Creating Student Success by Supporting Faculty Performance: The Missing Link in Current National Efforts
May 2013, Volume 26, Number 5
By Adrianna Kezar and Daniel Maxey
Leaders in community colleges are being challenged to graduate and transfer more students. Many national projects and initiatives are aimed at supporting this effort, including Achieving the Dream, Completion by Design, Next Generation Learning Challenges, and Global Skills for College Completion. As a result, student success and completion are among the top priorities of institutional leaders. Often, campus efforts focus on support programs, supplemental instruction, and new models of remediation, and tend largely to emphasize the roles of staff and student affairs professionals.
In these discussions and efforts to promote student success, we often hear very little about the role of faculty and the way we are organized to support faculty performance that shapes student outcomes. Scholars, such as Vince Tinto, demonstrate that the new demographic of students are largely working commuters with minimal time on campus outside of classes. Tinto emphasizes the need to integrate support into classrooms and the key role of faculty for student success. While faculty are increasingly important, campuses have stopped investing in full-time faculty and are hiring largely non-tenure track (NTT), or adjunct, faculty (Kezar & Sam, 2010). As they hire this new group of faculty, campus leaders are doing little to create new policies and practices to support them. Additionally, poor campus practices, such as late scheduling of courses, do not allow for preparation, further impairing faculty performance.
A large and growing body of research has emerged demonstrating that poor faculty working conditions and policies are negatively shaping student outcomes. For example, Ehrenberg and Zhang (2005) compared institutions with large numbers of NTT faculty to institutions that utilize fewer NTT faculty members, and identified lower graduation rates at institutions that relied more heavily on more adjuncts. Jacoby (2006) also examined graduation rates, but focused on individual faculty rather than institutions and found that as students took more courses with part-time faculty, their graduation rates decreased. Carrell and West (2008) found that students who take courses with adjunct faculty members perform significantly worse in follow-up courses compared to students who take courses with tenure track faculty. Furthermore, Eagan and Jaeger (2009) and Jaeger and Eagan (2009) found that increasing exposure to part-time faculty in the community college sector negatively affected the likelihood that students would transfer to four-year institutions. In addition to outcomes like graduation, transfer, and future performance, studies of NTT faculty instructional practices suggest that part-time faculty are less likely to use active learning, student-centered teaching approaches, service learning, educational innovations, and culturally sensitive teaching approaches (Baldwin & Wawrzynski, 2011; Banachowski, 1996; Jacoby, 2006; Umbach, 2008). Part-time NTT faculty members have fewer contact hours (e.g., office hours) with students (Benjamin, 2003). We can no longer ignore the faculty’s role in student’s success, nor can we ignore that the makeup of community college faculty roles have fundamentally changed. In response, our institutional structures and culture need to shift to support that new reality.
The Delphi Project on The Changing Faculty and Student Success was created to generate discussion about the impact of faculty on student performance, and to develop leadership to address this issue nationally. It also aimed to bring the faculty back into the discussion about student success. While faculty were once a mainstay of discussion in higher education, they are largely ignored now as a human resource and a significant part of learning, the core mission of the institution. Ironically, teachers are known to be the most important element in learning in the K-12 sector, but once a student turns 18, teachers are largely considered unimportant (Linda-Darling Hammond, 2005). And, of course, research shows this is flatly wrong. Student-faculty interactions have long been one of the most significant indicators of students outcomes documented in books such as Pascarella and Terenzini’s tome, How College Affects Students (2005). Faculty-student interactions are one the five Community College Survey of Student Engagement benchmarks. While the evidence of the impact of faculty is large, the effort among institutional leaders to harness or shape this key lever is quite marginal. In fact, by ignoring the faculty and creating such difficult conditions for them to work in, we have effectively made one of the most important levers for learning impotent.
The Delphi project engages stakeholders across higher education, including disciplinary societies, national organizations like the League for Innovation, unions, academic leaders, policymakers, accreditors, and other key groups, in a discussion about how faculty has evolved to largely non-tenure track (with limited or no support) and the implications of this change for student success and outcomes. It is important to note that while our focus began on student success, stakeholders have also identified troubling institutional outcomes, such as the decline of shared governance or governance in general, less curriculum development, limited academic freedom, loss of institutional memory, and decline in collegiality. While community colleges have long had part-time faculty, the numbers have increased in recent years. Furthermore, we have not always understood the links between faculty performance and faculty policies like orientation, professional development, and mentoring. Now that we know policies impact performance, we need more intentionality around policies and practices to support faculty who can then enhance student success.
