Statistics from the American Association of University Professors (Curtis, 2013) show that from 1975 to 2011, the number of contingent faculty (adjuncts) rose 226.3%, with 44.6% of that growth occurring from 2001 to 2011. The proportion of total growth of faculty attributable to contingent positions was 91.5%. According to Dr. Anita Levy, senior staff member of the American Association of University Professors (as cited in Grossman, 2013), “The contingent (adjunct) instructional staff, for all national institutions increased from approximately 58% in 1975 to 75.9% in 2011. It's not a trend, but a fact.”
As a result, academia currently is experiencing a shift in faculty hiring practices. This is evident in all types of institutions of higher learning, including small, private universities. Ballantyne, Berret, and Harst (2010) found that:
For private institutions, the mission identity of the institution is the distinguishing factor branded to the greater community. Assurances of mission and brand recognition must be delivered via fulltime and adjunct faculty to ensure continued viability of private colleges and universities. (p. 1)
The problem becomes that adjunct faculty are not being oriented, evaluated, and given the resources that regular faculty receive (Ballantyne et al., 2010; Jacobson, 2013; Langen, 2011; Louis, 2009; Milliken & Jurgens, 2008; Morton, 2012).
Requirements involving mentoring and developing adjuncts should be developed by institutions of higher learning if they want to hire and retain adjuncts of quality. Some areas to include are orientation to not only the institution, but also its culture and practices; a sense of belonging to the institution; professional development; evaluation and feedback; and recognition for their contributions and work (Jacobson, 2013; Langen, 2011; Meixner & Kruck, 2010; Morton, 2012). There is a dearth of recent research regarding the experiences of adjunct faculty. However, in 2010, Meixner and Kruck conducted a qualitative study to explore the experiences of part-time faculty (their definition of part-time faculty correlates with this study's definition of adjunct faculty) at a midsized, public university. The study was offered to a population of 277 part-time faculty with a final sample of 85. It contained open-ended questions related to the needs and satisfaction of the participants. Some of the questions included:
What are your most challenging issues related to teaching? What additional knowledge and skills would you like to acquire related to university teaching? Describe if and/or how you're included as a member of your department, College and/or University community. Describe suggestions for how your department, College and/or University community can include/involve part time faculty members. (Meixner & Kruck, 2010, p. 145)
Themes that emerged, according to Meixner and Kruck (2010), included receiving outreach (e.g., mentoring, socialization, e-mail, and working space), navigating challenges (e.g., community disconnect and work–life integration), and developing skills (e.g., technological assistance, peer review, and conducting research). The authors concluded that students and faculty alike would benefit from a more satisfied group of part-time faculty. Their suggestions included advocating for the part-time faculty and ensuring that there is a liaison for them to the faculty, as well as the administration. Adequate guidance and support related to the outreach and developmental skills themes also were proposed.
Several studies (Halcrow & Olson, 2008; Milliken & Jurgens, 2008; Morton, 2012; West et al., 2009) support the idea that adjunct faculty who believe they are not supported or feel they are not appreciated for their contributions will experience self-doubt and not perform well. In their study, Milliken and Jurgens (2008) found that for adjunct faculty overall, the areas of importance to their work role are not available to them. They stated that the results of their study “signify the need for colleges and universities...to establish mechanisms for providing more supports to adjuncts as a means to enhance teaching and service” (p. 33).
West et al. (2009) stated that support of strategies, methodologies, workshops, mentors, and technology by administrators can improve the quality of adjunct faculty. However, consideration of the implementation of the school's mission is the first priority. The authors suggested that a handbook, orientation, socialization to the institutional culture, a clinical adjunct workshop, and use of technology are proposed solutions. The workshops for clinical adjuncts would address program policies and protocols, details regarding student evaluation, collaboration with clinical as well as classroom partners, schedules, and teaching responsibilities. Schriner (2007, p. 149, as cited in West et al., 2009) postulated: “Not being educationally prepared for a teaching role resulted in participants doubting their abilities as educators, which led to lowered self-confidence in their role as teacher” (p. 307).
