Who Are the Part-Time Faculty?

There’s no such thing as a typical part-timer.
By James Monks


The use of contingent faculty in higher education in the United States has grown tremendously over the past three decades. In 1975, only 30.2 percent of faculty were employed part time; by 2005, according to data compiled by the AAUP from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), part-time faculty represented approximately 48 percent of all faculty members in the United States.

This growth in the use of part-time faculty has occurred despite low pay, almost nonexistent benefits, inadequate working conditions, and little or no opportunity for career advancement. For example, my own analyses in a 2007 article published in the Journal of Labor Research, “The Relative Earnings of Contingent Faculty in Higher Education,” showed that part-time non-tenuretrack faculty earn between 22 and 40 percent less than tenuretrack assistant professors on an hourly basis. Who are these exploited workers, and why do they seem so willing to work under such terms and conditions?

Over the past few years, the AAUP has attempted to address the plight of part- and full-time non-tenure-track faculty, especially through the work of the Committee on Contingent Faculty and the Profession. The AAUP’s 2003 policy statement Contingent Appointments and the Academic Profession recommends increasing the proportion of faculty appointments that are on the tenure track and improving job security for contingent faculty. Additionally, in 2006 the AAUP adopted into its long-standing Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure a new regulation that outlines policies and procedures for the treatment of contingent faculty. This regulation was followed by the publication of the AAUP’s Contingent Faculty Index, which tabulates the use of contingent and tenure-track appointments at different institutions.

Despite the widespread perception that part-time faculty are exploited, underpaid, and afforded miserable working terms and conditions, efforts to organize and unionize contingent faculty have had only limited success. According to the 2004 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty, 17 percent of part-time faculty report being a member of a “union or other bargaining association that is legally recognized to represent the faculty” at their institution, compared with more than 24 percent of full-time faculty. Given the low pay and poor working conditions thought to be prevalent in the contingent academic labor market, how is it that so many individuals are willing to work under such conditions, and why do they seem resistant to organizing to improve their lot?

Who Are the Part-Timers?

The 2004 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty, sponsored by the Department of Education and its National Center for Education Statistics, contains responses from 26,108 instructional faculty and staff members representing approximately 1.2 million university employees throughout the United States at public and private nonprofit higher education institutions offering an associate’s degree or higher. My analysis in this article includes all of the respondents and uses faculty sampling weights to account for each respondent’s probability of selection into the final sample.

Approximately 44 percent of respondents reported that their institution considered them to be employed part time in fall 2003. Table 1 presents summary measures separately for full- and part-time faculty. Nearly 60 percent of full-time faculty are male, while only half of part-time faculty are male. Similarly, full-time workers are more likely than part-time workers to be non-Hispanic white (81 percent compared with 77 percent) and to have dependent children (51 percent compared with 47 percent).

The most striking difference between full- and part-time workers is in the percentage who hold a doctorate or first professional degree such as an MD or JD. Two-thirds of full-time faculty hold a doctorate or first professional degree, while only 27 percent of part-time faculty hold such a degree. Not surprisingly, there are substantial differences in compensation between full- and part-time faculty. Specifically, the average “basic salary” from one’s institution for full-time faculty is $65,407, compared with only $11,160 for part-time faculty. Similarly, full-time faculty report an average total individual income of $78,553, while part-time faculty have an average total individual income of $51,628. Finally, full-time faculty report an average household income of $113,831, while part-time faculty report an average household income of $91,798.
Only about half of part-time faculty report having another job that is full time. While some part-time faculty teach at multiple institutions, this is not the norm: 79 percent of parttime faculty report that they do not have another teaching job, while 17 percent report teaching at one other institution, and 4 percent report teaching at two or more other jobs. There appears to be a good deal of diversity in the experiences of part-time faculty.

When part-time faculty were asked whether they would have preferred a full-time position at their current institution, only 35 percent reported that they would have preferred such a position. It seems that a majority of part-time faculty are not seeking full-time employment at their institution.

Preference for Full Time

The 35 percent of part-time faculty who stated that they would prefer a full-time position can be further divided into three mutually exclusive groups. The three groups (in descending order of size) are (1) those without a PhD or first professional degree who are not retired (68 percent), (2) those with a PhD or first professional degree who are not retired (19 percent), and (3) retirees (14 percent). Table 2 presents summary measures separately for each group.

Members of the first group are less likely to be male (48 percent) than female and are slightly younger than those in the other groups, with an average age of forty-four years old. They work disproportionately in the visual or performing arts or in English language and literature. These individuals average $10,464 in basic salary from their institution and have an average total individual income of $37,453 and an average household income of $70,931.

Three-quarters of these workers hold one or more other jobs, but most of those jobs do not involve teaching. A slight majority (54 percent) are in their first postsecondary job, but most have been in the job for five years or more. Perhaps the most discouraging news is that fully 85 percent started their postsecondary careers in part-time positions. This implies that 31 percent of these part-timers— those who do not have a PhD or first professional degree and would prefer to be full time—began in a parttime position and are still working part time for at least their second institution. It appears that their lack of a terminal degree may be limiting their career advancement.

