A research study indicates a number of variables that lead students to lower achievement when taught by part-time faculty.

Part-time faculty may have a negative impact on student success

A research study indicates a number of variables that lead students to lower achievement when taught by part-time faculty

Students in courses taught by part-time faculty have better outcomes in their current class, but are less likely to enroll in the next class in their course sequence, according to a study.

Students with part-time faculty have better outcomes in their current course, and are likely to have similar outcomes in the next sequential course, but also are less likely to enroll that subsequent course, according to the study from the Community College Resource Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

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The study examines data from six community colleges to assess the impact part-time faculty have on students’ current and future course outcomes in developmental and gateway English and math courses.

But this negative impact on subsequent course enrollment isn’t due to weaker instructional practices, but is more likely attributed to “inferior working conditions.”

In a blog post discussing the study, Florence Ran and Susan Bickerstaff write that part-time faculty teach more than half of community college courses. What’s more, they teach an even higher proportion of remedial and gateway courses–courses that are key in students’ academic progress. For all these reasons, it’s necessary to understand how part-time faculty influence student achievement in those courses.

Results of the study reveal that “given that part-time faculty did not have negative effects on the pass rates of students who did enroll in subsequent courses, it appears more likely that inferior working conditions for part-time faculty, rather than inferior instructional practices, are driving the negative effects on students’ subsequent course enrollment.”

Course scheduling may be one of the inferior conditions in play, the study notes.

“Part-time faculty teach significantly larger proportions of night and weekend class sections, and students in these sections generally have poorer outcomes. Our data show that students who enroll in course sections outside of regular office hours are more likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds,” according to the blog post. “In addition, when faculty, especially part-timers, teach night or weekend sections, it is much harder for them to find a place to meet with students after class or gain access to other physical resources such as teaching supplies or copy machines.”

Institutional knowledge is another possibility–part-time faculty may lack the “institutional or departmental support” necessary to best advise students on course sequences and credit requirements.

These instructors also may have less knowledge about academic supports, academic advising and planning, and identifying students in need of support. They also are less likely to have full knowledge about non-academic services, such as financial aid, that can directly impact student success.

Laura Ascione