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Adjunct faculty are invaluable to community colleges, so why aren’t they taken into consideration in the colleges’ missions?

As budgets are cut, community colleges continue to take advantage of the adjunct faculty population. While there is little doubt that part-time instructors are a better value as a line item in the budget, the price, figuratively and literally, of the relationship between adjuncts and higher education should be reconsidered in regard to the community college’s mission and vision.

If community colleges are going to employ more adjunct faculty to lower budget costs, these instructors should be included in all efforts to meet the institution’s mission to maintain the quality and integrity of educational services.

For the most part, adjunct faculty bring a willingness to work, flexible schedules, extensive knowledge and a lower salary to community colleges. Most two-year institutions embrace these advantages. Dr. Mary Deane Sorcinelli, associate provost for faculty development at the University of Massachusetts, said in a 2007 study that colleges can achieve fiscal savings, respond to changing student interests and help students connect academic studies to the workplace when they use a variety of adjunct faculty.

Colleges also benefit from adjuncts because they fill staffing gaps. For instance, at Harford Community College in Maryland, the transitional studies department has only four full-time faculty available to teach developmental reading and writing courses. So, full-time faculty taught only 20 of the 84 sections available for fall 2008. In this case, many students would go unserved without the help of adjunct faculty. Adjuncts allow a community college to offer a broader selection of courses and more course availability for students.

Adjunct faculty are readily available to teach for community colleges. According to the American Federation of Teachers, 69 percent of instructional faculty taught part time at community colleges in 2008. Adjunct faculty are also inexpensive to employ. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that a full-time, tenured faculty member is paid an average of $65,338 per year in contrast to an adjunct faculty member earning about $9,200. While full-time faculty do much more than “just teach,” teaching is the primary responsibility of community-college faculty.

Every aspect of the community college must reflect its mission. While classroom instruction is one obvious component of meeting the mission’s objectives, few have thought about how the adjunct faculty, the most common deliverer of education on campus, contribute to the mission as well. Researchers have suggested including adjuncts in the strategic planning at the college so that all stakeholders have the chance to contribute. Another way adjunct faculty can be part of the college’s mission is by joining the discussions about educational objectives of programs, certificates or degrees. Adjuncts are a major portion of the instructional staff and could provide valuable insight, but they are missing from faculty and department meetings.

Another way community colleges endeavor to meet their mission is through institutional responsibilities, including committee work and governance. Full-time faculty are often spread thin when working on several committees along with heavy teaching loads. Including part-time faculty in these aspects of the college increases time to research, develop new programs, revise syllabi, develop curricula, assess student needs and determine appropriate methods of teaching.

In addition, most college mission statements consider accountability, yet it is difficult to gather and analyze student assignments to determine exactly what they are learning. Many colleges admit that most adjuncts are not required to track such data or report on student outcomes. Adding this component would provide a more accurate picture of how colleges are meeting the needs of students as part of their missions.

Adjunct faculty also bring diversity to the college. They have an enthusiasm for teaching and often bring in close ties with business and industry. Adjuncts are the link between the college and community and help meet the need for education and training. With proper attention, resources and inclusivity, adjunct faculty can also be a true reflection of a community college’s mission and vision.

Research reveals that without the use of adjunct faculty, community colleges could not meet the demand for classes nor could they provide all the classes at affordable prices. The community college would do well by adjuncts if it paid a bit more attention to those who work so diligently to meet the needs of the student and the institution.

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