Here’s a feel-good story for your weekend: A university in New Hampshire is employing struggling adjuncts as teachers for its online education division, a move it hopes others will imitate. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:
[Southern New Hampshire] university wanted to see if having full-time instructors would improve student performance and retention, especially in writing-intensive courses.The college, which now relies on a stable of 2,700 adjunct instructors to staff its online courses, says that the pilot was a success and that it will hire 45 full-time faculty members by the end of the summer, including some from its existing adjunct pool. This is a small but significant step for Southern New Hampshire, which has become a model for nonprofit universities building large-scale online programs.Online institutions that serve nontraditional students are booming. Meanwhile, doctoral candidates vastly outnumber available tenure-track faculty jobs at traditional colleges. […]“We are the canaries in the coal mine for higher education,” [Southern New Hampshire instructor Delilah Caldwell] says.
All in all, this is a very good deal: At $55,000 with benefits, Caldwell’s salary is a marked improvement on the pittance she made as an adjunct. Southern New Hampshire’s teachers aren’t judged on how much they publish, but on how well they teach their students in the university’s online education division, which mainly serves adults. In most cases, they don’t even design their own courses; the school supplies the syllabus and the materials. And though they’ll face an employment review every year, the university expects to keep these teachers on staff indefinitely, as long as they continue to perform.Many professors would turn up their noses at a position like this, which does not offer the security of tenure or much chance of publishing in prestigious journals. But this program is nothing less than a boon for adjuncts, many of whom make less than the minimum wage with no benefits. And even if Southern New Hampshire won’t guarantee that they can keep their jobs until retirement, these positions still seem steadier than adjuncts’ usual one- or two-semester teaching gigs, which universities often rescind at the drop of a hat.Educational innovators would be foolish not to make use of the large supply of well-educated, underpaid professors out there. If more schools follow Southern New Hampshire’s example, adjuncts will have better jobs than they currently do; students will be tutored by accomplished scholars while paying only the low tuition of an online program; and schools will pay less for faculty (and be able to fire them should they prove incompetent), thus passing fewer expenses on to students.What’s not to like?