What Do Remote Adjunct Faculty Look for in an Institution?

What Do Remote Adjunct Faculty Look for in an Institution?

Ann Hamllton Taylor
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6758-6.ch007
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Online learning in higher education has grown tremendously in the past decade. This trend has been particularly evident at The Pennsylvania State University, where the number of online-only learners now exceeds 20,000. The biggest challenge to institutions like ours is identifying, attracting, and retaining enough instructors who are qualified and available to meet the increased demand of online student enrollment. To help administrators and program chairs tackle these challenges, a research study was conducted to learn more about the incentives that attract and retain a specific workforce in higher education: adjunct faculty. The findings suggest that one size does not always fit all - context matters. Instead of making general assumptions about the motivations or needs of an adjunct faculty member, we need to get to know the individual first. This study sheds light on the specific extrinsic and intrinsic motivators that attract and retain each of five types of adjunct faculty to teach online, which can help program administrators be more effective in hiring and retaining adjuncts.
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Several years ago, I was responsible for coordinating the development of a new online program that would involve multiple colleges in our university. One day I sat down with a department head from another college to discuss the courses his college would need to contribute to the program. The department head was new to online education, so he had a lot of questions about the kind of time commitment a faculty member would need to invest in the development and teaching of an online course. I shared with him our course development and delivery models, as well as examples of high quality, successful online courses. Surprised at the amount of work it entails to do it “right,” he quickly became worried. “I simply don’t have faculty who have that kind of capacity right now! Do you have any suggestions for how we go about developing and delivering courses we can proudly put our college’s name on?” We talked about several strategies, including hiring one of his college’s own prestigious alums or esteemed colleagues from outside of our institution as adjunct faculty to do this important work. He seemed intrigued by the idea, but worried about costs. “How much do you typically pay these individuals?” When I gave him the figure my own college uses—an amount that is considered quite generous by most—he actually laughed out loud. “I’ll never get someone from our field to develop or teach a course for that amount—these are highly sought-after individuals who would command far more for their time!”

My colleague’s reaction was pretty common in my experience. Many administrators assume that the main reason one agrees to serve as an adjunct faculty member is for the money. While I had many anecdotal experiences from over 20 years in the field of distance learning that indicated this was not the case, I realized that day that I had no hard evidence to back up my own perception that adjunct faculty engage in teaching for many reasons other than money and that those reasons vary depending on their context. I have also learned over the years that an increasing number of institutions are finding that they need to enlist adjuncts in their online education initiatives in order to meet increasing student demand.

Distance learning in higher education has grown tremendously in the past decade and has continued to do so into the present. By Fall 2016, approximately 32% (6,359,121) of all higher education students were taking at least one distance education course, almost 15% of distance education enrollments were students taking exclusively distance education courses, and approximately 17% of higher education students were taking both online and on-campus courses (Seaman, Allen, & Seaman, 2018).

The trend in the growth of distance education enrollments has been particularly evident at my institution, The Pennsylvania State University. The size of Penn State’s student enrollment has grown significantly since the introduction of its Penn State World Campus in 1998 (The Pennsylvania State University, 2013a). Penn State World Campus is a special purpose campus tasked by the university with the delivery of all academic programs that are offered online to students who would otherwise not be able to attend one of the university’s physical campuses due to their location or life circumstances (The Pennsylvania State University, 2015). In other words, Penn State World Campus has brought new students, largely adult learners, to the institution. Penn State World Campus works in partnership with academic units to achieve its mission and has no faculty of its own.

In the academic year 2016–17, there were 18,600 students identified as Penn State World Campus students through their campus location, making Penn State World Campus our second highest enrolling campus within the university, and there are more than 150 online undergraduate and graduate certificate and degree programs available to these students (The Pennsylvania State University, 2018a). The growth that has taken place since the launch of the World Campus in 1998—in combination with the university’s more than one hundred years of experience in providing distance education via correspondence study, telecourses, two-way videoconferencing, and the like—has made Penn State a recognized leader in distance teaching and learning. In 2013, a Penn State News article announced the university’s investment of $20 million from World Campus revenues to grow the World Campus to a student population of 45,000 in the next decade (The Pennsylvania State University, 2013b).

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