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5 Things Universities Can Do to Engage Faculty in Student Success

As the summer draws to a close, you and your colleagues may be contemplating how you will achieve your goals for the upcoming academic year, and it’s likely that improving student retention, graduation, and success is high on your agenda.

If so, you may want to spend some time thinking about your adjunct faculty.

Here’s why: more than half of faculty at U.S. 4-year colleges and universities are part-time, non-tenure track employees. Furthermore, the percentage of faculty who are part-time is even higher at large, urban-serving institutions. Your students will spend just as much – if not more – time interacting with adjuncts as they will with full professors.  It is therefore essential that your contingent faculty engage with students effectively and provide high-quality teaching that will foster student success.

This is the conclusion of a recent leadership brief produced by a working group of faculty members interested in improving student performance. The working group came together as part of the Collaborating for Change initiative to discuss effective strategies for faculty engagement. They identified three high priority areas:

  1. Recognizing and rewarding faculty at all levels;

  2. Providing professional development opportunities to all faculty; and

  3. Monitoring faculty participation in professional development activities.

Very few institutions extend teaching awards and other incentives to adjunct faculty, even though these instructors reach large numbers of students. Although adjuncts are not excluded from professional development opportunities, the circumstances of their employment present barriers to participation. The most significant are lack of time and scheduling issues, as many adjuncts work at more than one university or have other outside employment. Some university leaders may not be fully aware of these challenges, because they are not collecting data on adjuncts or monitoring their involvement in professional development opportunities.

Data from the Gallup-Purdue Index  show that students are more motivated to pursue their academic goals when they have a caring, supportive professor who gets them excited about learning. Unfortunately, only 14 percent of the 30,000 graduates surveyed said they’d had a professor who personally encouraged them. These findings suggest that ongoing support, recognition, and professional development are essential to engaging all faculty in student success.

Action Steps

The working group of faculty members recommended that universities:

  1. Extend awards structures to include all faculty;

  2. Develop new and creative incentive opportunities;

  3. Invest resources in teaching and learning centers to support all faculty;

  4. Expand professional development opportunities to include all faculty; and

  5. Build capacity to monitor professional development outcomes.

As an example, the University of Central Florida’s Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning developed a program to increase retention and teaching effectiveness of their part-time faculty. The program was designed around the hectic schedules of adjuncts and included an online program as well as in-person workshops and retreats. The university also invests $500,000 each year to support faculty awards and recognition alone – and it spends far more on professional development activities.

Additional Resources


There are a number of ongoing initiatives devoted to faculty development, and resources from these efforts may help universities move forward with the Collaborating for Change recommendations. Achieving the Dream, a non-profit that advocates institutional change at community colleges, just launched a pilot project to “increase adjunct faculty engagement in their campuses’ completion agendas,” and lessons learned may be applicable to 4-year universities as well. The Delphi Project, a partnership with AAC&U and the USC Rossier School of Education, is also a source of data and evidence-based tools for supporting non-tenure track faculty.


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