Shifting faculty

Online learning is being embraced at a faster rate within community colleges and non-top-tier universities in the US, stated Ruth, Sammons and Poulin (Educause Quarterly, Number 2, 2007). With the volume increase in students choosing online learning, it is wondered if the quality of elearning will be improved and sustained. For instance, it was found many future online learners will be between the ages of 35 and 55 – individuals who will judge and choose programs based on quality, cost, accreditation, and technology use.

Apparently, top tier universities may not see full-scale online programs as a strategy for their institutions, leaving this type of programming to others. Thus, one half of enrolments in elearning are in community colleges, 1/3 at doctoral and masters granting institutions, and the remaining at undergrad and specialized schools. 

One main factor affecting the quality of online programs is faculty. Three million, of the 17 million postsecondary students in the US, are being taught via elearning programs by 100,000 full-time and part-time faculty members (10%). What is more, over half of faculty are part-time at community colleges and universities, and it is these non-permanent staff that are teaching in the online programs. This raises questions about quality, more namely affects on graduation rate (part-time faculty are found to have a negative impact), professional accreditation of courses, and status of the institution.

The authors predict that full-time tenured faculty members will not and are not that interested in teaching online courses. In fact, they state these faculty sense of the legitimacy for online courses are decreasing over time. If this is the case, it is argued to increase the involvement and commitment of part-time faculty through pay incentives, long term contracts, and to fund premier online programs regionally, first, as examples for others.

The main argument of this article is if online learning demands are increasing, and part-time/adjunct staff are negatively affecting program quality but are the main teaching staff, then invest in the structure as it is. That is, heighten and enrich the part-time faculty position by making them a valuable resource, improve their pay and working conditions, provide them more visibility in the institution, and allow them into the governance of the institutions. This focus is thought to  be less costly than the cost and overhead of full-time staff.

As a future instructor destined for academia, I am aware that part-time positions might be more prevalent, yet will struggle to have a significant status compared to tenure. This article makes the argument that increasing the commitment, involvement and work of part-time, or non-permanent, staff has many benefits for the higher education institution.

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