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April 07, 2014

Students study biology at LaGuardia Community College. Community colleges across the country are relying increasingly on part-time faculty. (Gates Foundation/Flickr)

Public support for higher education has dwindled since the recession, so how can cash-strapped community colleges nurture and sustain high-performing faculty and prepare them to assist more low-income students?

In trying to answer that persistent question, a new report from the Center for Community College Engagement finds part-time adjunct professors aren't getting the support they need. The report presents a grim outlook: while community colleges rely increasingly on part-time faculty they are failing to invite them into their institutions as full-time partners.

"Contingent employment has become a major feature of the economic model for higher education in general and for community colleges in particular," said Kay McClenney, director of the Center at the University of Texas Austin, in a phone interview. 

McClenney, who co-authored the report, said not enough is being done to figure out how to work more effectively with adjunct faculty. 

"The community college sector is setting dramatically higher goals for student completion of certificates and degrees and transfer to four-year institutions," McClenney said. "It seems very clear to us that if those goals are going to be obtained we are going to have to find ways to more effectively work in supporting those who teach 58 percent of the courses."

According to McClenney, adjunct professors bring certain strengths to community college classrooms, but, lacking support, they are not using effective teaching practices that will help students graduate on time -- and with less debt.

"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."

And if community colleges don't make support of adjunct professors a priority, the report says, the U.S. will fail to deliver affordable, high-quality college education to enough people to remain globally competitive.

The report comes as more that 2,000 community college presidents are gathering in Washington, D.C., for the annual convention of the American Association of Community Colleges.

As On Campus has previously reported, part-time faculty in some Boston area schools are even unionizing.

new business models, adjunct, community college, global competitiveness

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