Teaching Careers Updated October 30, 2019

How to Become an Adjunct Professor: Job, Education, Salary

By Alisa Bates, PhD September 1, 2015

The position of adjunct professor is an important one. Colleges need instructors, and this position allows prospective academics the opportunity to try out the role of professor. Adjunct professors are hired by schools on a contractual, part-time basis as opposed to the traditional university model of full-time employment.

The role of adjunct professor is continually expanding in education, due to ever-tightening budgets and many qualified applicants for relatively few jobs. There are certainly limitations to being an adjunct professor, but there are also definite benefits. Depending on the desire of the prospective professor, the role of adjunct may be a perfect fit.

At-a-glance
> Adjunct professor job description
> Who makes good adjunct faculty?

Adjunct faculty in-depth
> Education qualifications
> Salary range for adjunct professors
> Employment projections
> Advantages & disadvantages

Professional development
> Continuing education
> Professional associations

Best of the Web
> Blogs and Twitter handles to follow

At-a-glance: adjunct instructor

Adjunct Faculty now make up the majority of instructors in higher education institutions nationwide.

Adjunct professors are defined as professors who are not on the tenure track. Adjunct faculty teach courses just like tenure-track professors do, but they are exempt from some of the responsibilities of fully employed university instructors. Often, contingent professors are hired to teach introductory courses that students are required to take.

The career pathway for contingent professors is a rocky one: Jobs are not guaranteed, and compensation is lower than tenure-track professors. For the right candidate, though, the opportunities for adjuncts outweigh the challenges.

Regardless of the specialized circumstances adjunct professors find themselves in, one thing is sure: They love to teach and work with students.

Adjunct professor job description

Adjunct professors typically spend most of their time with students, and they must be flexible to fulfill several responsibilities.

Typical duties of adjunct instructors include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Teaching graduate and undergraduate students in a specific field of expertise
  • Developing and managing the class syllabus and ensuring that the syllabus meets department and college standards
  • Planning and creating lectures, in-class discussions, and assignments
  • Grading assigned papers, quizzes, and exams
  • Assessing grades for students based on participation, performance in class, assignments, and examinations
  • Reporting student learning outcomes, class reviews, and analyzing student data
  • Collaborating with colleagues on course curriculum
  • Advising students on how to be successful and achieve goals
  • Staying updated on innovations and changes within their course field

Adjuncts may teach a course in a face-to-face setting one term, and then the next term they may teach the same course in a distance education environment using a learning management system (LMS), as well as other media channels for communication. If you have attended an online graduate program or have worked in that environment already, then you bring additional knowledge and experience to the table. For example, Concordia University-Portland’s online MEd and EdD programs use a well-known LMS: Blackboard.

When discussing adjunct faculty positions, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the position’s responsibilities, since it can vary. Many of the duties expected of tenure-track professors are not required by adjuncts. Contingent faculty do not have to conduct research, publish papers, or attend staff meetings and events.

Who makes good adjunct faculty?

An effective adjunct professor is someone who is:

  • A clear communicator
  • Able to teach with ample real-world experience
  • Able to show confidence teaching and presenting to a class
  • Technologically savvy: can utilize email, different online learning systems, and other ways to communicate with students
  • Passionate about specific academic fields and education in general
  • Clearly understands curriculum design, pedagogy, and learning outcome alignment

Adjunct faculty in-depth

Education requirements

  • Education: Doctorate or Master’s degree
  • Typical study time: 5-10 years

Most commonly, adjunct professors need a master’s degree to teach higher-education classes. Community colleges or technical schools may only require a bachelor’s degree, along with relevant experience in certain disciplines. Teaching experience in the classroom is preferred.

The demand for adjunct professors has grown, but so has the competition. Some areas of study have more applicants than open positions. Because of this, many institutions will prefer applicants have or be enrolled in a PhD program to be considered.

Adjuncts are often hired to teach a specific course that regular faculty may not have expertise in or courses that have great demand. These positions require great flexibility and provide the opportunity to give back to the community.

