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 name, for 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 society. Fewer 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.
Reference for this blog post.
Now for my findings, all easily findable online…Demand for online education is increasing.
- “While overall postsecondary enrollment dropped by almost 90,000 students, nearly half a percentage point, from fall 2016 to fall 2017 -- confirming data previously published by the National Student Clearinghouse -- the number of all students who took at least some of their courses online grew by more than 350,000, a healthy 5.7 percent.” “Without online education, college and university enrollments would be declining even more.” https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2018/11/07/new-data-online-enrollments-grow-and-share-overall-enrollment
- "In each of the past three years, the majority of school administrators have said that the demand has increased compared to the previous year. And nearly all (99%) report that it’s either increasing or has stayed the same."https://www.bestcolleges.com/perspectives/annual-trends-in-online-education/
Half of our students are taking only online courses these days.
- “…of all students taking at least one online class, almost half (48%) are taking only online classes" https://www.bestcolleges.com/perspectives/annual-trends-in-online-education/
- 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/
- Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen predicts that predicted that “half of all colleges won't exist in 10 years”, arguing that “online education will undermine their business models (because education is, ultimately, a business) to such a degree that many won't survive.” https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/a-harvard-professor-says-half-of-all-colleges-wont-exist-in-10-years-and-why-a-new-model-might-provide-a-better-path-to-career-success.html
Who’s teaching in higher education these days?
- “About three-quarters of all faculty positions are off the tenure track, according to new AAUP analysis.” https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/10/12/about-three-quarters-all-faculty-positions-are-tenure-track-according-new-aaup
- Adjuncts currently comprise almost 50% of faculty positions in higher education. https://www.jamesgmartin.center/2017/05/full-time-faculty-adjunctified-recent-data-show-otherwise/ & https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d15/tables/dt15_315.10.asp?current=yes & https://www.forbes.com/sites/noodleeducation/2015/05/28/more-than-half-of-college-faculty-are-adjuncts-should-you-care/#4891cf6c1600
- Hundreds of thousands of part-time adjunct instructors teach at the nation’s colleges and universities, representing two-fifths of all faculty. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/it-keeps-you-nice-and-disposable-the-plight-of-adjunct-professors/2019/02/14/6cd5cbe4-024d-11e9-b5df-5d3874f1ac36_story.html
- “Colleges hire more minority and female professors, but most jobs filled are adjunct, not tenure track, study finds. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/08/22/study-finds-gains-faculty-diversity-not-tenure-track
- “Adjunct professors often work full time in a professional vocation or have retired from one and teach in the field where they have education and experience.” https://careertrend.com/can-tenure-track-position-community-college-masters-degree-37059.html
- “At more prestigious colleges and universities, adjunct professors must often have doctorates or advanced degrees in the area in which they teach.”https://careertrend.com/can-tenure-track-position-community-college-masters-degree-37059.html
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.
- "Currently, the majority of teaching positions available to someone who just completed a master's or Ph.D. program are adjunct, part-time, or non tenure track." https://insidescholar.org/adjunct-entrepreneurship/
- "The best innovators, fundraisers, and problem solvers are often found at the front of a classroom." https://www.fastcompany.com/3042730/why-teachers-make-for-some-of-the-best-entrepreneurs-out-there
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 😅.