In an article about the role of adjuncts in the professoriate, Stenerson, Blanchard, Fassiotto, Hernandez, and Muth (2010) expressed a more optimistic, yet cautious, view. They stated that because of increasing enrollments, new programs, and challenging economic times, adjuncts are being hired instead of full-time faculty, especially in professional programs such as nursing. On a positive note, adjuncts supply a specialized need, bring a level of expertise to the students, provide insight into real-world experiences, and many times become a mentor to students. They also can help develop a partnership between the university or college with organizations in the community.
On the other hand, nursing adjuncts often have a demanding full-time position elsewhere and do not have the time or inclination to devote to student problems, issues, or mentoring. Nursing adjuncts often are employed full-time elsewhere, with their adjunct role being supplemental income. In smaller colleges, this situation can undermine what the institution's mission and advertisement guarantees: active investment in students and their success. Stenerson et al. (2010) noted that accreditors could view this negatively. The authors concluded that universities must provide resources to support and encourage adjunct faculty, and that adjuncts need to be oriented to the institution's commitment to the student as well as all of the information and standards that they need to be successful, satisfied, and confident in their role.
Having adjuncts as part of the faculty is now a fact of life in the university setting and in colleges of nursing in particular. As the enrollments increase exponentially, so does the need for student clinical sites that are staffed, for the most part, by adjuncts. In addition, as current faculty members start to retire, it is time to transform adjuncts into regular full- or half-time faculty. Without a consistent consortium of satisfied and competent adjuncts, that might be an impossible dream. Will nursing students receive the level of education that was promised to them without adjuncts who are invested in the institution and its mission? It was in response to these issues that the research questions and purpose of the current study were developed. The two research questions for this study were: How do adjunct faculty perceive the importance of factors that impact their work experience, and how available are the factors to them as an adjunct faculty member? The purpose then was to understand the significance of the gap between the perceived importance of adjunct work factors and the availability of those factors and, in doing so, to be able to improve retention and investment of the adjunct faculty members by satisfying their needs.
Many studies (Ballantyne et al., 2010; Maldonado & Riman, 2009; Jacobson, 2013) throughout the educational disciplines theorize there is a direct correlation between job satisfaction and retention. A theory that is a procedural example is the range-of-affect theory, or affect theory, of Edwin Locke (Locke & Latham, 1990). McFarlin, Coster, Rice, and Cooper (1995) reaffirmed Locke's theory, which suggests that the concept of “facet” importance is a key factor to the level of satisfaction of a particular facet. Locke and Latham (1990) postulated two hypotheses: “1) Facet amount and facet importance will interact to determine facet satisfaction and 2) Perceived have-want discrepancy and facet importance will interact to determine facet satisfaction” (p. 231). In terms of this study, the “facets” will be variables that are perceived by the adjunct faculty, the “importance” will be the perceived importance of the facet, and the “amount” will be the perceived availability of the facet or what is being provided for the adjuncts. It is their belief that the “two hypotheses are conceptually equivalent, as both value fulfillment, either directly or indirectly” (p. 231).
According to Locke's hypothesis, the higher the significance (p > .05) of difference between the importance of a facet and the availability of the facet, the higher level of adjunct faculty satisfaction can be expected. In other words, if there is little difference in the importance of a facet and the availability of it, the more satisfied the adjunct should be. The smaller the gap between these two, the more chances for satisfaction in one's work. Conversely, the more significant the difference is between importance and availability (p < .05), the lower the satisfaction of adjunct faculty can be expected, as when the difference between importance and availability is a significant one, satisfaction would decrease. Therein lies the gap that needs to be addressed by educational institutions that employ adjunct instructors and have the inclination to retain adjuncts as a valuable component to their program.
