General FAQs

What do people mean when they use terms like “non-tenure-track,” “adjunct,” or “contingent” faculty? Are there differences?

Yes, there are differences in these terms.  Not everyone agrees on how these terms are applied, but we offer an explanation of common terms below.

  • The terms non-tenure-track faculty and contingent commonly denote both full- and part-time academic staff who are not on the tenure track; they are ineligible to be considered for tenure. It is important to note that this is not a homogeneous group. Individuals may have very different reasons for taking non-tenure-track jobs and the nature of work and working conditions can vary substantially, even on campus.
  • Full-time non-tenure-track faculty may be referred to as lecturers, instructors, or clinical faculty. Titles and formal classifications may vary by campus and might even differ among the numerous academic units at an institution. They typically work at one institution since they hold full-time appointments.
  • Part-time faculty are also commonly referred to as adjunct faculty or simply as adjuncts. Depending upon their individual circumstances, some part-time faculty might work only work at one institution. However, they are more likely to have positions at multiple institutions and may aspire to full-time or tenure-track positions.

Although these individuals are not considered for tenure and may not be required or permitted to participate in the full range of teaching, research, and service tasks as tenure-track faculty, they are still faculty.  The work they do is tremendously important in the teaching and research missions of the institution.  On some campuses, non-tenure-track faculty may teach a large share of the students enrolled in courses, particularly freshmen and sophomores or online students.  They are often very committed to their field of study and to ensuring the success of the students they teach.

How many faculty are currently employed off the tenure-track?

Recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, collected in Fall 2011, shows that part-time faculty now represent 51.2% of instructional faculty among non-profit institutions; tenured and tenure-track positions are 29.9% and full-time non-tenure-track are 19.1%.  The percentage of part-time faculty increased 3.5% and there was a 0.3% increase in the full-time non-tenure-track faculty since the previous IPEDS data collection in 2009.

In contrast to the recent 2011 data, in 1969 tenured and tenure-track positions made up approximately 78.3% of the faculty and non-tenure-track positions comprised about 21.7% (Schuster & Finkelstein, 2006).  The shift toward a mostly contingent academic workforce in higher education is not a recent phenomenon, but part of a long-term trend.  Over time as these changes have occurred, though, institutions have often not considered the implications for the sustainability of the academic workforce or student learning.

>>Click here to download Non-Tenure-Track Faculty By The Numbers

The Modern Language Association has created a searchable tool that displays faculty composition data for all non-profit institutions in the United States.  We encourage you to visit this site to determine the composition of faculty at your institution.

>>Click here to access the Modern Language Association’s Academic Workforce Data Center

How much are non-tenure-track faculty typically paid?

Though part-time and full-time non-tenure-track faculty are both paid less than tenured and tenure-track faculty, part-time faculty are customarily paid significantly less than even full-time non-tenure-track faculty for the same work.

  • Full-time non-tenure-track faculty typically make 26% less than tenured faculty, but part-time faculty earn approximately 60% less than comparable full-time, tenure-track faculty when their salaries are expressed on an hourly basis (Curtis, 2005; Toutkoushian & Bellas, 2003).
  • The low end of per-course compensation for full- and part-time non-tenure-track faculty is comparable ($3,171 for part-time and $3,523 for full-time); the disparity is on the high end (Hollenshead et al., 2007).
  • A more recent study conducted by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW, 2012) found the median per-course compensation for part-time faculty, $2,700, to be far lower than what tenure-track faculty are paid when standardized to reflect compensation for instruction in a three-credit course. This figure was confirmed by another recent salary survey conducted by the American Association of University Professors.
  • Although the CAW study did find there is a wage premium for part-time faculty who hold doctoral or other terminal degrees, their rate of pay still falls far below that of full-time non-tenure-track and tenure-track faculty.  Length of service to an institution, another factor that typically contributes to increases in compensation, was similarly found to not result in higher levels of compensation for part-time faculty or pay rates comparable to other faculty members.
  • The workloads of non-tenure-track faculty are usually defined by their teaching, but consideration is not always given to the time faculty must spend preparing for classes, holding office hours, giving feedback on assignments, and communicating with students (Kezar & Sam, 2010).

How did this change come about and how might things continue to develop?

  • Drivers of changes in the traditional faculty model have gained momentum in the last few decades, such that now 70% of faculty in U.S. institutions are employed through part-time or full-time non-tenure track positions, and over 30% are tenured or in tenure-track positions. 
  • The primary forces driving change in the traditional faculty workforce model are massification of higher education, enrollment fluctuations, dwindling resources, corporatization, technological advances, and competition from the for-profit sector.
  • While new faculty workforce models have emerged in response to these forces, no model has been intentionally designed and deployed with long-term institutional goals in mind, with perhaps the exception of the medical school model.

