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Adjunct Instructors’ Outlook on Full-Time Employment

by Tami Strang

If you’ve been following education news lately, you’ve probably read at least one article that discusses the struggles that many adjunct instructors are having as they seek full-time employment at colleges and universities. Though many can find work as adjuncts, the prospects for full-time, permanent positions are not as bright.

In our Spring 2015 Instructor Engagement Insights survey, we asked adjunct instructors to share their thoughts and experiences on a number of topics. Among these questions, we asked them to share their personal perspective on the important issue of full-time employment opportunities.

Below, we explore what they had to say. We also offer some quick tips to adjuncts who are looking to pursue full-time employment in higher education.

Do Most Adjunct Instructors Want a Full-Time Position?

We asked our audience of adjunct instructors: “Do you want a full-time position?” Slightly more than half (56%) said “yes,” and 44% said “no.”

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Do these numbers surprise you? You might initially assume that more of the adjuncts would want to hold a more permanent position at a college or university. (If you’re looking for a job and experiencing the competitive employment market, it might feel like the number is 100% “yes”!) However, when you consider that many adjunct instructors’ primary employment is in a different professional field (such as nursing or law), then the results become clearer.

Of course, adjuncts who want full-time, permanent roles at a college or university may or may not be optimistic about actually being hired for one anytime soon. We also set out to learn their take on this important, second question.

Do adjunct instructors believe a full-time job is on the horizon?

As noted above, more than half of our surveyed adjuncts want full-time work. But do they believe that they’ll find some in the near term? As a follow-up, we asked: “Do you think you’ll have a full-time job in the next five years?”

Of all adjuncts, only 32% said that yes, they believe they’d have a permanent position within that time frame.

However, among those adjuncts who specifically said they want a full-time job, the results split neatly down the middle, with 50% of them saying yes, and 50% saying “no.”

Looking at all the numbers taken together, about 28% of our adjunct respondents want a full-time job and believe that they’ll have one by 2020. Though this is a minority of our respondents, it still represents a fairly significant portion of instructors.

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Those who are seeking jobs (including those less confident about their prospects) may find themselves wondering: what can I do to improve my prospects (besides teaching at the top of my game)? Below, we’ve shared a few tips that may help along  the way.

Tips for adjunct instructors on the career path

1. Find a mentor. Whether it’s your first time teaching a college course, or you’re hoping to take the next steps in your career, it can help to have the support of someone who’s been in your shoes. Meet with a colleague for lunch or coffee to get their perspective on working as a full-time instructor. In addition to gaining insights from their experiences, your discussions may open your eyes to points you hadn’t considered or opportunities you hadn’t yet explored. (Not sure where to begin? Read our tips on finding a great mentor.)

2. Seek out faculty-development opportunities. Never stop learning! If you’re given an opportunity to participate in a professional development activity or workshop, take it. Better yet, seek those opportunities out. Not only will you learn skills you can put into practice today, you’ll better prepare yourself for future positions. What’s more, others will recognize the effort that you’ve put into developing your skills as an instructors.

Many colleges include training and professional-development activities and funding as part of adjunct instructors’ benefits. Talk to someone in your department or at your school to find out if this is true for you.

Wondering whether you should take a session online or in person? Both have their benefits. Online sessions give you the flexibility to attend at a location (and time) that’s convenient for you. However, at an in-person session, you have the chance to make those face-to-face connections that can prove beneficial when you’re working to expand your network of colleagues.

Looking for a place to start? TeamUP, Cengage Learning’s peer-to-peer faculty development group, a variety of live and on-demand professional development resources for educators. They’re also offering a virtual mini-conference, “Wired & Inspired! The Intelligent Use of Technology in Higher Education,” on Friday, August 14, 2015. Learn more about “Wired and Inspired” and register today!

3. Build skills that set you apart. Stay aware of the teaching trends in your field or discipline, and put them to use in a way that makes sense for your class. Become proficient with a number of edtech tools. Build an app. Try out the flipped-classroom model. Do whatever you can to develop the skills and traits that show you can deliver a fresh, timely, and student-centered learning experience.

4. Polish your social-media profiles. By building a thoughtful, articulate, and creative presence on key social media sites, you’ll develop an appealing, professional online appearance that will give others a (literal or figurative) picture of your strengths.

For job seekers, a complete and up-to-date LinkedIn profile is critical. You’ll want to ensure that yours adequately and accurately reflects your experience. For tips, read LinkedIn expert Ron Nash’s post on “Taking the Mystery out of LinkedIn for Educators.”

You might also consider sharing insights on Twitter that are relevant to teaching, learning, and your field of choice. If you develop a strong following and people begin to re-tweet you, this may help with your name recognition among others in your discipline.

Even Instagram can contribute to your professional presence online. Depending on your areas of interest or expertise, you might show photos of places you’ve explored, projects you’ve completed, or works of art that you’ve created.

To find additional ideas for using social media in ways that can benefit you professionally, read our previous post: “Social Networking as a Solution, Not a Distraction.” And, for important points about maintaining a professional presence online, review “Know Your ‘Online Brand.’

5. Don’t give up! There’s no denying that, for adjuncts (and others in highly competitive fields), the path to full-time employment can be long and difficult. You may face limited opportunities, lots of competition, raised (and dashed) hopes, and several rounds of rejection before you reach your ultimate goal. But if your true passion lies in teaching and the academic life, and you’re developing the skills and knowledge needed by a successful professional in your field, then stay the course. You may need to be “creative” in the opportunities you take, and you may have to broaden the scope of your search, but persistence is a strong part of preparation for the ultimate achievement of your goals.

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