Skip Navigation
small NCES header image
Illustration/Logo View Quarterly by  This Issue  |  Volume and Issue  |  Topics
Education Statistics Quarterly
Vol 4, Issue 2, Topic: Postsecondary Education
Part-Time Instructional Faculty and Staff: Who They Are, What They Do, and What They Think
By: Valerie Martin Conley and David W. Leslie
 
  Postsecondary Education
This article was originally published as the Executive Summary of the Statistical Analysis Report of the same name. The sample survey data are from the NCES National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF:93).
 
 

Introduction

Part-time faculty members are a sizable part of the workforce in postsecondary institutions today. Forty-two percent of all instructional faculty and staff were employed part time by their institution in the fall of 1992 (Kirshstein, Matheson, and Jing 1997). Two out of five (44 percent) of those employed part time were teaching in public 2-year institutions. Part-time instructional faculty and staff represented 62 percent of all instructional faculty and staff teaching for credit in public 2-year institutions during the fall of 1992 (Palmer 2000). That there has been an increase in the number and percentage of part-time faculty over the last 20 years is undeniable. The Digest of Education Statistics has tracked this increase over time (Snyder and Hoffman 2000).

What is perhaps surprising to some, however, is that we have very little historical information about the characteristics of part-time faculty overall and that we have even less information about the similarities and differences among part-time faculty members and between part-time and full-time faculty in general. One notable exception is Gappa and Leslie's (1993) The Invisible Faculty, which used data from the 1988 National Survey of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF:88) and interviews with part-time faculty members from around the country to describe their characteristics. They concluded that part-time faculty members were a diverse workforce and that they were even more diverse in many ways than full-time faculty, yet more similar to them than is often assumed.

Policymakers, administrators, researchers, and the public have become more concerned in recent years about the increase in part-time faculty. Part-time faculty members have become more vocal about what they see as inequitable treatment in the workplace and, in many states, have sought to unionize in an effort to improve working conditions, salary, and benefits (Saltzman 2000). As a result, understanding who part-time faculty members are, what they do, and what they think is becoming an increasingly important issue.

Data from the 1993 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF:93) provide valuable insight into the characteristics of this group of faculty from a national perspective. A nationally representative sample of faculty and instructional staff received questionnaires in 1993 that asked about their employment in the fall of 1992. These data add to our knowledge about the characteristics of part-time faculty overall and the similarities and differences among part-time faculty members and between part-time faculty and full-time faculty in general.

Specifically, this report presents estimates of the characteristics, qualifications, motivations, work patterns, and attitudes of part-time instructional faculty and staff in 4-year and 2-year institutions by program area for the fall of 1992. The report compares part-time faculty and full-time faculty, examines some of the common perceptions about part-time faculty, and provides a comprehensive source of descriptive statistics about part-time faculty characteristics.1 This report is a valuable resource about part-time faculty in the United States. Gappa and Leslie (1993) provided data from the 1988 NSOPF, which up to this point has been the most comprehensive resource on part-time faculty available. In addition to providing an updated resource, this report offers researchers a resource for making comparisons with future NSOPF reports on part-time faculty.

back to top


Key Findings

Drawing from this report's compendium of descriptive statistics about part-time instructional faculty and staff available from NSOPF:93, we have identified five major findings:

  • A higher proportion of part-time faculty members than full-time faculty members were female.
  • There were differences between part-time faculty members in the humanities compared with part-time faculty members in other program areas.
  • Part-time faculty members perceived lower levels of support from their institution than full-time faculty.
  • About one-half (49 percent) of part-time faculty members also held full-time employment.
  • Part-time faculty members had different motivations for part-time employment. Many of those employed part time wanted to be a part of an academic environment or preferred working part time. Still others worked part time because full-time work was unavailable or they were finishing their degrees.
These findings are discussed below.

