Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Adjunctification of Higher Education. Or How an Army of Really Smart, Highly Qualified, Entrepreneurial, Hard Working, Faithful Adjuncts will Save Higher Education



 E. Delacruz. Globalization and Me. Digital image. 2011. Created for "Globalization, Art, and Education", an online
 course I created, based on my NAEA anthology of the same namefor the University of Florida MA program. 

The higher education landscape has changed significantly over the past 20 years. Fewer babies born in the US a few years back have resulted in fewer young adults currently needing or wanting to go to college). Fewer babies being born these days will result in continued expected declines in higher ed enrollments. Immigration issues are impacting both schools and US societyFewer international students want to or are able to come to the US for their university degrees (for reasons, including the bizarre politics of American life these days, best left to another time. Budget crises are well documented at colleges and universities throughout the country (for reasons that include, well, never mind that too, it's not just about declining state and federal funding or falling enrollments in brick and mortar colleges and universities). 

At the same time as all of this, trends in postsecondary online educational program offerings (they’re increasing) have created increased demand for adjunct faculty, aka, contingent laborers, in the higher education industry

My blog today shares information about the demand for adjunct faculty in higher ed. Since retiring from my full-time university faculty position a few years ago, I’ve become a bona fide member of the growing “army of adjuncts” populating online higher education programs these days. 

Below I share some findings in a series of summative statements, quotes, and weblinks about online postsecondary education and adjuncts. I’ll add to this blog as time permits. (Teaching and advising online students keeps me pretty busy these days.) I have not included below, nor will I be adding comments, data, and web sources about ethical issues associated with the adjunctification of higher education, other than to note at the end of this blog post that the working conditions of the adjunct are less than ideal. Readers interested in such issues may search for that information on their own, there's certainly plenty to read and think about. I also don't include commentary in this blog post comparing the nature and quality of face-to-face with online education, other than to say online works well, it's a lot of work, and my graduate students say that they like it, appreciate it, and get a lot out of it. Readers may find, online, ample evidence of student satisfaction with online education.

Finally, a disclaimer or two. I picked up the term “adjunctification” in my online readings. It’s a term that fits the scenario, and it's been around awhile, so I’ll use it here without attribution to its original source, noting, however that Magness also uses it in his 2017 article (
https://www.jamesgmartin.center/2017/05/full-time-faculty-adjunctified-recent-data-show-otherwise/). Same disclaimer for the phrase “army of adjuncts” -  it fits. I first heard it when it was offered up as an aside comment from a fellow tenured faculty member over 15 years ago at the University of Illinois when, in my capacity at the time as Chair of the UIUC Faculty Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, I served on a Provost's task force commissioned to study how to evaluate our adjuncts. The army has continued to grow since those days.

Now for my findings, all easily findable online

Demand for online education is increasing.
As of 2018, a third of all postsecondary students now take at least one online course. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2018/11/07/new-data-online-enrollments-grow-and-share-overall-enrollment  &  https://www.onlinecolleges.net/for-students/online-college-students-by-the-numbers/

Half of our students are taking only online courses these days. 
Why do our students take online courses? 
  • In a recent survey conducted with online students, 69% of respondents said that they were taking courses related to their career goals. When asked why they were taking their courses online “the convenience and flexibility offered by online programs topped the list of reasons. More than half (59%) of students surveyed have children, and half reported that they are employed.” https://www.bestcolleges.com/perspectives/annual-trends-in-online-education/
As demand for online education increases, and as online programs meet that demand, brick and mortar colleges and universities will close. 
Who’s teaching in higher education these days? 
All these adjuncts are highly qualified professionals.
Maybe not by choice but a career as an adjunct is now a reality for many of these highly qualified and entrepreneurial individuals, and as Martha Stewart might say, "it's a good thing" for higher ed. 
Maybe that entrepreneurial spirit is why I like being an adjunct. 
  • I wrote about the benefits of having an entrepreneurial disposition in 2011 in my IJEA article "Entrepreneurial Strategies for Advancing Arts-Based Public Engagement as a Form of University-Sanctioned Professional Activity in the New Creative Economy." http://www.ijea.org/v12i1/v12i1.pdf  That entrepreneurial disposition is central to and  continues to serve me well in my second career/life (after leaving UIUC) as a faithful foot soldier in the army of adjuncts now serving the virtual ivory tower.
A few final thoughts...

Although adjuncts in the higher ed sector are super smart, super hard working, super dedicated, entrepreneurial, and highly qualified individuals, the work life of an adjunct is demanding, adjuncts typically have little or no job security, they work without luxuries like retirement or health care benefits, the pay isn't very good, they may or may not be included in decision-making deliberations made by tenured faculty and admins in their home units, etc. etc. “Forward-thinking colleges and universities have begun to address the needs of adjunct faculty in innovative, creative and distinctive ways” https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2019/05/28/institutions-should-learn-some-good-examples-how-support-adjunct-faculty-opinion& I sincerely hope that someone more important than me is listening to the "forward thinking" folks 😅.