Pulling Adjuncts into Student Success Initiatives

Ann M. Pearson

One of the least discussed elements of most student success initiatives in higher education, including the various completion agendas government leaders promote, is the crucial role adjunct or part-time faculty fill in these projects. How to incorporate increasing numbers of adjuncts into the culture of the institution and invite these dynamic and dedicated faculty to share in the enthusiasm of all-inclusive student success is at the very least challenging. For the most part, adjunct faculty aren’t around campus as much as full-time faculty, may have other full-time jobs, and aren’t usually involved in decision making about the classes they teach.

Most full-time faculty are ready and willing to lend a hand to assist adjuncts within their departments, especially with routine logistics: What’s the copier code? When are rosters due? Where is the best place to park at night? But different schedules and their own hectic work load limit the access adjuncts may have to their departmental colleagues, despite the best intentions of all parties.

At San Jacinto College, we’ve incorporated several programs that include our adjuncts in the day-to-day running of the departments in which they teach, keep them informed of overarching initiatives, and offer them a voice while also providing them with the support they need professionally to focus their energy on student success.

One important program we’ve instituted for newly hired adjuncts is an online orientation that provides an introduction to the college as well as a review of pedagogical best practices and student-centric teaching strategies. The message we deliver is for adjuncts to remember that most students don’t understand any difference between full-time and adjunct faculty. In the classroom, that teacher is the fully credentialed professional educator who is a crucial element of the college experience—especially for those particular students. This is important for both the students and faculty to keep in mind.

We also communicate with our adjuncts through a printed newsletter with articles on teaching, classroom management, and student engagement that goes out to the adjuncts’ homes twice a semester. It isn’t a long, scholarly document, but it provides practical, worthwhile information while it reminds adjuncts that they are mission critical.

Possibly the most important way we bring adjuncts into our student success mission is to provide each adjunct with a specific full-time faculty partner in the Faculty Collaboration Program. Several times a semester, the pairs meet together briefly to discuss teaching, grading, students, or any other questions and concerns the adjuncts may want to discuss with a colleague. Sharing ideas with their peers is the most frequently mentioned benefit of this program.

Another important advantage of this outlet for professional discussion for both adjuncts and full-time faculty is to be able to reflect momentarily on who our students are today. They aren’t the same types of students we were, but instead of focusing on the differences, we should stop to consider the awesome potential sitting in our classes. Someone in the future will find innovative ways to treat and eventually eliminate cancer—that researcher may be the introvert who doesn’t make eye contact in an early morning Biology 1304 class. The boisterous girl with fuchsia hair who monopolizes group discussions may go out and revolutionize the way small businesses access investment loans. The student of indeterminate gender, age, or appearance at the back of the room who seems tuned out may be soaking in every word and gesture the instructor makes and will take that away to process later when he/she can mull over how that fits into a new method to communicate with people who speak different languages or have special learning needs. The possible contributions the students will make in their own families, communities, and the world are endless. In the day-to-day grind of preparing lessons, grading papers and tests, and managing the operations of the college classroom, it would be easy for faculty to cast off those thoughts of our students’ potential and their future selves. It’s tricky enough just to stay afloat, but at San Jacinto, we’re working hard to do more than that. We’re committing to the success of every student by including all faculty in our efforts.

Originally published as a Faculty Voices Project blog post on February 17, 2017.