Differences among part-time faculty

One of the strengths of postsecondary institutions is the variation among them. Just as it is preferable to distinguish among types of institutions, it is also preferable to distinguish among instructional faculty and staff who teach in them because patterns of faculty employment seem to be different in each sector (Clark 1997). In addition to the type of institution, the various academic disciplines act as somewhat unique "labor markets," affected in different ways by changing enrollments, doctoral pipeline patterns, gender composition of the faculty, and many other issues. As Clark has suggested, understanding faculty work may require disaggregation into the "small worlds" of the individual disciplines and the particular contexts of the many strata of institutions (Clark 1997).

Likewise, part-time instructional faculty and staff are not a homogeneous group. While it is true that part-time instructional faculty and staff were not generally in positions that had the same benefits, job security, and working conditions as full-time faculty, there was variation in their employment characteristics (such as academic rank, tenure status, type of appointment, and income). For example, about 30 percent of part-time instructional faculty and staff in 4-year institutions held academic ranks of assistant, associate, or full professor. Although the majority of those employed part time held the academic rank of instructor or lecturer, the variation across the academic ranks in 4-year institutions suggests that part-time faculty held different types of appointments at their institutions (table A).

In addition, the percentage of part-time instructional faculty and staff who held a doctorate or first-professional degree was higher in 4-year than in 2-year institutions, perhaps because the doctorate or first-professional degree is more often a requirement in 4-year institutions. Thirty-eight percent of part-time faculty in 4-year institutions held a doctorate or first-professional degree compared with 13 percent of those in 2-year institutions. Overall, about one-quarter of part-time faculty members held a doctorate or first-professional degree and one-half held a master's degree as their highest degree. In the fall of 1992, part-time faculty members were 46 years old on average, and full-time faculty were 48 years old on average. Seven percent of those employed part time were 65 or older. Part-time faculty were also distributed across the age ranges of people typically in mid-career: about one-third of part-time faculty were 35-44 years old (34 percent) or 45-54 years old (30 percent) (figure A).

Gender

In the fall of 1992, part-time instructional faculty and staff were more likely to be female (45 percent) than were full-time instructional faculty and staff (33 percent), although the majority of both full- and part-time faculty were male (67 percent and 55 percent, respectively). About 45 percent of part-time faculty in 4-year institutions, part-time faculty in 2-year institutions, and full-time faculty in 2-year institutions were female, while 30 percent of the full-time faculty members in 4-year institutions were female.

Regardless of the type of institution, women were underrepresented in several program areas. In disciplines that have been historically male dominated, women held proportionately fewer positions, regardless of employment status. Among part-time faculty in 4-year institutions, for example, 34 percent of instructional faculty and staff in business, law, and communications, and 25 percent of those in the natural sciences and engineering were women.

These broad categories of program areas may mask differences in specific disciplines, however. In Characteristics and Attitudes of Instructional Faculty and Staff in the Humanities (Conley 1997), for example, NSOPF:93 data were presented separately for four disciplines that make up the humanities: English and literature, foreign languages, history, and philosophy and religion. Although the report focused only on full-time instructional faculty and staff, the data showed clear patterns among the humanities disciplines with respect to gender. Female faculty members were more likely to be employed in English and literature and foreign languages than in history or philosophy and religion.

Part-time faculty in the humanities

In the fall of 1992, about 60 percent of those employed part time in the humanities were working part time because full-time employment was unavailable, a higher percentage than in most other program areas. Part-time faculty members may have selected multiple reasons for working part time, however. In 4-year institutions, part-time humanities faculty were more likely to be employed at the instructor or lecturer level than were part-time faculty in other program areas with the exception of social sciences and education, and vocational training. For example, while 74 percent of part-time humanities faculty in 4-year institutions held the academic rank of instructor or lecturer and 8 percent held the rank of full professor, 58 percent of part-time business, law, and communications faculty held the rank of instructor or lecturer and 21 percent held the rank of full professor (table A). Yet there was no substantive difference across program areas in the number of years part-time faculty members in 4-year institutions had held their current job (almost 7 years, table B). In both 4-year and 2-year institutions, a higher proportion of part-time humanities faculty reported that they were only employed by their sampled institution than part-time faculty members in other program areas, with the exception of natural sciences and engineering faculty in 4-year institutions and social sciences and education faculty in 2-year institutions. Taken together, these data suggest that the employment characteristics of part-time instructional faculty and staff in the humanities were different from those employed part time in other program areas, especially in 4-year institutions.

