The Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success


The nature of the American academic workforce has fundamentally shifted over the past several decades. Whereas full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty were once the norm, more than two-thirds of the professoriate in non-profit postsecondary education is now comprised of non-tenure-track faculty, many who encounter working conditions that constrain their capacity to provide the highest quality instruction and educational experience for their students. New hires across all institutional types are now largely contingent and this number will continue to grow unless trends change.

The Delphi Project was created to support a better understanding of: The factors that led to a majority of faculty being hired off the tenure track; the impact of these circumstances on teaching and learning; and, potential strategies for addressing issues of rising contingency together.

In addition to conducting original research on non-tenure-track faculty, we are producing important resources for use by leaders on campuses and among higher education organizations to create a better understanding of non-tenure-track faculty working conditions and the implications for student learning toward promoting change.

The project, an initiative of the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, is a partnership with the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

>>Click here to learn more about the Delphi Project

Recent Resources from the Delphi Project

Worksheet for Creating New Faculty Models

01.26.16: Based on the Delphi Project’s (2015) Adapting by Design report, this worksheet is designed to spark conversations among campus stakeholders about potential ways to intentionally and strategically redesign the faculty role on their campus. Task forces, committees, or other campus groups can use the questions in this worksheet to work through the backwards design process, first identifying desired outcomes, then examining the current faculty model(s) on campus, and finally developing a plan to redesign the faculty.

>>Click here to access the handout

The Professoriate Reconsidered: A Study of New Faculty Models

10.16.15:This survey study examines key higher education stakeholders views of new faculty roles/work. There has been little attention to examining stakeholders’ views about these and other potential alternatives. The project emerged from the belief that the best way to initiate an effort to develop such a vision is to examine the perspectives of a wide array of higher education stakeholders and to identify key areas of agreement that reflect opportunities for groups to work together toward change. The results demonstrate consensus points that may lead to new faculty models. Issues around feasibility of models is also explored. Through the research presented in this report, we hope to identify and better understand the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches and the points of consensus about possible paths forward.

>>Click here to access the survey

New Delphi Toolkit: Department Cultures and Non-Tenure-Track Faculty: A Self-Assessment Tool for Departments

08.10.15:This self-assessment tool is a resource for faculty and staff at the department level who are interested in assessing the culture of their department for non-tenure-track faculty. The survey is designed to be used by several different audiences but administered only to non-tenure-track faculty (both part-time and full-time). Results of this self-assessment survey can help faculty and staff determine which of four cultures their department has that is likely shaping experiences for non-tenure-track faculty. Each of these four cultures differently impacts non-tenure-track faculty willingness to perform at a high level, their capacity, and their opportunities to create a quality teaching and learning environment for students. This tool includes profiles and detailed descriptions of each culture, which can guide departmental faculty and staff towards creating a more supportive environment for their non-tenure-track colleagues.

>>Click here to access the survey

New Delphi Project Report: Adapting by Design: Creating Faculty Roles and Defining Faculty Work to Ensure an Intentional Future for Colleges and Universities

02.20.15:The American professoriate has experienced an “unraveling” over the past several decades, reflected in the shift from a more traditional model of a professional, mostly tenure-track faculty toward a mostly contingent academic workforce. The erosion of a strong and well-established academic profession, in the absence of new visions to replace the status quo, has implications for a broader deterioration of the higher education enterprise as a whole. Our ability to continue producing high-quality research and learning outcomes, as well as to meet the increasingly complex expectations of our society, is at risk. Deliberate dialogue, followed by collective, intentional action are necessary to ensure that a robust academic profession is in place for years to come so that American higher education institutions can continue to meet these important goals.

Adapting by Design: Creating Faculty Roles and Defining Faculty Work to Ensure an Intentional Future for Colleges and Universities aims to spark a new discussion and more widespread debate about the future of the academic profession. The report articulates the rationale for engaging in such dialogue and identifies an intentional process that institutions can follow to undertake a redesign of the faculty—suggestions range from a tuning of the current faculty models to a more complete overhaul. The report is tailored to be a resource to facilitate change at the institutional level, but includes recommendations for a broader, more systemic, and more inclusive discussion about the future of the faculty involving all higher education stakeholders that must ultimately take place to guide changes across the sector. The audience for this report is far-reaching and includes all stakeholders who are concerned about the future of higher education and the academic profession: faculty, institutional leaders and senior administrators, governing boards, graduate colleges, national higher education organizations, disciplinary societies, and policymakers.

>>Click here to access Adapting by Design
>>Click here to read the Executive Summary

New Delphi Project Article in NEA Thought & Action: Faculty Matter: So Why Doesn’t Everyone Think So?

