FT/PT Faculty Ratio: How Maricopa Plans to Improve Student Success by Increasing Full-Time Faculty

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

During the recent recession, the Maricopa Community College District shifted more classes to part-time adjunct faculty as a cost-cutting measure -– a trend that was mirrored nationwide. Unfortunately, that move typically has a negative effect on student retention and completion rates, according to the Center for Community College Student Engagement.

Now Maricopa is working to reverse that trend and move to a 60:40 model in order to improve student success outcomes. We talked with Chancellor Rufus Glasper, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Maria Harper-Marinick, Faculty Association President Keith Heffner, and Eddie Genna, who served as Faculty Association president as the initiative was being debated, to understand how and why Maricopa is making this transformative change and what they need to prioritize to accomplish it successfully.

Changing the FT/PT Faculty Ratio from 90:10 to 60:40

Maricopa originally established a 90:10 full-time/part-time faculty ratio when the community college district was created in 1962. According to the ratio, 90 percent of daytime courses would be taught by full-time professors, and the remaining 10 percent by part-time adjuncts. Evening classes would also be taught primarily by part-time adjuncts.

By 2012 the actual ratio was nowhere near the 90:10 target. Part-time adjuncts were teaching most evening courses and a majority of daytime courses. At some colleges, full-time faculty taught only 30 percent of classes — or less. At the same time, work to improve student success metrics was underway as part of Glasper’s One Maricopa initiative, and that would in turn spark a discussion about changing the faculty ratio.

Maricopa administration worked with the faculty to identify a new ratio that includes the following criteria:

  • Additional student support from full-time faculty, including activities such as additional academic support hours and student organization advising
  • Realistic, sustainable, and fiscally-flexible solutions for staffing
  • Lays the groundwork to integrate part-time adjuncts into the system as partners in student success initiatives, and recognizes that some adjuncts bring important real-world experience from their current work in the field
  • Reduces the disparity of the FT/PT ratio between the day and evening programs.

Harper-Marinick explains that Maricopa looked at data regarding students who were here now and before and other trend data, including disciplines where this made the most sense.  They also looked at who was teaching credit hours and determined that 60:40, which full-time faculty will teach 60 percent of the credits offered, was the best ratio for their colleges. The 60 percent goal better captures the amount of instructional contact hours with students.

Implementing the 60:40 ratio is an 8-10 year process that the college began in Fall 2013. Glasper notes that Maricopa has created 32 full-time faculty positions so far, allotted according to how far each college’s ratio was from the 60:40 goal.

How Student Success Drives the Faculty Ratio Discussion

The 60:40 move is tied to Maricopa’s Student Success Initiative, which places student retention and completion rates front and center in all Maricopa decision making. Maricopa administrators asked faculty how they could help the college achieve better student outcomes, and the answer they received was more full-time faculty, Glasper explains. A 2011 internal white paper drove the point home:

“While adjunct faculty bring many virtues to the classroom, numerous studies support that student success suffers when students lack sufficient contact with full-time faculty. Our overreliance on adjunct faculty diminishes not only student success, but also generates increased legal, moral, and managerial risks for the system.”

Full-time faculty matter, notes Heffner, because they provide benefits to students that part-time faculty cannot, including:

  • Student access to instructors outside of class meeting times through office hours, extra-curricular student academic support, and participation in department and college activities
  • Student mentoring and academic advising
  • Student engagement outside the classroom in roles such as faculty advisors for student organizations because more full-time faculty translates to more engagement in student clubs and elsewhere

The ratio and the stated expectation that full-time faculty will play an active role in student support were not top-down decisions, however. Maricopa administrators worked through the shared governance process and with the Faculty Association to determine how to meet a set of shared interests through a process known as Interest-Based Negotiation. Student, faculty and administration interests were identified and addressed and ultimately resulted not only in the 60:40 initiative but also a far greater degree of buy-in from faculty and administration alike.

Funding the New Faculty Ratio

Glasper estimates the cost of the 60:40 initiative will exceed $45 million, but says it’s the right thing to plan for — and that it can be achieved in the 8-10-year timeframe.

Here are a few reasons Glasper believes the biggest challenge is not the cost:

  • Performance-based funding will interest the state, and he believes that Maricopa’s focus on student success, particularly when looking at completion rates and rates of students progressing from developmental education into regular college courses will position Maricopa well to compete for those dollars.
  • Maricopa serves a significant number of developmental education students and believes they will be able to achieve more student success goals if they use a student-focused model. This in turn, should reduce developmental education costs over time, which would allow them to reallocate those resources to support this initiative.
  • The initiative doesn’t rely on state funding. Glasper notes that state funding only accounted for 10 percent of the budget before the recession. It dropped to 6/10ths of a percent during the 2013/14 year, and is at 1 percent for 2014/15. New faculty positions proposed for the next academic year have been put on hold as a result of the Arizona legislature’s decision to cut all state funding to Maricopa and two other community college systems in the 2015-16 budget, Heffner notes. The ten-year implementation plan for 60:40 initiative is one way that Maricopa is adapting to shifts in enrollment and budgets.

The college’s 2011 white paper also points out that the use of adjunct faculty is not as cost-effective as previously thought.  Although adjuncts provide budget flexibility, the paper notes, “the immediate budget savings realized by use of contingent labor is offset by various legal, ethical, and managerial ‘costs’ being shifted to the system. The greater the reliance on adjunct faculty (contingent labor) at the colleges, the more likely the budget savings will in fact be a false economy for the system.”

Looking Ahead

The 60:40 initiative has generated excitement among faculty at Maricopa’s ten colleges, especially from adjuncts who see the new full-time positions as a chance to prove themselves. Each of the colleges will make their own decisions regarding their adjunct faculty, and Maricopa remains committed to integrating their adjuncts into every part of the system and to offering professional development opportunities that promote student success.

At AI, we look forward to watching this initiative roll out and the impact it has on student success metrics.

What is the FT/PT faculty ratio at your institution, and is it worth taking a closer look at it?