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April 17, 2014

Brian Meredith works as an adjunct faculty at Bunker Hill Community College (Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH).

A new report says part-time teachers at local community colleges are not getting enough institutional support to be effective. And since so many of these schools use adjunct over full time professors, this may be downgrading the quality of education for the millions who attend community colleges.

Listen to our extended interview with President Pam Eddinger about the role adjuncts play at Bunker Hill Community College:

The report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement finds part time faculty spend less time preparing for class, advising students and giving written feedback to students.

But Kay McClenney, the author of the study, says that’s in part because they’re not given the tools and training they need to be better teachers.

"It's not that they're incapable and it's not that they don't want to," McClenney said. "It's that the institutions are not providing the kinds of support, the kinds of professional development and orientation to exchange information about effective teaching that are typically provided for full-time faculty."

The study says adjunct, or part-time teachers, aren’t given standard things like enough office space, orientation and preparation time. And now, because of current economic pressures, adjuncts now teach nearly 60 percent of all community college courses.

"Community colleges do hire more adjuncts, because, essentially, public funding is walking away from them at a rapid rate," said McClenney. 

It's become an economic reality that schools depend on adjuncts, and Bunker Hill Community College is no different. Pam Eddinger took over as president there about eight months ago. 

"All of the things that we do for full-time faculty are available for part-time faculty," Eddinger said. "Professional development, orientations, evaluations."

Data collected in the study shows that full-time faculty are more likely to be prepared for class (CCCSE).

And Eddinger says although Bunker Hill can’t afford to hire more full time professors, the college has done its best to create standard content that should be effective, regardless of who’s standing in front of the class. 

"It is not whatever you bring to the table, it's really what the college has developed as part of its curriculum, and there are standards," Eddinger said. "Whether you're part-time or full-time, I think the quality then becomes even."

But here at Bunker Hill,  adjunct professor Brian Meredith says he'd just like an office to meet with students or work on his lesson plans.

"We don't have much office space," Meredith said. "We're all in one common office together, and we work together the best we can to accommodate our students." 

Meredith teaches composition and a remedial course in writing at Bunker Hill. To make ends meet he also teaches across town at UMass Boston. When asked whether he has enough support to teach those students who often need the most help, Meredith hesitates, then he couches his answer.

"Uh, that's, some days… I guess it depends on what day you're asking me. I mean I, a teacher's life is a pretty lonely one anyways," said Meredith.

As community colleges hire more and more part-timers, educators say fully engaging them on campus will be critical to student success.

confronting cost, new business models, adjunct faculty, community college

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