>>Click here to download The New Ecology of Higher Education: The Changing Faculty
>>Click here to download the Changing Faculty Workforce Models white paper

What are the differences in faculty composition among various types of institutions and disciplinary areas?

There is quite a bit of variation in faculty composition among different types of institutions and disciplinary areas.  Historically, community colleges have employed the largest percentages of non-tenure-track faculty, particularly part-time faculty. Recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, collected in Fall 2011, suggests that part-time faculty members make up 80% or more of the faculty at 11% of community colleges nationwide.

There are data concerning the percentages of non-tenure-track faculty in specific disciplinary areas, although national data have not been collected in more than a decade.  Such data could be collected as part of existing data collection efforts conducted by the Department of Education such as through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

  • Education: 55.5%
  • Social Sciences: 37.4%
  • Humanities: 46.2%
  • Agriculture and Home Economics: 30.2%
  • Engineering: 19.6%
  • Overall, faculty in education, fine arts, and business are most likely to work part-time with more than half the faculty assigned to part-time positions.  These data are over 10 years old and the percentages of part-time faculty in each of these fields has likely increased in following trends across higher education.

    The Delphi Project has prepared a summary of faculty composition and the variation among types of institutions and disciplines, which is linked below.

    >>Click here to download Non-Tenure-Track Faculty By The Numbers 

    These national trends do not reflect the reality at every institution, though, right?

    That’s right. The national figures represent aggregate data for instructional faculty among all of the non-profit, degree-granting institutions in the United States.

    A single institution or department may even look different than these data with regard to faculty composition. Still, the national data do show us that reliance on non-tenure-track faculty is increasing in every area of higher education. Few, if any, institutions or disciplinary areas are immune to this trend.

    Too often, campus leaders say that their faculty does not reflect the trends, but are not really aware of the actual numbers or conditions faced by non-tenure-track faculty on their campus.  It is very important that leaders on every campus collect data to better understand how many faculty members are employed among the various categories of faculty and the obstacles and challenges part-time faculty, in particular, face in the workplace.  We have created discussion guides to help answer these and related questions that can be used to facilitate an examination of non-tenure-track faculty issues at the campus level, department level, and among leaders of centers for teaching and learning and institutional research offices.

    >>Click here to access Delphi Project discussion guides

    What about graduate students?  Are they included in your figures?

    No, the Delphi Project does not include data for graduate students in its figures on the composition of instructional faculty because the data are less clear about the role of these individuals in providing instruction, for example whether a graduate student is teaching a course on their own, serving as a teaching assistant, or leading a lab section that is part of a larger course taught by a faculty member.  By excluding graduate students from our figures about rising contingency, we do not mean to imply that this is not an important area of concern.  We do need to better understand the role of graduate students who are providing instruction, as well as how they are being socialized and prepared to assume roles as future faculty members.

    Instructional quality and connections between working conditions and student learning outcomes

    Do we really know that the rise of part-time faculty is having an adverse effect on student outcomes?

    Yes. There have been several studies now that show that growing reliance on non-tenure-track faculty and on part-time faculty, in particular, are having an effect on student learning and outcomes such as:

    • Diminished Graduation and Retention Rates;
    • Decreased Transfer from Two- to Four-Year Institutions;
    • Pronounced Negative Effects of Early Exposure to Part-Time Faculty; and,
    • Reduced Faculty-Student Interaction.

    (Benjamin, 2003; Bettinger & Long, 2010; Eagan & Jaeger, 2008; Ehrenberg & Zhang, 2004; Gross & Goldhaber, 2009; Harrington & Schibik, 2001; Jaeger & Eagan, 2009; Jacoby, 2006).

    Many policies impede the ability of faculty to provide effective instruction that is aligned with departmental and institutional goals for learning outcomes. On many campuses, current policies create conditions wherein these faculty members are inaccessible to students outside of scheduled class time and are not permitted to have a role in decision-making, including decisions about the courses they teach.

    In our resource, Review of Selected Policies and Practices and Connections to Student Learning, we discuss how certain conditions created by policies – or a lack of policies – influence the ability of institutions to maximize the benefits of non-tenure-track faculty contributions to student learning.