Average salaries for adjunct faculty

Salary ranges for higher-education adjunct professors vary widely, depending on the state, type of college, the discipline professors teach, and the professors’ education level, teaching experience, and field expertise.

According to ZipRecruiter,com, average pay for adjunct professors by state varies from $60,310 to $85,241.

Compensation can sometimes be calculated on a per-course or hourly basis, ranging from $26 to $95 an hour. It can also be based on the degree held by the teacher applying. Wages also vary by institution type: Typically adjunct faculty earn higher wages in traditional four-year institutions, compared to those who work at community colleges.

Here is a snapshot of average salaries for adjunct faculty:

  • Glassdoor.com: $35,839
  • PayScale.com: $35,269
  • ZipRecruiter.com: $58,422

Job outlook for adjunct professors

The employment of adjunct professors depends on several external factors. Enrollment rates are expected to increase, but the hiring of faculty relies heavily on school funding and department need.

The job outlook for post-secondary teachers is expected to grow 11 percent through 2028, according to the BLS. This forecast includes part-time post-secondary teachers as well.

Certain subjects are in higher demand than others. According to the job outlook data from the BLS, post-secondary professor employment projections will increase in these subjects by 2028:

  • Business: 16%
  • Biological science: 12%
  • Psychology: 12%
  • Health Specialities: 23%
  • Nursing Instructors: 20%

Many online institutions of higher learning hire part-time adjunct professors. Teaching for an accredited online university guarantees work flexibility because educators can be hired from remote locations.

Challenges and opportunities for adjunct instructors

Many of the disadvantages of working as an adjunct faculty member have been highly publicized. In the right circumstances, however, there are advantages to consider as well.

Disadvantages

  • Salary, often on a per-course or hourly basis, is lower than tenure-track professors.
  • Positions are not permanent.
  • Adjunct faculty may commit the same amount of non-classroom hours as tenure-track professors, without the same pay.
  • Adjuncts do not work enough hours at one institution to receive health insurance, retirement plans, or other employee benefits.
  • Adjunct faculty may not have a physically designated office space.
  • Adjunct label may bring negative connotation from tenured faculty.

Advantages

  • Adjunct status can serve as a trial run before pursuing a tenure-track position.
  • Adjunct instructors enjoy the flexibility to spend time with family or on other responsibilities, while still sharing knowledge by teaching a class or two.
  • Contingent teachers can focus on teaching and curriculum, rather than committee or department work.
  • The environment is collegial and intellectual.
  • Adjunct professors can impact a student’s life in a positive way.

Professional development

For many adjunct faculty, the next step in their career path is to be named an assistant or associate professor with the goal of gaining tenure as a professor. Tracking down opportunities for professional development may give adjuncts a leg up when interviewing for full- or part-time positions.

Continuing education

Most adjuncts are subject-matter experts in a particular discipline, but they may not have a lot of teaching experience or faculty development opportunities. A small number of institutions provide access to professional development funds.

A challenge for new adjuncts is classroom management and teaching a wide age range of adults. Adjuncts who are able to teach graduate courses may get higher pay, but institutions tend to require a terminal degree.

Concordia University-Portland offers an online doctorate program that aims to develop well-rounded leaders who understand the intricacies of the higher-education system. The EdD in Higher Education provides instruction on how to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of varied curriculum and instructional models. Educators will also work to innovate curriculum for all types of learners.

Professional associations

Historically, the professional landscape for adjunct instructors has not looked promising. Because adjunct jobs rely heavily on several external factors, the stability for those as contingent faculty is slim to none.

With college enrollment rates in flux and more schools reallocating their resources to accommodate contingent faculty, adjuncts are finding more benefits. Several professional organizations work solely to support the careers of adjunct professors:

Best of the web

The Internet makes it easy for those involved in the higher-education space to stay up-to-date on the latest news or changes for adjunct faculty.

Resources to follow on Twitter and Instagram

Blogs to check out

Learn More: Click to view related resources.

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