Professional Learning and Support for Part-Time Faculty (A Lit Review)

Support and Professional Learning Opportunities for Part-Time Faculty


Community colleges rely on part-time instructors more and more each year. As the numbers of adjunct faculty increase nationwide, studies have been done to identify trends, needs, and research-based practices. Part-time faculty bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to share with their learners. (Diege, 2013.) But, as more and more part-time faculty join the instructional forces, providing training and support for those faculty is often overlooked. (Becker, Olivares, and Martin, 2015.) How can adjunct faculty be held to the same levels of accountability as their full-time instructional peers, when they do not receive comparable levels of professional learning and support?

The Need

Part time instructors at the college and university levels bring a wealth of valuable practical knowledge and skills that they share with their learners. (Webb, Wong, and Hubball, 2013). This invaluable practical experience is extremely beneficial in providing relatable experiences to their learners. However, many of these adjunct faculty members have practical experience, but lack pedagogical expertise. Part-time faculty need to be held accountable for learner performance, but they also need to be supported and to have opportunities for professional learning to ensure that they can provide adequate supports for their learners.

According to a study by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) suggests that as much as 73% of faculty in higher education are non-tenure track (Flaherty, 2018.) This includes the growing number of faculty who are hired or contracted to teach part-time at these institutions. According to the AAUP study:

“many contingent faculty members may be excellent teachers, they are not given adequate institutional support to perform their jobs.”
(Flaherty, 2018.)

The demand for online learning experiences at the college and university level continues to increase, with as many as 66% institutions of higher education reporting that that online learning continues to be a critical force in long-term strategies. (Seaman, Allen, and Seaman, 2018.). This statistic, combined with the increase in the numbers of part-time faculty in the institutional workforce, are strong indicators that these institutions of higher education need to increase levels of support and training for adjuncts, especially with regard to online instruction. Though professional learning opportunities are often provided for full-time faculty, part-time faculty are often excluded from those learning opportunities because of time and distance, for remote adjuncts, and because of other commitments for many of the part-time faculty. (Becker, Olivares, and Martin, 2015.)

In his video on 7 Skills Students Need for their Future, Dr. Tony Wagner (Asia Society, 2009), talks about the discrepancy between public school success as reported to and by the state agencies (Texas Education Agency [TEA], for example) and the actual performance rates achieved by students. In Odessa, Texas, attrition rates reported by TEA hover between 3% for students in grades 9-11, and around 10% for students in grade 12. ( However, research on attrition in schools conducted by the Intercultural Development Research Association demonstrates that the actual attrition rates (loss of students between grades 7 and 12 and between grades 9 and 12) for schools in Ector County (Odessa, Texas) is closer to 40%. (Intercultural Development Research Association, 2019). These statistics reinforce the need for understanding of diversity and acceptance of the the varied levels of college-readiness of the students that attend community colleges.

Strategies to Improve Support and Development for Adjunct Faculty

As evidenced in Roy Fuller’s chapter in Adjunct Faculty Voices: Cultivating Professional Development and Community at the Front Lines of Higher Education (2017), higher education faculty will benefit from ongoing professional learning opportunities designed around the pedagogical or andragogical needs of the learner, instructional design and educational technologies, and assessment and evaluation. A recurring them throughout the research on this topic has been the need for communities of support and learning. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) that include adjunct faculty could be tremendously beneficial. Often, part-time faculty have more current knowledge of trends and employer expectations. According to Lyons and Burnstad, adjunct faculty can be categorized as specialists or experts (those who work in their field of expertise, and teach part-time), and free-lancers (those who hold multiple adjunct positions with different institutions of higher education.) Regardless of their category, these part-time professionals have a wealth of knowledge to contribute to their peers. For those categorized as experts or specialists, they often have more current knowledge of trends and employer expectations than their full-time peers. For those categorized as free-lancers, their contribution to their peers can include strategies gleaned from other institutions. This knowledge and expertise could prove beneficial in the development of strategies for increasing learner knowledge and engagement. PLCs for remote adjunct faculty can be conducted using existing technologies, such as Skype, Blackboard’s Collaborate, Adobe Connect, or Zoom, allowing the adjunct faculty to share their knowledge and expertise with their full-time colleagues, and offering them a connection to their peers. Mentoring for adjunct faculty, could increase adjunct satisfaction and contribute toward improved student successes. (Rogers, McIntyre, and Jazzar, 2010.) a network of support and development  (Rogers, McIntyre, and Jazzar, 2010). As with PLCs, for remote adjuncts mentoring could be conducted through synchronous technologies (Skype, Collaborate, Connect, Zoom.) This strategy could be expanded to provide opportunity for social connection (through social media, or through a dedicated discussion forum within the learning management system). Allowing opportunity for social interaction with like-minded professionals can increase the feeling of connectedness and overall satisfaction for the adjunct faculty. (Wicks, N.D.)

Another strategy that would be beneficial for the adjunct faculty could be to provide a centralized location with information on best practices, critical updates that are needed for faculty and student success, and other information. Providing part-time faculty with easy access to informed practices may help them identify strategies to improve their teaching practices. For example, offering students an opportunity to provide feedback about the course design, course content, and teaching methods, can allow the faculty member to make changes to the course immediately in response to students’ needs. This helps the learners feel a sense of ownership. (Becker, Olivares, and Martin, 2015.) Creating a repository for tips like this in a central location that can be accessed by local adjunct faculty, and remote adjunct faculty could prove to be a tremendous resource toward helping adjunct faculty feel supported. Adjunct and full-time faculty could contribute to this repository of knowledge, giving both constituencies more ownership, increasing the sense of connectedness, especially for the adjuncts.

To ensure that adjunct faculty can fully support the learners, especially at the community college level where students are not held to stringent entrance expectations, and some of these learners are not college-ready. Many are first generation college students and do not have familial support. Their needs are different. The level of support they require is different. Adjunct faculty need to be able to adapt to a very diverse population of learners. Dual credit opportunities are bringing students as young as 14 into the higher education arena. And other learner characteristics of community college students require a different level of support than students who are truly academically college ready. Adjunct faculty need to adapt to the diversity of learners, but they cannot do this without appropriate levels of development and support. Professional learning opportunities, with opportunity to reflect, time to apply the learning to improve teaching practices and mentoring support throughout will help to ensure that the adjunct faculty are equipped with or developing skills to guide learners to success. Continuous communication through PLCs, mentor/mentee interaction, and other types of social and academic professional engagement will help to ensure that adjunct faculty have a voice in designing professional learning, and in providing support to help them meet the needs of their diverse populations of learners. (Wynant and Fullerton, N.D.).


The literature reviewed had a common theme throughout: Communication. Communicating with part-time faculty to get feedback, to determine their level of satisfaction, and to determine their perceived needs with regard to professional learning will be critical in developing a network of support and development for them. Communication among peers and colleagues. Adjunct faculty need an opportunity to interact with colleagues through PLCs, where they can learn and contribute, allowing them to feel more connected to the institution and their department. Mandating professional learning will ensure that they are equipped with institutional requirements, and will support the need for accountability to their learners and the institutional goals. And communication with learners. By encouraging adjunct faculty to actively engage with their learners, seeking feedback throughout their courses, the adjuncts can initiate a level of continuous course improvement to increase learner engagement and student success. By implementing a strategy that includes a level of accountability for the adjunct faculty, coupled with a network of development and support for the adjunct faculty, the learners will ultimately be the beneficiaries of these changes.


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Wicks, J. (). Adjunct faculty onboarding: Is social media a solution? Community College Journal of Research and Practice. Retrieved from DOI:10.1080/10668926.2019.1616007

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