Teaching and support from the institution

The majority (92 percent overall) of part-time instructional faculty and staff reported that their principal activity at their employing institution in the fall of 1992 was teaching, regardless of their program area of teaching or the type of institution in which they taught. Part-time instructional faculty and staff taught principally undergraduate students. On average, they taught 1.6 undergraduate courses per semester. A higher percentage of part-time faculty (86 percent) than full-time faculty (70 percent) reported teaching only undergraduate students.

Part-time faculty perceived a lower level of support from their institution than full-time faculty. For example, only 3 percent of full-time instructional faculty and staff reported that office space was not available compared with 33 percent of those employed part time.

Ninety-four percent of those teaching part time agreed that teaching effectiveness should be the primary criterion for promotion. Seventy-nine percent of those teaching full time also agreed that teaching effectiveness should be the primary criterion for promotion.

Other employment of part-time faculty

Twenty-four percent of part-time instructional faculty and staff in 4-year institutions and 21 percent of those in 2-year institutions reported that their only employment in the fall of 1992 was part time at their current institution (figure B). In other words, about three-quarters had other employment. The average number of additional jobs held by part-time faculty was 1.7 (table B). Part-time faculty who held three or more other jobs constituted a small proportion of the part-time faculty population (12 percent in 2-year institutions and 14 percent in 4-year institutions).

About one-half (49 percent) of part-time faculty members also held full-time employment. More than one-half (64 percent) of part-time faculty who had more than one job reported that the employment status of their other main job was full time. Some (e.g., Fulton 2000) have argued that part-time faculty members who have full-time jobs in the field bring real-life experience to the classroom and can enhance program quality.

Motivations for holding a part-time position

NSOPF:93 asked those employed part time to identify their motivations for part-time employment. The answers provided a unique opportunity to examine and perhaps distinguish for the first time groups of part-time faculty from one another based on their motivations for holding part-time positions. Figure C shows the percentages of part-time instructional faculty and staff who reported each of several reasons.2

About 70 percent of part-time instructional faculty and staff in both 4-year and 2-year institutions cited "to be in academia" as a reason for holding part-time employment in the fall of 1992. Around one-half (54 percent in 4-year institutions and 50 percent in 2-year institutions) of part-time instructional faculty and staff said they preferred part-time employment. Seventy percent of part-time faculty who preferred part-time employment reported that their other main job was full time (not shown). Thus, to a majority of those employed part time, academia appears to bear at least some intrinsic value.

On the other hand, a substantial percentage of those employed in 4-year institutions (40 percent) and in 2-year institutions (47 percent) reported that the lack of full-time employment was at least partially the reason why they were working part time. One-half (51 percent) of part-time faculty in 4-year institutions and 63 percent of those in 2-year institutions were working part time to supplement their income. About 10 percent of part-time faculty in both 4- and 2-year institutions said they were working part time because they were finishing their degrees.


Table A.—Percentage distribution of instructional faculty and staff, by academic rank, employment status, institution type, and program area: Fall 1992

