Supporting Part-Time Faculty for Student Success

April
2018
Sam Foster, Part-Time Faculty Committee Chair

Part-time faculty not only make up the majority of all faculty in the California community college system, but provide nearly half of all instruction[1].  The success of our students, and ultimately our institutions themselves, depend on supporting the needs of part-time faculty just as we must for full time faculty.  While ASCCC along with partners like 3CSN provide some support statewide, including hosting this year’s Part Time Faculty Institute on August 2-4, 2018, many of the needs of part-time faculty also require local support.

Part-time faculty are as committed to student success as their full-time counterparts, but often do not have the same access to the tools necessary to ensure that success.  Colleges generally want to do well by their part-time faculty, but often fall short of providing adequate support due to a lack of awareness of part-time faculty issues, little knowledge of effective practices to address them, and a perceived lack of resources. Given the increased emphasis on student success and completion, it is imperative that part-time faculty are given the tools necessary to aid them in this critical effort. The relationship between student success and part-time faculty resources makes providing such tools clearly an academic and professional matter and is within the purview of local senates

Even though part-time faculty have equal standing in the classroom with their full-time peers, there is often a significant disparity in the support provided.  In fact, some part timers are hired just prior to the semester, receive a course outline and a key, and are expected to begin teaching within a few days.  How can we expect reasonable outcomes if this occurs?  In this case, both the newly hired part-time faculty member and the students they serve are at a disadvantage.

Following last year’s ASCCC Part-Time Faculty Institute, a survey was distributed to part-time faculty in which they express the need for support in four main areas:  Onboarding, curricular guidance in their content area, integration into the college culture, and professional development.  While many colleges may provide one or more of these areas of support, there is a need to identify effective practices that can be shared.

Onboarding

When new part-time faculty are hired, it is important that they understand about critical campus infrastructure (i.e., who to contact for what), including emergency procedures and technology resources.  Some colleges offer a part-time faculty handbook that contains this type of vital information that would be useful to any new faculty member on campus; other campuses offer an orientation for new faculty that is open to all faculty who have questions or need more information.  A single point of contact, such as a mentor or departmental resource, with whom one can connect for general questions is also a good practice.

Curricular Guidance in Content Area

Notwithstanding academic preparation or experience, providing curricular guidance to a part-time faculty member teaching a new course at a new school will serve the department well.  To maintain quality instruction in any content area, faculty need to understand the department standards for a given course.  While the course outline provides a general overview, consistent standards can only be maintained in a department if all faculty understand the breadth and depth at which material should be covered in a given course. This is especially important when a course is part of a sequence needed for a degree, transfer, or certificate as students entering subsequent courses are expected to have a specific set of skills.  Some effective practices include providing faculty that are new to a course with sample syllabi, exams, and assignments.  Some departments also provide an experienced faculty member as a mentor.  This can help ensure the new faculty members’ expectations are aligned with those of the department.

Integrating into the College Culture

There is a correlation between integration of part-time faculty into the college culture and student learning, as demonstrated in the AACU report A Roadmap to Engaging Part-Time Faculty in High Impact Processes.[2]  One key way this is done is by having a dedicated space that faculty can use to meet with students.  Another important avenue is to provide space for faculty in the campus governance structure.  Campus committees and local academic senates generally welcome part-time faculty and many have dedicated senate seats for part-timers.  Even without dedicated seats, if the campus has a culture of inclusion part-timers may be happy to join senates or other committees. Anecdotally, some academic senates have reported that 20% or more of their senators are part-time faculty even without dedicated seats. Providing leadership opportunities is a key of campus integration that may also serve as a form of professional development.  As the majority of part-time faculty ultimately would like full-time employment, leadership opportunities may seem especially attractive.

Professional Development 

While there are often numerous opportunities for professional development for full-time faculty, many of those opportunities do not exist for part-time faculty.  Moreover, the needs of part-time faculty do not always mirror those of their full-time colleagues. To address this issue a few colleges have initiated an adjunct academy, specifically addressing the needs of part-time faculty.  This academy takes place over two days and faculty receive a stipend for participating.  In addition, some schools offer up to $1000 for professional development of part-time faculty that can cover a variety of opportunities including conferences.  Other opportunities, such as providing professional development online or at campus centers rather than just the main campus, may also provide additional professional development opportunities for part-time faculty.

Helping our students achieve success is the ultimate goal of every California community college.  As part-time faculty provide a significant portion of all instruction, providing them with appropriate tools must be a part of any metric for student success.  Although there are effective practices for supporting part-time faculty needs around the state, there is a need for such practices to be shared.  Local academic senates should be in the forefront of such efforts on their campuses and leverage statewide efforts such as the Part-Time Leadership Institute to extend their reach. The success of our students depends on having faculty with tools to help them reach their goals.

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