The Perils of Part-Time Professors

Here is one of the cruel realities of getting a college degree today:

While prices keep going up so do the number of part-time professors who are teaching on college campuses.

Why does this matter? Because part-time instructors can pose a threat to your child finishing his or her degree.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to explore this topic in my book, The College Solution, because the studies that are suggesting that part-time instruction are detrimental hadn’t been released yet. The first research was released in April when my book was just about at the printer. And now three more studies have just been published that essentially back up the first one.

So what’s the big deal about part-timers?

For starters, part-time instructors don’t spend as much time with students. After class they are likely to hop in their car and head home, or more likely, to another part-time gig at a different school. (It’s definitely not easy making a living as a part-time college instructor.) So let’s suppose one of these itinerant professors has just taught 300 kids in an intro calculus class. Your child has questions, but the professor doesn’t have office hours. The problem is obvious.

In the first study, which looked at transcripts of roughly 30,000 students enrolled in four unnamed universities in the Southeast, freshmen were significantly more likely to drop out if they had part-time instructors for their intro classes.

The newest research produced a finding that was just as alarming. At institutions that relied on lots of part-time instructors, the full-time faculty were less likely to spend as much time helping students, preparing for their classes or using active teaching techniques. Perhaps the full-time teachers figured that if part-timers could get away with minimal contact with students and less prep time for classes they could too! The author of the study speculated that these full-time teachers felt they could be replaced with part-timers and hence felt less loyalty to the institution.

Unfortunately, colleges and universities are relying increasingly on part-time faculty. About 46% of college professors are part-time, which is up from 22% in 1970. The number of part-timers is probably even larger because the statistics is five years old.

When you are looking at colleges and universities, be sure to ask about part-time instructors. Obviously, you’ll want to have as many courses taught by full-time instructors as possible. I’ll provide another suggestion to this dilemma on my next post.

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