Employment status, institution type, and
program area
Academic rank
Full
professor
Associate
professor
Assistant
professor
Instructor or
lecturer
Other rank/
not applicable
Part-time instructional faculty and staff
8.6 6.0 6.4 69.2 9.8
4-year institutions
12.3 9.0 9.8 58.7 10.1
   Business, law, and communications
20.9 6.9 5.0 57.9 9.2
   Humanities
7.7 4.4 5.8 74.0 8.2
   Natural sciences and engineering
14.1 7.0 8.7 56.9 13.3
   Social sciences and education
9.7 6.7 9.1 63.6 10.9
   Vocational training
7.1 5.2 3.5 79.7 4.5
   All other program areas*
11.1 14.7 15.3 49.2 9.7
2-year institutions
4.2 2.5 2.5 81.3 9.5
   Business, law, and communications
3.1 2.5 4.1 80.8 9.5
   Humanities
6.1 2.1 1.3 81.0 9.4
   Natural sciences and engineering
4.2 2.7 2.3 81.3 9.6
   Social sciences and education
4.8 4.1 3.1 76.7 11.4
   Vocational training
1.0 2.7 0.6 89.9 5.8
   All other program areas*
4.2 1.3 3.1 81.9 9.5
Full-time instructional faculty and staff
30.4 23.4 23.5 16.2 6.4
4-year institutions
33.6 26.4 26.9 9.8 3.5
   Business, law, and communications
31.1 26.7 29.5 10.8 1.9
   Humanities
36.1 25.8 21.8 13.4 2.9
   Natural sciences and engineering
41.2 26.1 23.6 6.5 2.6
   Social sciences and education
4.8 28.5 26.3 8.1 2.2
   Vocational training
0.3 28.1 32.4 13.6 5.6
   All other program areas*
27.3 25.3 30.7 11.2 5.6
2-year institutions
19.0 13.0 11.7 39.3 17.0
   Business, law, and communications
20.3 11.9 11.4 40.1 16.4
   Humanities
24.6 12.9 12.6 33.4 16.5
   Natural sciences and engineering
20.5 14.0 11.2 38.3 15.9
   Social sciences and education
18.7 18.1 12.3 29.7 21.1
   Vocational training
12.5 6.1 4.5 65.6 11.3
   All other program areas*
15.6 11.9 13.8 40.8 17.9

*Includes individuals who did not designate a program area of instruction.

NOTE: This table includes only faculty and staff with instructional responsibilities for credit (e.g., teaching one or more classes for credit, or advising or supervising students' academic activities). Percentages may not total to 100 because of rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF:93).

back to top

Figure A.—Percentage distribution of part-time instructional faculty and staff, by age: Fall 1992
Figure A.- Percentage distribution of part-time instructional faculty and staff, by age: Fall 1992

NOTE: Percentages may not total to 100 because of rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF:93).

back to top


Table B.—Average number of years instructional faculty and staff held their current job at a postsecondary institution and the average number of additional jobs held during the term, by employment status, institution type, and program area: Fall 1992
Employment status, institution type, and program area
Average years held in
current job
Average number of
additional jobs held
Part-time instructional faculty and staff
6.3 1.7
4-year institutions
6.6 1.7
   Business, law, and communications
6.5 1.6
   Humanities
6.0 1.7
   Natural sciences and engineering
6.3 1.5
   Social sciences and education
5.4 1.6
   Vocational training
5.3 1.5
   All other program areas*
7.9 1.9
2-year institutions
5.9 1.6
   Business, law, and communications
6.5 1.5
   Humanities
5.5 1.7
   Natural sciences and engineering
5.9 1.5
   Social sciences and education
6.2 1.8
   Vocational training
5.6 1.5
   All other program areas*
5.7 1.9
Full-time instructional faculty and staff
11.2 1.8
4-year institutions
11.1 1.9
   Business, law, and communications
9.7 1.9
   Humanities
13.0 1.8
   Natural sciences and engineering
12.3 1.9
   Social sciences and education
11.5 1.9
   Vocational training
10.5 1.6
   All other program areas*
9.8 1.8
2-year institutions
11.5 1.6
   Business, law, and communications
10.9 1.5
   Humanities
12.8 1.5
   Natural sciences and engineering
12.0 1.7
   Social sciences and education
12.2 1.5
   Vocational training
11.1 2.0
   All other program areas*
10.0 1.7

*Includes individuals who did not designate a program area of instruction.

NOTE: This table includes only faculty and staff with instructional responsibilities for credit (e.g., teaching one or more classes for credit, or advising or supervising students' academic activities).