A quantitative, exploratory, cross-sectional study was completed using a survey method. The data included demographics and a 19-question Likert scale survey, adapted from the Adjunct Instructor Survey (AIS) (Milliken & Jurgens, 2008), with an additional qualitative question at the end.
Sample and Setting
Adjunct faculty are currently at a premium, as they are in great demand for economic reasons, as well as to curtail the current nursing faculty shortage (Langen, 2011; Louis, 2009; Morton, 2012; Stenerson et al., 2010). Because of this, it was anticipated that colleges and universities would be hesitant to release the contact information for their current adjuncts. There also was no access to adjunct faculty lists through the Web sites of the schools of nursing. Therefore, it was decided that the best option was to contact the deans and chairs of the colleges and universities that fit the study criteria, explain the research study, and ask for their assistance in distributing the anonymous study to their adjuncts via a Web-based survey system.
A cover letter with a link to the survey then was sent to the deans and chairs of all small to mid-sized, midwestern colleges and universities that had a traditional baccalaureate nursing (BSN) program. Small to mid-sized colleges and universities were defined as those institutions with a student enrollment of fewer than 15,000 students. Midwestern states included Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. A total of 96 schools fit these criteria. Of these 96 schools, five were eliminated due to lack of a contact person or the school not fitting the criteria (e.g., RN-to-BSN program only). Of the remaining 91 schools, 73.6% (67) also had a master of science in nursing program. The deans of the 91 schools were asked to forward the link to the survey to all of their nursing adjunct faculty. The dean of the authors' school of nursing personally encouraged several schools to comply through an introductory letter.
For this study, adjunct faculty were defined as faculty members who had a minimum of a BSN and were hired on a course-by-course basis to supplement the regular full- and half-time faculty. Inclusion criteria for the adjunct faculty were that they must have taught at least one course during the prior academic year and that if the adjunct faculty had taught for more than one institution, their survey responses should focus on only one of the institutions. The number of responses to the survey was 80. Because of the anonymity of the participants and their place of employment, and the schools' total number of adjuncts, the number of potential participants could not be calculated.
After establishing the significance and necessity for the information regarding the importance of understanding the needs and satisfaction of adjunct nursing faculty, permission for use of the AIS was procured from Milliken and Jurgens (2008). It was minimally adjusted to reflect the sample being studied. This survey has content validity and has been used in several subsequent studies with similar results, thus currently increasing its reliability. However, at this time, there are no statistics reflecting the reliability and validity of the survey.
Demographic Data. Demographic information included items such as number of years spent as an RN, length of time as an adjunct, average number of credit hours teaching as an adjunct, type of nursing program, type of courses taught, past teaching history, number of hours at another paid nursing position, and highest academic degree. The demographic data were used to identify issues that are particular to specific types of nursing programs and faculty members. This demographic data section was an addition to the original AIS.
Adjunct Instructor Survey. The AIS is a 25-question Likert-type scale survey that was developed by Milliken and Jurgens (2008). It was adapted to include 20 questions, plus one qualitative question: “Is there any additional information you would like to share from your experience working as an adjunct faculty?” The survey took approximately 10 minutes to complete. The 20 questions (facets) were divided into four groups: faculty development (six questions), academic resources (three questions), material resources (five questions), and miscellaneous opportunities, services, and resources (six questions). Initial instructions included the inclusion criteria for each group, instructing them to go no further if the criteria did not apply to their employment situation. The first group of 20 questions pertained to how important these factors are to their perception of their adjunct work role. The second group of the same 20 questions pertained to their perception of the availability of these factors. Participants rated the level of importance and availability of the factors using a 5-point Likert-type scale, with 1 = not important, 2 = somewhat important, 3 = important, 4 = highly important, and 5 = unsure.
Institutional review board approval was obtained for this exempt project. A consent form was not needed; as stated in the introductory letter to the participants, returning the survey indicated consent. Data were collected via a SurveyMonkey™ format. The survey link was forwarded by the administrator of the colleges and schools of nursing to the adjunct faculty. In doing so, anonymity of the participants and protection of the anonymity of colleges' adjunct pools was ensured. Data collected were managed by the study investigators. All data were saved on a password-encrypted site and will be destroyed after 3 years.
