. As a result, colleges begin to attract more students and guarantee flexibility regarding their education and academic experiences.

The only obstacle is the quality of the received education. There is no single opinion regarding the impact of part-time professors’ qualifications on the quality of instructions and knowledge received by students. Therefore, in order to improve the practice of hiring adjuncts and make it more efficient to guarantee its further expansion, it is possible to focus more on the experience of adjunct professors in colleges and universities. In this case, it is important to recommend for human resource managers pay attention to adjuncts’ training and adaptation in educational institutions in order to avoid their isolation. From this perspective, the practice of attracting adjuncts to work in colleges and universities of the United States seems to be effective to address multiple financial issues in these organizations. However, managers need to concentrate on other approaches to improve the practice while not only reducing costs but also increasing the overall quality of education in an institution. This practice has the potential for the educational sphere of the country if human resource managers can balance their orientation to both costs reduction and efficiency in education.

References

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West, E. (2010). Managing adjunct professors: Strategies for improved performance. Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, 14(4), 21-38.

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