How Maricopa is Improving Student Success through Comprehensive Support for Adjunct Faculty

by Lisa Cook and Daniel Fusch, Academic Impressions

A push to improve student outcomes at Maricopa Community College District in Phoenix, AZ, has included a close look at how Maricopa can support the adjunct faculty who teach those students. Maricopa is one of the nation's largest community college systems, serving more than 260,000 students at ten colleges and two skill centers. About 60 percent of classes are taught by Maricopa's 4,800 part-time adjuncts.

This places a significant priority on ensuring that part-time faculty are fully equipped to help their students succeed.

The Challenge

Like Maricopa, many colleges and universities in the U.S. have a high percentage of courses taught by adjunct faculty. But most offer only limited (if any) orientation, limited (if any) ongoing faculty development for adjuncts, and do little to integrate adjunct faculty effectively with their department's mission, culture, and learning communities. At some institutions, adjunct faculty do not even have a university email account, making it difficult for the institution to communicate with them in a timely and effective way.

Recognizing these gaps -- and their impact on students' academic experiences -- Maricopa has invested in a comprehensive model for adjunct support that includes:

  • A full suite of professional development opportunities for adjunct faculty
  • Partnering with adjuncts to identify areas of need that the institution can address
  • Regular and systematic communication with part-time faculty

To learn more about their approach, we spoke recently with Maricopa Chancellor Rufus Glasper, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Maria Harper-Marinick, Adjunct Faculty Professional Growth District-Wide Coordinator Don Jensen-Bobadilla and past Adjunct Faculty Association President Lysia Hand to learn more.

Here is what they shared with us.

Creating Professional Development Opportunities Focused on Student Success

Focusing on how to improve the academic experience for students, Maricopa's new professional development opportunities for contingent faculty are focused on ways that adjuncts can improve their classroom pedagogy, and are structured so as to be available and timely at any point in an adjunct's career development -- not just at orientation. For example, some off the opportunities Maricopa has developed include:

  • Two conferences per year offered through Maricopa's Center for Learning and Instruction (MCLI), focused on educational tools and approaches.
    For example, last fall, MCLI offered the Developmental Education Conference for Adjunct Faculty (DECAF). Topics included digital tools for teaching English and reading, and what developmental math, reading and writing instructors should know about Common Core standards. This event and the spring conference draw between 150 and 200 adjuncts each year.
  • Two Adjunct Faculty Days of Learning offered by MCLI before the beginning of fall and spring semester.
    These one-day conferences review teaching strategies in developmental education and include time to address issues that adjuncts have requested more training on, such as classroom management. A recent conference also included multiple sessions about how to get hired for a full-time position. For those sessions, MCLI brought in deans, HR personnel and adjuncts who had recently landed full-time positions to give helpful tips and insight into the process.
  • Maricopa’s Adjunct Faculty Professional Growth (AFPG) program, which provides reimbursement for adjuncts to pursue professional development related to courses they are currently teaching.
    For example, adjuncts teaching a one-credit course are eligible for a $250 reimbursement, those teaching two credits are eligible for $500, and those teaching three or more are eligible for $750. During the 2013-14 year, 320 adjuncts received reimbursement.

Maricopa is taking this investment in part-time faculty seriously, and also offers resources available online and through the Center for Teaching and Learning on each campus. "In a classroom in front of students, it shouldn’t matter if faculty are full time or part time in terms of what they deliver," Chancellor Rufus Glasper explains. The important thing is to ensure that all students receive high quality instruction and support, and that your adjunct faculty are well-equipped to assist in that.

Partnering with Adjunct Faculty to Target Areas of Greatest Need

Maricopa is offering a transformative suite of professional development for their adjunct faculty, but if you are interested in improving student outcomes through developing your part-time faculty on your own campus, you can also start small -- perhaps with a survey.

What makes Maricopa's training and professional development for adjunct faculty effective isn't so much the quantity of resources offered but the research invested up front to ensure that Maricopa is targeting those areas of greatest need.

Maricopa partners annually with their Adjunct Faculty Association (AFA), an independent organization, to conduct a survey of issues the adjunct population would like to see addressed, or areas where adjunct faculty feel less prepared. AFA administers the survey and shares the results with Maricopa, and the results are used to tailor the MCLI spring and fall conferences and to identify issues with policies and procedures that the institution may need to address or keep tabs on.

Lysia Hand adds that Maricopa's Adjunct Faculty Professional Growth (AFPG) program also tries to be responsive to needs and issues the survey uncovers, and the program has several college representatives located on each of Maricopa's campuses to respond to adjunct training needs, connecting instructors with resources and professional development in a just-in-time manner.

Improving Communication and Connecting Adjunct Faculty with Campus Resources

One issue campus leaders in the Maricopa system have encountered frequently is that adjunct instuctors have, historically, felt "left out" and distanced from the mission, departmental life, and network of the campus community. In response, Maricopa has been working with AFA to ensure adjunct representation on committees such as the Faculty Development Committee, which helps plan all lectures, activities, events, and promotion of those events on campus.

One issue campus leaders heard repeatedly was that adjuncts felt like they were left out.  In response, Maricopa began working with the AFA to better represent adjuncts on committees such as the Faculty Development Committee, which helps plan all lectures, activities, events and the promotion of said events on each campus.  This is a collaborative effort, and part of a deliberate plan to involve more adjuncts, Hand explains.  Adjuncts have been integrated in may parts of the system and are represented on pretty much every committee in the district.

Maricopa has also:

  • Issued email accounts to all adjunct faculty to ensure that adjuncts can receive campus-wide emails and remain informed about policy changes and campus resources that may be available to their students -- and making it easier for students to contact adjunct instructors through the campus directory.
  • Developed a What you Need to Know page for adjuncts on the AFA's website, with links to pages for key campus resources at each college in the Maricopa system.
  • Begun looking into offering a district-wide on-boarding process with a focus on equipping adjuncts with pedagogical strategies for improving academic success for underrepresented students (another issue identified in the annual adjunct faculty survey).

Maricopa's challenges are similar to those faced at institutions across the country, but exacerbated by the fact that different colleges within the system may address adjunct-related issues differently. "In this kind of system," Hand comments, "issues are handled at the college level, leaving it up the college leadership to advocate on behalf of adjunct faculty. Each campus and department varies in their approach."

Critical Questions to Ask at Your Campus

Historically, institutions have invested very little in their part-time faculty workforce, but developmental, introductory, or gateway courses -- the courses that determine whether many students, especially first-generation students, will persist and succeed -- are frequently taught by contingent faculty. If this is the case at your institution, thinking through the support and professional development offered to your part-time faculty is critical.

Your college may not face all of the challenges Maricopa has had to deal with, but there are probably lessons you can take away from Maricopa's success. Here are a few questions worth taking to your deans and your faculty developers:

  • What resources can we offer to assist adjunct faculty in developing their pedagogy to improve student outcomes?
  • Have we ever surveyed our adjunct faculty about their professional development needs or the support they would regard as beneficial? Do we do so regularly? If not, can we start?
  • Are we currently communicating policy changes and campus resources for student support to adjunct faculty in a timely and effective way? Is there a more effective way to communicate with our part-time faculty?
  • Do we view our adjunct faculty members as integral to educating students and achieving our mission? To walk that talk, what are some ways that we can integrate adjunct faculty into the larger faculty community and institutional vision?