In Maryland’s community college world, the most you can make is $775 per credit hour per semester with a maximum of 9 hours–and, making that much is rare! Over the last two decades adjunct faculty has become a popular solution for colleges and universities, particularly after a host of tenured baby-boomers retired. The system has some merits, but is ultimately fraught with problems.
What do the institutions gain? Cheap labor. Adjuncts are part-timers (that’s why there is a limit on the hours permitted) who do not get benefits (and, who cannot pay off student loans). They teach introductory classes–which is the bulk of courses offered at the community college level–and institutions vary on what qualifications they require of their adjuncts. No office space is required for adjuncts and other than books and copying facilities nothing else must be provided. Some institutions offer workshops for their adjuncts, but this depends on the administration.
What do the students gain? More class selections. Beyond that, it depends on the individual who is teaching. I have heard many complaints from both students and other faculty about other adjuncts teaching. In some cases, these are Doctoral students getting experience and a pay check while they finish their research, in other cases they are people picking up some extra coin while they work elsewhere. And, others, like me, are teaching as an adjunct looking to eventually fill a full-time slot. Among all three categories both the knowledge and teaching skills vary considerably, with any deficiencies often further exasperated by poor textbooks.
What does the adjunct gain? Experience and part-time employment. Again, given the different types of people who take on these roles the benefit may be greater or lesser. For many grad students this is a great opportunity. For many professionals this is a little extra pay and way to add something different (and hopefully interesting) to their routine. For folks in my case this is often a frustrating place to be, because while one is gaining more experience, one is also working for meager pay and no benefits. In addition, there is something of an expiration date that causes future prospective employers to wonder why the adjunct could not managed to get a full-time position–even in difficult times (i.e. a recession), it suggests that the candidate is ultimately sub par. Still, teaching as adjunct is still better than not working or working at McDonald’s hoping to eventually teach, assuming one can make ends meet, of course.
From the perspective of parents and students visiting schools for college, it is worth asking how many classes are taught by adjuncts. This is reflective of the overall quality of the program. Professors doing cutting edge research, but not teaching students does not contribute to the overall strength of the students’ education unless they have a graduate student who can take advantage of research being done at the institution and the instruction. Some adjuncts are already professionals in their field and thus provide practical experience in their instruction, but these are not teaching at the university level unless they have a higher degrees–many teach at adult education programs at universities and community colleges.