    >>Click here to download Review of Selected Policies and Practices and Connections to Student Learning
    >>Click here to download Faculty Matter: Selected Research on Connections between Faculty-Student Interaction and Student Success
    >>Click here to download Selected Research on Connections between Non-Tenure-Track Faculty and Student Learning
    >>Click here to download The Imperative for Change

    What is responsible for these negative effects on student outcomes?

    In their daily work, non-tenure-track faculty members, particularly part-time faculty, often encounter a number of challenges stemming from institutional and departmental policies and practices that constrain their efforts.

    These are just a few examples of how policies and practices at an institution or department can constrain the capabilities of non-tenure-track faculty members.  Additional information can be found in our Review of Selected Policies and Practices and Connections to Student Learning, which is linked below.

    >>Click here to download Review of Selected Policies and Practices and Connections to Student Learning
    >>Click here to download Faculty Matter: Selected Research on Connections between Faculty-Student Interaction and Student Success
    >>Click here to download The Imperative for Change

    Are part-time faculty less committed than their counterparts?

    No. Part-time faculty members are highly committed and talented educators (Leslie and Gappa 2008); they are knowledgeable about their fields of study and care just as deeply about the success of their students as other educators do. Many go above and beyond what is expected of them and work in excess of the time for which they are paid in order to provide a high quality educational experience for students (Street, Maisto, Merves, and Rhoades 2012). They are often interested in learning new skills and strategies for improving the effectiveness of their teaching, but may have very few, if any, opportunities to do so.

    >>Click here to download the Center for the Future of Higher Education’s report, Who is Professor “Staff”

    What about studies that have indicated that there was little or no difference between outcomes associated with tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty?

    Many who are skeptical about research suggesting adverse effects associated with growing reliance on part-time faculty point to a recent study by Figlio, Schapiro, and Soter (2013) of courses taught by part-time faculty at Northwestern University.  The study suggests that NTTFs can foster the same and sometimes even better learning outcomes for students as tenure-track faculty.  This research has been interpreted by some as challenging other studies, which suggest that increasing numbers of NTTF who often experience poor working conditions are having an adverse effect on the quality of teaching and learning.  These findings, though, are limited to students and faculty at a single institution, where even the authors note that the institutional context is different and perhaps more privileged than at many other institutions.  And, the study includes full-time non-tenure-track faculty, whose working conditions are often similar to tenured and tenure-track faculty.  As hypothesized by many researchers, it is not the tenure-track status alone that affects quality, but whether or not appropriate policies and practices are in place to support faculty.

    Promoting change

    There’s not really money available to make meaningful changes in how part-time faculty are supported and compensated, though, right?

    One of the greatest challenges that academic leaders voice when they address calls to provide additional support for faculty members, particularly those individuals in non-tenure-track positions, is their inability to cover the added expense of providing new programs and services or expanding existing ones. However, many of the ways that colleges could provide additional support for these faculty members are potentially no-cost or low-cost measures that would benefit faculty, as well as the students they teach.  So, although leaders in higher education do face budgetary constraints and uncertainty over future funding sources, it is a myth that resources are the sole reason that prevents us from ensuring that all our faculty members are adequately supported so they can provide the highest quality of instruction to their students.

    In order to advance the case for how and why leaders on campuses can make these changes, we created Dispelling the Myths: Locating the Resources Needed to Support Non-Tenure-Track Faculty to outline potential changes that would be less expensive to implement, as well as others that would likely require the reallocation of funding or increased expenditures.

    We also note that some institutions have pursued changes to better support their full faculty.  In all of the cases we have studied, investments designed to support non-tenure-track faculty have resulted in continued investment and sometimes even increased funding for such initiatives because campus leaders realized the benefits for faculty and students.

    >>Click here to download Dispelling the Myths
    >>Click here to access our example processes and practices

    But what can I really do to promote change? This seems like a lot to take on!

    There are a number of steps that can be taken to begin to address this issue on your campus or within your department.  To support initiatives on campuses and within departments to change practices and policies, we have created a number various resources to help you at each stage in the process, including resources to help facilitate data collection, dialogue among different groups in your campus community, and to build the rationale for change.

    1. Assemble a task force to determine the composition of the faculty on your campus or in the department and how current policies and practices might be affecting faculty members’ capacity to provide the highest quality instruction and educational experience for their students.

      >>Click here to access Delphi Project discussion guides

    2. Expand the dialogue on campus and begin to build the rationale for change by demonstrating the results of examining faculty composition and conditions on your campus and utilizing Delphi Project resources to help leaders across the campus understand the important reasons to pursue changes.