An e-mail was sent to each dean or chair of the colleges and universities involved (91 schools), with a concise description of the study and asking for collaborative support in forwarding the SurveyMonkey links to their nursing adjunct faculty members. The survey closed 6 weeks after the initiation of the survey. During the 6-week period, two reminders with the link were sent out to the deans and chairs for a second and third distribution to the potential sample.
Data collection took place between February 3 and March 17, 2014. The reminders were sent to the deans and chairs at the 2-week and 4-week intervals. Statistical evaluation was performed using SPSS version 22.0 software. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics including means, standard deviations, mean differences with 95% confidence intervals, and t tests to determine significance.
The surveys were returned by 80 anonymous adjunct faculty members. Of the 80 members, most (44%) had been a nurse for more than 20 years but had been an adjunct faculty member for less than 3 years (47%). The majority (73.75%) taught at only one institution and taught an average of 1 to 6 credits (80%). Eight-five percent taught in master's of nursing (MSN) program, had an MSN degree (61.3%), and taught clinical courses (63%). Only 25% of the sample had taught previously as a full- or half-time contracted faculty member. The majority (57%) worked in another paid nursing position for 21 to >40 hours per week.
Factors, according to priority of importance, as measured by the mean scores of adjunct faculty study participants, are displayed in Figure 1. The top five factors of importance for the adjunct faculty study participants were access to the course syllabus, library resources, evaluations of teaching, staff assistance with the online course delivery system, and mentoring opportunities with experienced faculty. The lowest five factors of importance for adjunct faculty study participants were participation in program and departmental meetings, office supplies, discount on academic events, campus tours, and shared office space.
Graph displays factor importance mean scores from the highest to lowest importance, as measured by the mean scores of adjunct faculty study participants.
Availability of factors, as measured by the mean scores of adjunct faculty study participants, are displayed in Figure 2. The five most common factors available to adjunct faculty participants were library resources, staff assistance with online course delivery system, informational e-mails about upcoming events, access to course syllabus, and evaluations of teaching. The five least available factors available were office supplies, campus tours, discount on events, shared office space, and benefits such as insurance and tuition.
Graph displays factor availability mean scores from factors that are most available to those that are the least available, as measured by the mean scores of adjunct faculty study participants.
As displayed in the Table, mean scores for importance were higher than those of availability for all factors except the factor of informational e-mails about upcoming events. Statistically significant differences were found between the importance and availability mean scores for all factors except those of participation in program and departmental meetings (p = .110), library resources (p = .062), shared office space (p = .278), and campus tours (p = .615). The five factors that showed the largest statistically significant mean differences between importance and availability scores were benefits such as insurance and tuition; networking opportunities with other adjunct faculty; workshops, seminars, and topics related to teaching; mentoring opportunities with experienced faculty; and access to course syllabus, with mean differences of 1.45, 0.66, 0.63, 0.63, and 0.61 respectively.
Factors of Importance and Availability to Adjunct Faculty
Given that 72.5% of the adjunct respondents to this study possessed 10 or more years of nursing experience, it is recognized that these prior work experiences provide a foundation for establishing issues that influence work role satisfaction. Adjunct faculty opinions and perspectives should be leveraged to facilitate the creation of a respected adjunct orientation and support system. Attention to these issues may strengthen marketing tools and enhance the effectiveness of recruitment.
This study revealed that 75.7% of respondents had never held a full-time contracted faculty role before becoming an adjunct faculty. Therefore, typical institutional policies, schedules, and teaching responsibilities may not be fully understood. This highly important information is time sensitive and should be understood as soon as possible after hiring and before the academic term begins.