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF:93).

back to top

Figure B.—Percentage distribution of part-time instructional faculty and staff, by presence or absence of other employment during the term and type of institution: Fall 1992
Figure B.- Percentage distribution of part-time instructional faculty and staff, by presence or absence of other employment during the term and type of institution: Fall 1992

NOTE: Percentages may not total to 100 because of rounding.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF:93).

Figure C.—Percentage of part-time instructional faculty and staff, by reasons for holding a part-time position and type of institution: Fall 1992
Figure C.- Percentage of part-time instructional faculty and staff, by reasons for holding a part-time position and type of institution: Fall 1992

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF:93).

back to top


Conclusion

The academic labor market is rapidly changing (Rhoades 1998). Increases in part-time faculty and the possible negative impacts of these increases on the quality of the academy are areas of increasing concern (Lee 1995; Grenzke 1998). An understanding that not all part-time faculty are the same, just as not all full-time faculty are the same, is vital for those wrestling with how best to react to the altered academic labor market of the new millennium. NSOPF:93 data indicate that certain issues may be of particular concern when analyzing part-time faculty characteristics, work life, and attitudes. These issues include differences by gender, academic discipline, perceived level of support from the institution, presence or absence of full-time employment elsewhere, and motivations for accepting part-time employment.

back to top


Footnotes

1 Terminology related to full- and part-time instructional faculty and staff references the employment status of the person at the institution rather than the amount of instruction the person did. For brevity, the term "faculty" is used to refer to instructional faculty and staff.

2 The question that asked respondents why they were working part time allowed multiple responses. As a result, respondents may be assigned to more than one category.

back to top


References

Clark, B.R. (1997). Small Worlds, Different Worlds: The Uniqueness and Troubles of American Academic Professions.Daedalus, 126(4): 21-42.

Conley, V.M. (1997). Characteristics and Attitudes of Instructional Faculty and Staff in the Humanities. (NCES 97–973). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Fulton, R.D. (2000). The Plight of Part-Timers in Higher Education: Some Ruminations and Suggestions. Change, 32(3): 38-43.

Gappa, J.M., and Leslie, D.W. (1993).The Invisible Faculty.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Grenzke, J. (1998). Part-Time Faculty: Quality Issues. Update, 4(2).Washington, DC: National Education Association.

Kirshstein, R.J., Matheson, N., and Jing, Z. (1997). Instructional Faculty and Staff in Higher Education Institutions: Fall 1987 and Fall 1992.(NCES 97–470). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Lee, J. (1995). Part-Time Faculty Members.Update, 1(2).Washington, DC: National Education Association.

Palmer, J.C. (2000). Instructional Faculty and Staff in Public 2-Year Colleges.(NCES 2000–192). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Rhoades, G. (1998). Managed Professionals: Unionized Faculty and Restructuring Academic Labor.Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Saltzman, G.M. (2000). Union Organizing and the Law: Part-Time Faculty and Graduate Teaching Assistants.The NEA 2000 Almanac of Higher Education. Washington, DC: National Education Association.

Snyder, T.D., and Hoffman, C. (2000). Digest of Education Statistics: 1999 (NCES 2000–031). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.  

back to top


Data source: 1993 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF:93).

For technical information, see the complete report:

Conley, V.M., and Leslie, D.W. (2002). Part-Time Instructional Faculty and Staff: Who They Are, What They Do, and What They Think (NCES 2002–163).

Author affiliations: V.M. Conley, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; D.W. Leslie, College of William and Mary.

For questions about content, contact Linda J. Zimbler (linda.zimbler@ed.gov).

To obtain the complete report (NCES 2002–163), call the toll-free ED Pubs number (877-433-7827), visit the NCES Electronic Catalog (http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch), or contact GPO (202-512-1800).


back to top



Would you like to help us improve our products and website by taking a short survey?

YES, I would like to take the survey

or

No Thanks

The survey consists of a few short questions and takes less than one minute to complete.
National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
U.S. Department of Education