Contingent Workforce: Size, Characteristics, Compensation, and Work Experiences of Adjunct and Other Non-Tenure-Track Faculty

Contingent Workforce: Size, Characteristics, Compensation, and Work Experiences of Adjunct and Other Non-Tenure-Track Faculty

By Jael Greene

A recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examines characteristics of adjunct and other non-tenure track faculty at institutions of higher education in Georgia, North Dakota and Ohio, the roles that different types of faculty fill, and the various factors that administrators consider when determining the composition of faculty at their institutions.

Findings include:

  • Non-tenure track faculty taught 45 to 54 percent of all courses at four-year public institutions and even higher percentages at two-year public institutions.
  • Non-tenure faculty were paid less than full-time, tenure tracked faculty.
    • Data from public institutions in North Dakota and Ohio found that among full-time faculty who primarily teach (excluding administrators), non-tenure track faculty were paid about 40 percent less per course than tenure track faculty.
    • For part-time non-tenure track faculty, the gap was closer to 75 percent less per course.
  • Institution administrators cited a number of factors that could affect their decisions about faculty makeup and the hiring of non-tenure track vs. tenure track faculty. These include:
    • Financial factors such as compensation costs for different types of faculty and legal or grant program requirements.
    • Institutional factors such as supply of qualified candidates, the need for subject specialists and balancing priorities.
    • Faculty needs such as professional and life circumstances, prioritizing the needs of existing full-time faculty and faculty preferences and career goals.
    • Student needs such as various learning opportunities from different types of faculty and the contributions of full-time faculty to school community.
  • In discussion groups with GAO, non-tenure track faculty were asked about the advantages and disadvantages to their work.
    • Non-tenure track faculty cited flexibility to balance professional and personal responsibilities, skill development and working with students as advantages to their work.
    • Job uncertainty due to short-term contracts, untimely contract renewals and pay, which included a lack of compensation for some of the work, were cited as disadvantages.