The majority of adjuncts in this study (73.7%) indicated that they taught at only one institution. Therefore, academic leaders have an opportunity, as well as a responsibility, to create an adjunct support program that will recognize, develop, nurture, and retain adjunct faculty who are invested in the institution, believe in its program, and are committed to providing a quality education. The institution in which an adjunct chooses to teach may be influenced by which school is perceived as having the best developed support system in place for its adjunct faculty. An essential component of the hiring process of adjuncts should include an appropriate orientation, availability of access to important resources (i.e., mentoring, technical support, policies and procedures, and evaluation), and an open communication system with supervising faculty. According to Locke's affect theory (1990), conveying this to potential adjunct faculty would likely increase recruitment success and provide adjunct faculty satisfaction. Satisfaction then becomes a key issue for the institution's decision to retain adjuncts that were hired, as well as the adjunct faculty member's desire to remain in the position.
Although the findings affirm that the schools represented in this study had some understanding of the factors that are important to adjuncts, significant room for improvement still exists. Four of the five top factors of importance also were named in the top five factors of availability; similarly, four of the five factors of least importance also were found to be among the five least available. However, the difference between importance and availability was statistically significant for all factors except campus tours (p = .615), shared office space (p = .278), participation in program and departmental meetings (p = .110), and library resources (p = .062). It can then be inferred that although the availability of factors of importance are available, they do not meet the perceived needs of the adjuncts at this time.
Findings in this study support prior research (Jacobson, 2013; Louis, 2009; Meixner & Kruck, 2010; Milliken & Jurgens, 2008; Morton, 2012), indicating the importance of building relationships within the learning community, including opportunities to network with other adjunct faculty and participate in mentoring activities with experienced faculty. Awareness of and emphasis on bridging the significant gap will foster a welcoming environment and sense of belonging to the institution. With Curtis (2013) showing a rise of 226% in adjunct faculty utilization since 1975, and adjuncts representing two thirds of faculty at some institutions (Louis, 2009), finding ways to prepare, satisfy, and retain adjunct faculty becomes increasingly critical to institutions of higher learning.
It is noteworthy that attending departmental meetings fell in the lower five factors of importance to adjuncts, whereas workshops and seminars were the top seventh factor of importance and carried the second largest mean difference between importance and availability. The difference in perceived value of time spent between attending a meeting and attending a workshop may be a reflection of the 57.6% of respondents who worked 21 to 40 or more hours per week in another nursing position.
Time constraints on adjunct faculty mandate a support system that is efficient and user friendly. Hence, use of online delivery for providing support such as links to resources, university schedules, program handbooks, contact information of support staff, and forms needed for the teaching role would be beneficial. In this manner, information and support for the adjunct role is available on demand without the need to attend a meeting that may overlap with other time commitments.
Similarly, an adjunct mentoring program using online communication would address the high priority that respondents placed on networking with other adjuncts and establishing mentorship relationships with experienced faculty. A variety of tools and forums for relationship building may be provided online for both adjunct and experienced faculty. After a partnership is established, preferences for additional interaction may be determined by the mentor and mentee. In addition, online adjunct-to-adjunct communication forums could be established, thereby providing additional support and opportunities for problem solving as a group.
Four of the five top factors of importance to adjuncts typically are managed through university and college administrative channels. These factors included sharing of syllabi, evaluations of teaching, library resources, and staff assistance with online course delivery. One method of building a connection between adjuncts and the academic institution for which they work would be to include adjuncts on leadership teams and involve them in decision making regarding issues important to their role (Jacobson, 2013; Meixner & Kruck, 2010; Milliken & Jurgens, 2008; Morton, 2012). Such inclusive actions would foster a sense of community and belonging for adjunct faculty with their academic institution. The anticipated theoretical implication becomes that the more an adjunct faculty member feels satisfaction as a part of the community, the more invested that adjunct will be in the outcomes of the program and the greater the desire will be to retain that position.