09.01.14:In K-12 education, teachers are typically regarded as central to student learning and success. As a result, teacher education programs, standards and certification for teachers, as well as teachers’ professional development receive a great deal of attention and support from policy makers. It is fully accepted that teachers matter to student learning. For whatever reason, the same assumptions are not always made in higher education. Whether faculty matter, as well as why and how, is not often considered by policymakers, the leaders of our colleges and universities, and other key constituencies in higher education. This lack of consideration is not without consequence, we believe.

>>Click here to access the article in Thought & Action

New Example Practice Added: The Increasingly Strong Involvement of Term Faculty in Faculty Governance and Administration at American University

09.01.14:Non-tenure-track (or “term”) faculty at American University have had an increasingly strong presence in faculty governance and administration over the past several years, much of it initiated by term faculty themselves.  These opportunities and obligations have resulted from self-advocacy by term faculty and from changes in university policies, as well as from the growing awareness on the part of tenure-track faculty and administration of the essential roles that term faculty play.

>>Click here to access the Example Practices Database

NILOA Occasional Paper: Student Outcomes Assessment Among the New Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Majority

08.15.14:Student Outcomes Assessment Among the New Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Majority is an occasional paper published by the National Institution on Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA). The absence of policies and practices aligned with the realities faced by this new majority faculty has significant implications for how faculty can be involved in student learning outcomes assessment. This paper explores the potential for non-tenure-track faculty to meaningfully contribute to student learning outcomes assessment and outlines policies and practices that can facilitate such contributions.

>>Click here to access the Occasional Paper

Delphi Project News

TIAA-CREF Releases Report on Improving the Support and Financial Well-Being of Adjunct Faculty

01.05.14:TIAA-CREF Financial Services recently released a report encouraging institutions to provide adequate support for adjunct faculty, including to help ensure their financial well-being. The report draws upon research and publications from the Delphi Project and other advocates and issues recommendations for institutions to take action.

>>Click here to access the report

TIAA-CREF Research Institute awards Delphi Project $70,000 grant to study stakeholder views of new faculty models in higher education

06.27.14:The TIAA-CREF Research Institute has recently awarded The Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success a $70,000 research grant to study various higher education stakeholder groups’ views on emerging and future faculty models. In addition to supporting the current majority of NTTF among the professoriate, we also need to think proactively about the future of the faculty overall. The original group of stakeholders convened by the Delphi Project in 2012 placed high priority on the need to create a vision for a new faculty model to replace the current three-tiered model. This research will be a major step in developing a better understanding about stakeholders views about the future of the faculty and characteristics for potential future models.

News and Views

Faculty SOS

02.20.15 | InsideHigherEd | Colleen Flaherty

A common refrain from adjunct professors who get relatively low pay and little institutional support is that their working conditions are students’ learning conditions. But many colleges and universities continue to ignore that message and rely on part-time faculty to deliver the majority of instruction. A new paper is calling out those institutions for their lack of attention to faculty career designs and is demanding meaningful, collaborative discussions to address what it calls an existential threat to American higher education.

>>Click here to access this article through

Colleges’ Use of Adjuncts Comes Under Pressure; As ‘road scholars’ unite, administrators warn of higher costs from shifting faculty makeup

02.17.15 | Wall Street Journal | Douglas Belkin and Melissa Korn

The move comes amid growing frustration from students and parents paying tens of thousands of dollars a year in tuition for an education taught mostly by itinerant faculty, sometimes nicknamed “road scholars” because of all the time they spend driving between schools to teach. Since late November, adjuncts have won unionization votes at eight colleges, from Boston University to Dominican University of California.

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No Country for Old Adjuncts

09.24.14 | InsideHigherEd | Colleen Flaherty

Many adjuncts wonder why colleges that employ them year after year, giving them good reviews course after course, seem to have no interest in them when tenure-track jobs open up. Several legal court cases suggest that bias against adjuncts may be linked to age discrimination.

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More ‘Intentionality’ Needed

06.23.14 | InsideHigherEd | Colleen Flaherty

What’s the purpose of higher education in the 21st century? It’s a lofty question that participants at a symposium on changing faculty models here acknowledged they didn’t have the answers to. But the administrators and other higher education experts here agreed that colleges and universities have to define their evolving mission before they can figure out how to reallocate their faculty work force.

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New Directions for Higher Education: Q&A with Education Scholar Adrianna Kezar on the Changing Faculty

05.27.14 | New England Journal of Higher Education | Philip DiSalvio and Staff

In this installment, DiSalvio interviews Adrianna Kezar, professor of higher education at the University of Southern California (USC) and director of the Delphi Project, a partnership between USC’s Pullias Center for Higher Education and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).

>>Click here to access this article through


Non-Tenure-Track FAQs

Frequently asked questions about non-tenure-track faculty, nationwide trend data, research on the implications of rising contingency, and more. All in one click.

>>Click here for the FAQs