Does Hiring Adjuncts Instead of Full-time Faculty Really Benefit Universities?

The number of adjuncts in schools has been increasing.  Schools seem to think that hiring three or four adjuncts to teach the same amount of classes as a single full-time faculty member saves them money.  It is true that if adjuncts are restricted to teaching only a few units that the school doesn't have to provide insurance.  But are schools really benefiting from this hiring strategy?  Lets take a look at some factors related to a school's decision to hire many adjuncts instead of full-time faculty.

The Difference Between Adjunct and Full-time Faculty Pay
According to Glassdoor.com full-time college instructors make anywhere from around a low of $40,000 per year to a high of $100,000 or more per year.  Let's assume a new full-time faculty member has a reasonable starting salary of $50,000 per year.

I have seen adjunct pay ranging from a low of $565 per unit to the upper $900s per unit.  We will assume we are talking about a mid-range adjunct compensation of $750 per unit.  Using adjuncts to teach a full-time load of 21 units each semester, or 42 units each year, the school will pay $30,500 each year.  This saves $19,500 yearly over hiring a full-time instructor...  Or does it?

The Cost of Hiring an Adjunct
There are a LOT of people that can be involved in hiring a new employee.  There's the administrative assistant who posts the job, the faculty who review the applications, the dean who has final approval, the human resources staff who have to deal with the new hire paperwork and background checks, the staff associated with training new hires, and finally the faculty who have to help get the new hire settled within the department.  The number of people, and the time each one spends on hiring a single adjunct, can really add up!

Let's assume that a single person, who makes $50,000 per year, posts a job vacancy announcement and reviews the initial applications as they come in.  It would not be unreasonable to estimate s/he puts in maybe 10 hours towards hiring a single adjunct, likely more with contacting those selected for an interview, sitting in on interviews, and notifying candidates about the final decision.  That equals about $240 of the school's money that went toward hiring a single adjunct for that single individual involved in the hiring process.

How did I get that number?  The yearly salary for the individual ($50,000) was divided by 52 to get the weekly salary.  That number was then divided by 40 to get the hourly salary for the employee.  Since s/he spent 10 hours on hiring, their hourly salary was then multiplied by 10 to get the total cost for this individual involved in hiring the adjunct.

It is likely that there are other people involved in the interview process though.  Let's say only two faculty members review the applications and participate in the interviews as well.  These are faculty that are not new to the school, so they make $60,000 each year.  If they put in 8 hours each toward hiring a single adjunct, less than the previous person because they are not in charge of posting the vacancy or contacting the interviewees, that is about $290 for each of them.

Total so far: $820 just for hiring one adjunct.

Who comes next in the hiring process?  Someone who makes more money, that's for sure!  Maybe someone who makes six figures.  After the initial review is over a big-wig makes the final decision.  Let's say s/he spends an hour looking over the top applicants and making the final decision who to hire.  That equals about $480.

We are now at $1,300.

Now we have to hire that new employee.  One person in human resources is the contact for the new employee.  After answering all the new hire's questions, filing the completed paperwork, getting them signed up for direct deposit, doing background checks, and all the other things they do that are unknown to me, let's say s/he put in five hours (underestimate likely!) toward hiring a new employee and make $50,000 per year.  That is $120 toward hiring the new adjunct.

That brings us up to $1,420.

Next comes training for the new hire.  Let's assume adjuncts have to take some kind of class which requires five hours of direct contact time with the trainer.  If the trainer makes $60,000 per year this equals about $145.

We are at $1,565.

Last comes time with current faculty getting acquainted with the department and the class the new hire will be teaching.  Let's say about three hours of time is spent helping get the new hire settled by people who make $60,000 per year.  That is about $87 spent helping the new hire get started.

Now we are at $1,652.

Now we have a new adjunct who is ready to teach a class.  Yeah!  It was so cheap to hire them!  Or was it?  Adjuncts may teach anywhere from 3 to 11 units each semester.  If a full-time employee can teach 21 units each semester we need to hire two, three, maybe four adjuncts!  If we hire three adjuncts to teach all these units, that is about $4,956 spent on hiring them.  Now it is getting pricier!

High Turn Over
Adjuncts may have high turn over as well.  I was recently told by my lead instructor that five people have taught my class over the last five years.  Wow!  So these hiring expenses occur yearly!  Universities save $19,500 each year by hiring the equivalent number of adjuncts to teach a full-time instructor's load, but spend almost $5,000 each year to hire those adjuncts.  Monetarily we have not achieved any benefits for the school to make these adjuncts full-time faculty yet.

"Full-time Professionals" May Mean Teaching is Not a Priority
One benefit often emphasized by universities about having adjuncts teach courses is that the students have access to a full-time professional in the field.  So the adjunct may have another full-time job?  Hopefully they do, because they don't make much as an adjunct.  Are they a pharmacist?  Maybe they make coffee at Starbucks.  The question is how focused are they on their class, and are the students really getting a good education?

If an instructor is not able to return assignments in a reasonable amount of time students suffer because they can't learn from their mistakes and apply the knowledge to new assignments right away.  Is the class organized?  Does the instructor provide clear rubrics for grading assignments so students know what is expected?  These are problems that can occur in any class, but adjunct positions require a lot of time that full-time professionals may not have to dedicate to a class.  

While this idea that adjuncts are full-time professionals is a nice thought for parents sending students off to these schools, the AAUP emphasizes that adjuncts being full-time professionals is not the norm.  For schools that like to boast this benefit of adjuncts, I question whether a full-time professional would dedicate the same amount of time to a class that a full-time instructor would.  Even another adjunct trying to make teaching their career may have more time for the class.

Instructors and courses are discussed among students.  If a class is an "easy A," students will know.  If the instructor is disorganized, students will know.  If an instructor is great, has a well designed course that really allows students to explore a subject, students will know that too.  Having good instructors essentially leads to free positive advertising for the school, bad instructors will lead to bad advertising.  The experience full-time instructors have may help improve student retention and increase class sizes, bringing in more money to the school.

Employees Could Focus on More Productive Tasks
What about the time spent by the people involved in hiring that could be focused on other aspects of campus success, such as working on programs to bring in new students or retain current ones?  The conversion of adjuncts to full-time faculty should be seen as one of these improvements too.  Increasing the number of full-time faculty members could also increase employee job satisfaction, leading to happier instructors and better classes for students.  Happy instructors also enjoy talking about their job - another form of free advertising for the school.  Certainly investing in full-time faculty would help bring in more students and increase interest in job openings, leading to a better pool of candidates and increasing the school's success.

Other Jobs Could be Cut if Adjuncts are Made Full-time Faculty
If there aren't as many new hires coming into a school some of the jobs in human resources could be cut.  There wouldn't be as much paperwork to deal with and fewer people would be necessary to complete all the tasks.  It is common for businesses to have anywhere from one HR employees for every 100 employees to one HR employee for every 200 employees.  If a school employs 400 adjuncts, it may be possible to consolidate at least 300 of those adjunct jobs into 100 full-time positions.  This would save $50,000 - $100,000 each year if one or two HR employees were no longer necessary.

So Who Wins?
I don't have monetary estimates for these last few points.  Different programs at different school will be better than others at recruiting new students.  Any instructor, adjunct or full-time, could be good or bad no matter how much experience they have.  A lot may depend on who is in charge and what their priorities are.  Given the right knowledge, and good management personnel, I think the conversion of adjuncts to full-time faculty would benefit schools.  If you look at the numbers provided above this may not appear to be true, but other factors such as student success and faculty happiness have a big impact on that success and need to be considered as well.  What do you think?


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