The Delphi Project and its national leadership group have also identified how institutions tend to approach support for faculty in a fragmented and non-systematic way. One department might decide to invite part-timers to meetings. Another might provide funds for professional development. The overall institution might encourage NTT involvement in governance by having two spots on the senate reserved for part-timers and creating a policy that the center for teaching and learning should be open to all faculty. This hodgepodge of policies is often developed without coordination across the institution or specific goals in mind. It also evolves over time, based on different individuals’ initiative, and there is usually no overall examination of policies and practices aimed at ensuring that NTT faculty are true partners in the education process. The principal investigator of the Delphi Project, Kezar, has conducted many different studies of adjunct policies on campus that demonstrate the existence of this haphazard approach. Most campuses point to two or three policies in place as shining beacons of progress and of having addressed adjunct needs. Institutional leaders need to be more thoughtful and comprehensive in planning. Do institutional policies for adjuncts support the goals of student engagement, completion, and success? And, in fact, in order to meet these goals, a comprehensive review of ALL faculty policies is needed. Successful campuses will bundle policies together to meet certain key institutional objectives like student completion.
Consider the issue of student engagement, and how several inter-related policies need to be implemented to accomplish this objective. A first key area related to engagement is having time to meet with students during office hours. If NTT faculty are not paid for office hours, then they will not be available for student questions and student advising. Faculty members will also be unable to meaningfully engage students if they do not have an office space in which to meet with them. In addition, professional development needs to be offered that focuses on student engagement in teaching, which will help faculty be more successful in their classroom instruction. For example, NTT faculty members can be introduced to high-impact practices, such as active and collaborative learning, service learning, multicultural education, learning communities, and student-centered teaching approaches, that have all been found to significantly improve student engagement. Some of these high-impact practices require time outside the classroom to most beneficially utilize the strategy. Therefore, some time may have to be allocated and paid for that is outside the classroom. Lastly, institutions will need to look at their evaluation process, because many rely heavily on student evaluations for rehiring adjuncts each semester. It will be hard for NTT faculty to experiment with high-impact practices if doing so can result in their being fired or not rehired next term. It is important to bundle the strategies together because they all impact each other and the ability for faculty to truly engage students. This is just one example; we have identified ways to bundle practices to meet the goals of retention and graduation as well.
In order to conduct a thoughtful examination of the working conditions and support for NTT faculty members, The Delphi Project has created campus guides that can be used by task forces set up by academic leadership on campuses. These detailed guides identify all of the areas that need to be examined to support adjunct faculty in becoming more successful and improving their performance. On The Delphi Project’s website, click on the Resources and Tool Kits for Campus Communities link under Access Our Resources. These resource guides are aimed at academic leaders in order to help them imagine a process of inquiry on their campuses that will work to support change.
The Delphi Project has paired each guide with short case studies of campuses that have undergone change to illustrate some of the strategies that might be used to create support for adjunct faculty. The Delphi website also contains data summaries about the rising numbers of NTT faculty members, research documenting how growing numbers of adjunct faculty negatively shapes student outcomes, and a list of policies needed to ameliorate the decline in student success. There is also a list of example policy changes from campuses. While these may not all be exemplary policies or practices, they provide examples so people can begin to imagine what changes might look like, as well as what institutional leaders to contact for advice about particular policies they are considering.
While much of The Delphi Project’s current resources focus on NTT faculty support, the organization is also addressing the question of what the faculty, as a whole, should look like in the future. The current three-tiered (full-time NTT, part time, and tenure track) system is just not working. What might a new faculty of the future look like that best supports student learning? The Delphi Project is working with its stakeholders to examine models that might better meet institutional needs. We encourage you to stay connected with us as these ideas emerge in 2013. We also encourage you to dialogue with us if you have ideas to contribute to this important discussion. We know that the best ideas often come from leaders on the ground. We offer the following summary of recommendations for academic leaders in community colleges.
- Set up a campus task force to examine the faculty.
- Use guides and resources from The Delphi Project site to conduct work in a comprehensive way.
- Encourage dialogue on campus about what faculty roles, policies, and practices are needed to support student learning.
- Consider bundling policies to achieve student success.
- Make faculty a priority in planning and strategy.
Conclusion and Key ideas
Our hope is that institutional leaders will establish a process to systematically examine the faculty on their campuses and how their roles are defined in ways to support student learning, as well as the particular policies and practices in place for each type of faculty. We also want to encourage more intentionality as it relates to planning for the human resources on campus. Why don’t campuses have systematic and detailed staffing and support plans for faculty? As a labor-intensive enterprise, to ignore such a large portion of the individuals responsible for student learning seems reckless and unethical.
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Adrianna Kezar is Associate Professor for Higher Education in the Rossier School of Education and Associate Director of Earl and Pauline Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California. She is the principal investigator on The Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success.
Daniel Maxey is a doctoral candidate and Dean’s Fellow in Urban Education Policy at the University of Southern California.
Opinions expressed in Leadership Abstracts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.