      >>Click here to download The Imperative for Change
      >>Click here to download Review of Selected Policies and Practices and Connections to Student Learning
      >>Click here to download Faculty Matter: Selected Research on Connections between Faculty-Student Interaction and Student Success
      >>Click here to download Selected Research on Connections between Non-Tenure-Track Faculty and Student Learning

    3. Identify areas where you can start making strategic changes to better support your faculty.  Some of our Path to Change cases and example practices may provide you with a template for getting started.

      >>Click here to download Dispelling the Myths
      >>Click here to access our example processes and practices

    4. About the Delphi Project

      What are the main objectives of the Delphi Project?

      The Delphi Project was initiated to support a better understanding of 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.

      Two meta-strategies developed by the original working group have guided our work since 2012 and are detailed in the report from our 2012 project working group meeting:

      • Creating a vision for new, future faculty models for improving student success, and
      • Building a broad base of stakeholder support for improving conditions facing non-tenure-track faculty.

      >>Click here to download the Report on the Project Working Meeting

      Where did the name “Delphi Project” come from?

      The original study utilized a modified Delphi method approach, in which a group of experts is consulted and then brought together to develop solutions to complex national problems.  Key experts representing a broad cross-section of institutional sectors, unions, professional and disciplinary organizations, as well as other perspectives and interests from higher education participated in the study. These participants completed surveys addressing key issues related to the changing composition of the professoriate, reliance on non-tenure-track faculty, and potential solutions – all within the context of challenges facing higher education including declining state budgets, rapid changes within fields of study, changing student interests and demographics, and other issues that are attributed to the rise of non-tenure-track faculty. The participants were convened in May 2012 to discuss alternative approaches, to question underlying assumptions, and to contribute to the creation of solutions to change the nature of the professoriate. The findings were prepared and disseminated as a policy report.

      >>Click here to download the Report on the Project Working Meeting

      Who is behind the Delphi Project?

      The Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success is a project in the Earl and Pauline Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California in partnership with the Association of American College and Universities (AAC&U) and includes more than 30 representatives from across higher education. The project has received generous funding from The Spencer Foundation, The Teagle Foundation, and The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

      The project’s director is Dr. Adrianna Kezar, Professor of Higher Education in the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education and Co-Director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education.  Kezar holds a Ph.D. 1996 and M.A. 1992 in higher education administration from the University of Michigan and a B.A. 1989 from the University of California, Los Angeles. She has several years administrative experience in higher education as well both in academic and student affairs. Dr. Kezar is a national expert of change and leadership in higher education and her research agenda explores the change process in higher education institutions and the role of leadership in creating change. Dr. Kezar is also a well-known qualitative researcher and has written several texts and articles about ways to improve qualitative research in education.

      Daniel Maxey, the Delphi Project’s co-investigator, is a Ph.D. student and Dean’s Fellow in Urban Education Policy in the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education. He is also research assistant to Dr. Kezar in the Pullias Center for Higher Education. He earned a B.A. in Government from The College of William and Mary in Virginia and M.Ed. in Higher and Postsecondary Education from Arizona State University. Before beginning graduate study, he worked in various policy analysis, government affairs, and political positions in Washington, D.C. He is interested in bringing his experience in policy analysis, politics, and public affairs to research on issues related to the public roles and responsibilities of colleges and universities, as well as change movements in higher education. Specifically, he is interested in examining the politics of higher education institutions and organizations, public roles and responsibilities of colleges and universities, civic engagement, and change movements in higher education.

      >>Click here to read more about the Delphi Project

      >>Click here to visit the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ project partner site at aacu.org

      What types of organizations has the Delphi Project worked or partnered with?

      Through our work, we have partnered with a broad range of stakeholders representing different areas and interests in higher education.  These have included individuals and organizations representing the following groups:

      • Non-Tenure-Track Faculty
      • Presidents, Chancellors, and State or System Heads
      • Deans
      • Accreditation Organizations, including Regional and Specialized Accreditors
      • Human Resources Professionals
      • Researchers of Faculty Issues
      • Faculty Unions
      • Governing Boards
      • Disciplinary Societies
      • Budget Officers
      • Higher Education Organizations representing a cross-section of institutional types

      We continue to seek opportunities to work with other groups as we continue to build awareness about the implications of growing reliance on non-tenure-track faculty and efforts that can be made to promote change and mitigate these risks.  If you are interested in partnering with us, we encourage you to contact us.

      >>Click here for a complete list of original project participants