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Why hiring adjuncts is not producing the anticipated cost savings

Since the early 1990s, the number of part-time (adjunct) faculty began increasing. Higher Education institutions began replacing retiring tenured faculty with non-core adjunct faculty in an attempt to mitigate costs.Today, approximately 50% of faculty teaching in colleges and universities throughout the United States are adjunct.

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Why hiring adjuncts is not producing the anticipated cost savings

Since the early 1990s, the number of part-time (adjunct) faculty began increasing. Higher Education institutions began replacing retiring tenured faculty with non-core adjunct faculty in an attempt to mitigate costs.Today, approximately 50% of faculty teaching in colleges and universities throughout the United States are adjunct.

This model, intended to reduce costs, has not proven to yield the level of financial benefits that were anticipated. Although instructional costs have decreased with the shift to more part-time faculty, the number of administrative positions has increased (Desrochers & Kirshstein, 2014). This has essentially created a cost neutral situation for many schools.

Finding and scheduling the part-time faculty required to fill the course-load once held by one full-time faculty member, as well as the high turnover rate among part-time faculty, means more administrative support is required. Over time, schools have added to student services, human resources, academic affairs administrative support staff, and IT to accommodate the changing faculty model. Many schools are hiring one or more administrative staff specifically to support the part-time and contingent faculty.

Institutions that attempt to continue to operate using the same processes and procedures used when full-time, tenure or tenure track faculty were the majority, find themselves riddled with issues. The decentralized hiring practices used to find the best core faculty member do not work with part-time faculty. Part-time faculty are hired at 10-times the rate of full-time faculty yet they turnover at an equal rate. Keeping up with compliance notifications, training, and assessment often does not happen.

Using adjuncts to teach online, certificate, two-plus-two, and three-plus-one degree programs tend not to significantly reduce costs or increase profits. Too often, the systems that support them are cumbersome and largely manual. The failure to adapt to a new faculty population creates an interesting paradox: Hiring adjuncts while reducing instructional costs, often results in increased administrative costs.

Institutions need to reengineer the hiring through termination functions of the institution. This is the only way that colleges and universities can hope to see a significantly beneficial response to the rising cost of education.

At Prof360, we work with higher education institutions to improve processes and workflow, and implement cost effective technology solutions where indicated.

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Desrochers, D. M., & Kirshstein, R. (2014). Labor intensive or labor expensive? Changing staffing and compensation patterns in higher education. February 2014. Retrieved from https://deltacostproject.org/sites/default/files/products/DeltaCostAIR_Staffing_Brief_2_3_14.pdf.

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