The major limitation of this study was the sample. Because of the proprietary nature of colleges and universities regarding information about their adjuncts, it was necessary to ensure anonymity of both the institutions and adjuncts. Therefore, information was obtained from those who identified themselves as adjuncts but their contact information, as well as their institutional affiliation, was anonymous. Because of this, it was impossible to identify the possible n of the population and determine the power of the number of responses. This is a fundamental limitation when attempting to identify adjuncts from various institutions. Taking this into consideration, the responses and comparisons remain significant.
The instrument used had only content validity but addressed issues that were found to be of importance to adjuncts throughout the literature (Langen, 2011; Maldonado & Riman, 2009; Milliken & Jurgens, 2008; Morton, 2012; Rowh, 2014). Due to current limited use of this tool, reliability continues to be established. However, the data from this study were significantly similar to the results from the initial study in which it was used (Milliken & Jurgens, 2008).
There is a great need and opportunity to establish an educational domain that enhances adjunct recruitment and retention by improving relationships of adjunct faculty with their teaching institution. Beyond the creation of online resources for adjunct faculty, attention to the provision of additional support is critical for retention of this valuable group of educators. Although an online resource site may be a good start to making a connection with adjuncts, literature indicates that an adjunct mentoring program is also critical in building a bond that connects the adjunct to the teaching environment (Johnson & Stevens, 2008; Milliken & Jurgens, 2008; Morton, 2012; West et al., 2009).
Further research is needed to gather additional insights on the needs and satisfiers of adjunct faculty. Institutions with adjunct orientation programs, resource centers, and mentoring programs might consider using focus groups to explore adjunct motivation to use the support services and evaluate the satisfaction levels with the components of the services. A longitudinal study could compare support needs of newly hired adjuncts with needs at 1 and 3 years after being hired.
Another area of exploration is a comparison of needs between adjunct nursing faculty and adjuncts in other disciplines that do not incorporate a clinical teaching domain. This study indicated that 62.9% of adjunct respondents teach clinical nursing courses, and therefore, the needs of adjuncts teaching nursing courses may be different than for adjuncts who teach in other disciplines without clinical experiences.
The development and use of resources for adjunct faculty must be a team effort including university and college administrators, along with contracted faculty colleagues. An isolated endeavor of a few passionate faculty will not generate an overall sense of partnership with the university. Creation of a university-wide safety net of support for adjuncts would produce the best environment to develop and retain adjunct faculty who are committed to a long-term relationship with the school. Adjunct faculty may be more likely to commit to a long-term relationship with an organization that takes pride in helping them be the best they can be.
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- Grossman, R. (2013, June13). Universities move to part-time profs. Chicago Tribune, pp. 1, 7.
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Factors of Importance and Availability to Adjunct Faculty
||95 % CI for Mean Difference
|Workshops, seminars, topics related to teaching
||0.63 [0.39, 0.88]
|Mentoring opportunities with experienced faculty
||0.63 [0.39, 0.86]
|Participation in program and departmental meetings
||0.52 [0.06, 0.11]
|Evaluations of teaching
||0.57 [0.30, 0.85]
|Networking opportunities with other adjunct faculty
||0.66 [0.37, 0.94]
|Adjunct orientation session
||0.42 [0.06, 0.78]
||0.77 [−0.011, 0.42]
|Staff assistance with online course delivery system
||0.27 [0.02, 0.52]
|Assistance/support of research activities
||0.50 [0.20, 0.80]
|Shared office space
||0.62 [−0.11, 0.37]
||0.40 [0.15, 0.66]
||0.38 [0.10, 0.65]
|Adjunct faculty manual
||0.58 [0.23, 0.92]
|Access to course syllabus
||0.61 [0.33, 0.89]
||0.46 [0.23, 0.39]
|Informational e-mails about upcoming events
||−0.52 [−0.76, −0.28]
|Recognition, rewards, certificates
||0.49 [0.16, 0.81]
|Discount on events
||0.44 [0.13, 0.76]
|Benefits: insurance, tuition
||1.45 [1.14, 1.77]