It Is Not About the Money: Self-Determination Theory as a Lens for Understanding Adjunct Faculty Motivation

It Is Not About the Money: Self-Determination Theory as a Lens for Understanding Adjunct Faculty Motivation

Katie Ervin
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6758-6.ch013
(Individual Chapters)
No Current Special Offers


This chapter will discuss the motivation of remote adjunct faculty members by utilizing the theoretical framework of self-determination theory. This will assist institutions in understanding why these faculty members teach, and understanding their motivation will assist institutions in recruiting, hiring, developing, and retaining qualified remote adjunct faculty members. As online programs in higher education continue to grow, there is a persistent increase in the usage of remote adjunct faculty. If an organization has strong, qualified adjunct faculty members but does not take care of them, the adjunct faculty member will go elsewhere to teach. People typically make job decisions based on money, but job retention decisions typically rest on autonomy and culture. With the growth in the number of adjunct faculty members, universities may be challenged to find qualified instructors, which makes retention even more critical.
Chapter Preview


The dynamics of colleges and universities have transformed due to declining enrollments of students on campus, demographic changes of students, and budget constraints (Doyle, 2008; Gosink & Streveler, 2000; Hoyt, 2012; Wilson, 1998). The needs of adult learners continue to grow, and colleges and universities are making strides to bring education to this population. Expanding online offerings allows adults to attend classes while meeting their daily demands, and it provides opportunities for professionals in their fields to become adjunct faculty and share knowledge with these adult students. Many institutions are changing their business model and expanding their online presence in an attempt to reach an adult-learner population that is unavailable to take classes in a traditional classroom setting (Day, Lovato, Tull, & Ross-Gordon, 2011).

Adjunct faculty numbers at colleges and universities has grown 226% from 2001 to 2011 (Elder, Svoboda, Ryan, & Fitzgerald, 2016). Based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, the growth from 2011 to 2017 has slowed to 72% but is still well over the increase of full-time faculty, which is only 38%. Examining this change in population on campuses begins with understanding its growth patterns and how these faculty members impact the institutions. Adjunct faculty members are likely to continue to play significant roles on college campuses for years to come (Stenerson, Blanchard, Fassiotto, Hernandez, & Muth, 2010).

Adjunct faculty can provide a myriad of benefits to a university because they can assist with recruiting students, building business relationships, and developing degree and certificate programs in their expertise area, which can also be attractive to students and can help with recruiting and retention (Dedman & Pearch, 2004). Adjunct faculty can also help students connect with internships and employment opportunities as well as other professional activities. Adjunct faculty members can also help in propagating a program by sharing with other professionals in their field their experience of teaching, thereby recruiting potential new adjunct faculty members.

With this increased use of adjunct faculty, institutions find it important to hire, train, and retain an experienced, professional adjunct-faculty pool to teach and share their knowledge in their programs. Although an accountant may have outstanding accounting skills, one may question whether they can teach those skills to students in the classroom. Often, adjunct faculty members are hired but not provided enough time before the class begins to allow for proper training and appropriate class preparation (Pearch & Marutz, 2005). All too frequently, adjunct faculty are hired, given the textbook, and sent into the classroom, which positions them for unnecessary stress or potential failure in their new position. Only 23% of adjunct faculty members are satisfied with the organizational support provided them for training and development (Yakoboski, 2016).

The expansion of online programs has also created an environment for adjunct faculty members in which they are detached from the main campus because of their geographical location. Institutions strive to connect distance adjunct faculty with their main campus with varying success. Online programs typically adjust their business practices to meet the needs of the adult-learner population they serve, which might mean teaching in an accelerated format or adjusting class formats to find innovative ways to meet the course objectives

As the use of adjunct faculty members at institutions increases, so does the need to understand these individuals’ motivation and impact. When leaders understand what motivates their employees, they can train and develop employees more efficiently. Satisfaction, commitment, and performance are connected to motivation and are critical components of employee success (Steers, Mowday, & Shapiro, 2004).

Work motivation theorists support the concept that what produces performance also produces positive work attitudes and improves retention (White & Bryson, 2013). Workplace motivation is important for companies because employees who are highly motivated are also more committed to success for themselves and their organization. If an individual has high workplace motivation, they are more likely to stay and be more efficient in their work.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: