In the U.S., the six-year graduation rate of undergraduate
students currently stands at 59
percent for public institutions. Research shows that retention and graduation
rates improve when students are engaged in the classroom and feel a sense of belonging
on campus. Both engagement and belonging are enhanced by faculty interactions—but at
many schools today, freshmen receive up to half of their instruction from adjunct faculty.
These adjuncts often do not have a close connection to the school themselves, so they can’t
foster it in their students; and few of them have been trained in the high-impact teaching
methods that keep students engaged in the classroom. For these reasons, we know we need
to make adjuncts feel just as connected to our school as our full-time faculty.
Today, it’s the soft skills that are
much in demand. Harvard, Yale, Columbia,
Wharton, the London Business
School, HEC Montreal, and many other
business schools are offering courses
that focus on the soft skills. For instance,
at the Stanford Graduate School of
Business in California, I teach ‘‘Leading
with Mindfulness and Compassion,”
which covers how students can leverage
teamwork, cooperation, mindfulness,
and compassion to achieve personal
fulfillment and success in their careers.
The course is consistently waitlisted as
100 students hope to secure one of 30
spots in the class.
At California State University (CSU),
which has 475,000 students across
23 campuses, the graduation rate for
first-time freshmen is about average:
57 percent. But through the Graduation
Initiative 2025 (GI 25), the CSU Chancellor’s
Office has set a goal for reaching
a six-year graduation rate of 70 percent
within the next seven years. At the same
time, CSU seeks to improve the fouryear
graduation rate of transfer students
from 73 percent to 85 percent.
The College of Business Administration
(CBA) at California State Polytechnic
University in Pomona can be
proud of its six-year graduation rate for
first-time freshmen, which stands at 66
percent. However, our four-year graduation
rate is only 23 percent.
The reasons for this low rate are
complex. Our school is made up of about
5,000 students drawn from our diverse,
urban area. Half of our students are
transfers from community college, and
they usually work more than 20 hours a
week. In 2016, 42 percent of the entering
students had high financial need. In
addition, many of our students switch to
the business program after performing
poorly in courses that will not count
toward a business degree.
At Cal Poly Pomona, as at many universities,
adjuncts are teaching a significant
portion of our classes. During the 2007–
2009 recession, the CSU system instituted
a hiring freeze and required faculty to
take furlough days to reduce costs. At the
CBA, the percentage of full-time faculty
dropped from 67 percent in 2008 to 50
percent in 2016. Today, faculty retirements
and attrition are making it difficult
to improve tenure density. The result is
that about half of our students are being
taught by adjunct faculty.
Research indicates that adjuncts
may not do as well as full-time faculty
in improving graduation and retention
rates. Not only do adjunct faculty
generally spend less time preparing for
class, they also spend less time interacting with students, which means
they are not helping students develop
a sense of belonging on campus. In
addition, according to a national study
conducted by Roger Baldwin and Matthew
Wawrzynski, adjuncts use fewer
student-centered teaching methods and
give more multiple-choice exams, which
are less engaging ways for students
to learn. This is concerning because
adjuncts often teach large class sections
to freshmen—the very group of students
that the college is seeking to engage.
Finally, adjuncts might have difficulty
fostering a sense of connection between
students and the university because they
often do not feel that connection themselves.
Studies frequently show that
adjuncts feel isolated and excluded from
the colleges where they work. As noted
in AACSB’s accreditation standards,
adjuncts do not typically “participate in
the intellectual or operational life of the
school beyond the direct performance
of teaching responsibilities.” Unlike
tenure-track faculty, they are not always
aware of the college’s mission, vision,
At Cal Poly Pomona's CBA, our goal is two-fold: We want to improve student success and graduation rates, and we want to accomplish this in part by making sure adjuncts are better teachers who feel a strong bond with the school.
We believe there are five key steps involved in making adjuncts feel more engaged with the school and more committed to improving student success rates:
Inform adjunct faculty about the problem. At most schools, committees and discussions devoted to student success rarely include adjuncts, and information about how to improve retention and graduation rates is infrequently communicated to them. If adjuncts are made aware of the problems and asked for their input, they not only will feel more invested in the school, they might also have creative ideas for how to improve student success rates. In addition, adjuncts might be more motivated to include high-impact teaching practices in their own classrooms once they know how much student success hinges on their own teaching.
Provide adjuncts easy access to student support information. For adjuncts to be able to direct struggling students to the proper campus resources, they first must possess the information themselves. They need to know about free campus tutoring services, psychological services, advising services, student clubs, thestudent writing center, the career center, and financial aid opportunities.
Build adjunct-student relationships. We know that students feel more connected to the school when they participate in advising opportunities, get involved in co-curricular activities, or are required to attend campus events. Adjuncts, too, will feel more connected to the school if they are encouraged to advise students, participate in student clubs, or attend school events. When adjuncts feel a deeper bond with the school, they can draw on that bond to help students develop the same sense of belonging.
Reward behaviors that promote student success. Professional development is not always available to adjunct faculty, and when it is, adjuncts do not always know about it. If schools encourage faculty to learn more about high-impact teaching practices, and compensate adjuncts for their time and effort, adjuncts will quickly see how much importance the administration places on student success.
Measure the impact adjunct faculty have had on improving student success. Having quantifiable numbers for student retention and graduation rates can help administrators identify where problems exist and show them where particular efforts have failed or succeeded. Moreover, when administrators can prove a positive impact, they can obtain more resources to direct toward student success initiatives, and they can gain more faculty buy-in.
HOW WE DO IT:
At Cal Poly Pomona, we are focused on
following those five steps. In the CSU
system, the expectation is that adjunct
faculty primarily will teach. The
campuses are unionized, so any time
adjuncts participate in service activities
or attend extra events on campus, they
need to be compensated. Nonetheless,
administrators are working to improve
student success by providing professional
development opportunities equally
to full-time and adjunct faculty.
For instance, the CSU Chancellor’s
office has several programs that faculty
can participate in if they need help
revamping courses that have high fail
rates. In addition, faculty who teach online
or hybrid courses are encouraged to
become Quality Matters (QM) certified, ensuring that anyone teaching in the
digital space meets a certain standard of
quality. Faculty teaching in our master’s
program receive a stipend for attaining
the QM certification. They also are
required to provide a report demonstrating
that, as a result of their additional
training, student learning has improved
and pass rates are higher.
Adjuncts also can go to Cal Poly Pomona’s
Faculty Center for Professional
Development to take workshops on topics
such as high-impact teaching practices.
A few adjuncts participate at a very
high level and are recognized leaders in
areas such as accessibility and QM.
However, only 10 percent of the business
faculty who participate in events
at the faculty center are adjuncts. We
know there are many reasons for their
low participation. The adjuncts who hold
positions at several universities might
not have the time; those who are graduate
students might not have the interest.
Those who are retired executives want
to give back by sharing their knowledge,
but they also have many other demands
on their time. At Cal Poly Pomona, 60
percent of the CBA adjuncts have significant
outside employment, which makes
it impossible for them to participate in
daytime faculty development programs.
Nonetheless, the CBA is implementing
three new approaches to engaging
adjunct faculty in student success:
Providing comprehensive information.
Our Freshman Year Experience
course not only teaches students how
to thrive in college, but also introduces
them to business concepts. Adjunct
faculty who teach this course must be familiar
with campus support services and
the opportunities available to first-time
freshmen. They also must have a broad
knowledge of business. To help adjuncts
teach this course, the CBA has created an
online repository of support information.
Tracking activity. The CBA also is
in the process of implementing Digital
Measures activity tracking specifically
for adjuncts. Adjuncts will attend an
orientation session that will familiarize
them with the available materials, the
best ways to promote student success,
and the goals of GI 2025. This session
also will provide an opportunity for
adjunct faculty to meet each other and
begin building a community.
Recognizing leaders. The CBA is
planning three annual awards for adjunct
faculty: one for promoting student
achievement; one for exceptional teaching,
especially in the areas of innovation
and technology; and one for scholarship,
designed for adjuncts who bring their
research into the classroom. The recognitions
will come with monetary awards.
Even with these efforts, we are not
compensating adjuncts for higher levels
of involvement. If we had adequate
funding, we could pay faculty to participate
in advising, internships, and course
development, as well as attend courses
on high-impact teaching practices.
But a more valuable goal would be to
inspire adjuncts to become more invested
in the college mission. To accomplish
this would require a radical change in
a culture that currently ignores the potential
of adjuncts to make an impact on
student learning and retention.
The issues of tenure density and
student success are more interrelated
than many administrators realize. If, as
seems likely, adjuncts continue to make
up a large portion of the business school
faculty, administrators will need to build
the connection these teachers feel with
their colleges and universities. Only
then will they see improved outcomes in
Ruth Guthrie is a professor of computer
information systems and interim associate
dean of undergraduate programs
and student success at Cal Poly Pomona.
Cheryl Wyrick is a professor of management
and human resources and associate
dean of administration and accreditation.
This article originally appeared in BizEd's January/February 2019 issue. Please send questions, comments, or letters to the editor to [email protected].