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With part-time faculty now the majority of instructors at most higher education institutions, it’s important to provide them with the support they need to succeed. But what kind of support do they find most useful? The answer to this question can help administrators meet adjuncts’ needs and make the best use of limited resources.
In a recent quantitative study, Dr. Judy Colwell, vice president for academic affairs at Northern Oklahoma College, compared the perceptions of adjuncts and administrators as to the importance of various types of support for part-time faculty. Because the study was limited to community colleges in Oklahoma, it’s not clear how the results might apply in other states or in other institution types, but the study can serve as a model of how to determine what adjuncts need and how those needs align with the types of support an institution emphasizes.
The study used a five-point Likert-scale survey that asked part-time faculty and administrators to rate the importance of each of the following types of support for adjuncts:
More administrators than part-time faculty members ranked each type of support as very important. (Mean scores ranged from 4.225 to 5 for administrators and from 3.515 to 4.730 for adjuncts.) Both groups gave the highest ratings to orientation to job duties; technology support and training; and access to copier, supplies, office space, computer, etc.
There was no significant difference between adjuncts’ and administrators’ ratings of access to copier, supplies, office space, computer, etc. However, there were significant differences in all other areas. Here are some highlights:
“As an administrator, I thought [adjuncts] would be eager for opportunities to attend workshops and professional development sessions. I attributed the fact that many such events were not well attended by adjuncts to the possibility that I had just never hit the time frame that was convenient for them to attend. However, the results of this study indicated that they just want the support necessary to do their jobs,” Colwell says.
Based on this study and her experience as both an adjunct and an administrator, Colwell offers the following recommendations:
“Giving these faculty members the opportunity to voice their opinions is, in itself, engaging. When I sent out my surveys, I also provided my email address, should they choose to email me. I sent 1,027 surveys and received 485 total responses to the survey [49 (51 percent) of the administrators and 436 (47 percent) of the adjunct faculty surveyed]. Additionally, I received approximately 100 unsolicited responses, not from administrators but from adjunct faculty saying that they’d never been asked their opinions before and that they really appreciated that opportunity. Many of them voiced concerns, some things that they’d like to have, some things they needed, and suggestions for improvement in a variety of areas. Salary was a topic mentioned frequently. These unsolicited email responses confirmed to me that is it important to provide adjunct faculty a mix of face-to-face and online (email or survey) opportunities to share their concerns, suggestions, and in general voice opinions. And then, it is important for administrators like me to listen and be responsive to their needs and concerns,” Colwell says.
For more information about this study, see http://gradworks.umi.com/3483965.pdf.