The popular media often depict part-time faculty as PhD holders who long to obtain full-time tenuretrack positions. The group that most closely matches this characterization is composed of the 34,415 nonretired part-time workers who hold a terminal degree and report a preference for working full time. This group is 55 percent male, 82 percent non- Hispanic white, and 18 percent single and never married. Members of this group are forty-eight years old on average, and approximately half have dependent children. They report an average basic salary from their institution of $13,852, with an average total individual income of $47,616 and an average household income of $88,230. The distribution of employment across fields is similar to full-time faculty, with the exception that members of this group are less likely than others to work in the health professions and clinical sciences.

Thirty-five percent report having no other jobs, while 48 percent report having one other job, and 17 percent report having two or more other jobs. Once again, most of these other jobs do not involve instruction. Approximately one-third are in their first job, and two-thirds report beginning their faculty careers in part-time positions. It appears that many members of this group of part-time faculty hold multiple positions, although most of them do not involve teaching. It also appears that many of these individuals began in part-time positions and are having a hard time moving out of those positions.

As expected, the 14 percent of part-time faculty who wish to work full time and report being retired from another position tend to be older, with an average age of fifty-six years old, and are more likely to be male (70 percent). Only 28 percent of those in this group hold a doctorate or first professional degree. Their average basic salary from their institution is $10,833, with an average total individual income of $52,926 and an average household income of $94,038. Compared with full-time faculty, members of this group are disproportionately working in business, management, or marketing (12 percent) or computer and information systems (7 percent). The typical part-time faculty member in this category appears to be a male, retired from a successful career, who now teaches business or computer science courses.

No, Thanks

The 65 percent of part-time faculty who report that they would not prefer a full-time position at their institution can also be divided into three mutually exclusive groups: (1) those whose position at the college or university where they teach is not their primary position (72 percent), (2) those for whom the part-time faculty position is their primary position and who are not retired from another position (16 percent), and (3) those who are retired from another position (12 percent). Table 3 summarizes findings about these three groups.

The fact that 72 percent of the part-time faculty who would not prefer a full-time position report that their teaching position is not their primary job implies that almost half of all part-time faculty hold what they consider to be their primary job outside of their university appointment. Individuals in this largest group, which is 58 percent male and 87 percent non-Hispanic white, are forty-eight years old on average and are demographically comparable to most full-time faculty. Their average basic salary is $8,132, which is approximately $3,000 less than the average for all part-time faculty and likely reflects their lower teaching load. On the other hand, their average total individual income is $64,024 and their average household income is $104,985, both of which are approximately $13,000 higher than the average for all part-time faculty.

This group of part-time faculty is disproportionately represented in the fields of business (10 percent) and education (13 percent). Almost 90 percent report that their other job does not involve teaching, and 71 percent report that their other job is full time. The typical member of this group appears to be a successful midcareer nonacademic, working in either business or education, who earns a more than adequate salary at a different, primary job and thus is willing to teach a course or two in addition to his or her main employment.

The next group of part-time faculty consists of those for whom the teaching position is the primary employment, who are not retired from another position, and who prefer working part to full time. This group is 78 percent female, and its members are forty-six years old, on average. Most (72 percent) of the individuals in this group do not hold an additional job, and 53 percent report having dependent children. The average basic salary of a member of this group, $21,608, is almost twice the overall average for part-time faculty, but the average total individual income of $37,236 is approximately $14,000 less than the average total individual income for all part-time faculty. The average household income of these faculty is $96,276, slightly more than the average for all part-time faculty. Members of this group work disproportionately in the fields of health professions and clinical sciences (19 percent), education (12 percent), and English language and literature (11 percent). It appears this group is primarily composed of women who teach part time in historically female-dominated fields and do not hold terminal degrees or other jobs.

Last are the more than forty thousand part-time faculty who are retired from other positions and would not prefer to work full time. These individuals are older, with an average age of sixty-two years old. The average basic salary from the institution for a member of this group is higher than most part-time faculty, at $14,943, while the average total individual income of $52,538 and average household income of $93,588 are quite similar to the incomes of most other part-time faculty.

No Typical Part-Timer

It appears from this analysis that there is no stereotypical part-time faculty member, and that part-time faculty have diverse motivations for pursuing teaching positions in higher education. While some part-time faculty appear to desire a full-time position at their current institution, a majority of part-time faculty express no desire for such a position. These part-time faculty are not currently looking for career advancement in higher education and have other reasons for undertaking a teaching position at a college or university. The ready supply of individuals who prefer to hold part-time positions makes the labor market for parttime faculty who hope to move to full-time positions more difficult.

Two factors appear to limit the ability of part-time faculty to move to full-time positions. First, the availability and willingness of so many current and retired workers to hold part-time teaching positions at relatively modest salaries and without ambition for a full-time teaching appointment provide an ample supply of ready replacements for administrators willing to fill classrooms with part-time appointees. Second, most part-time faculty who desire a full-time position at their institution do not hold a doctorate or first professional degree. These terminal degrees are considered an absolute prerequisite for most permanent, full-time faculty positions. No amount of desire and hard work is likely to overcome this shortcoming on one’s curriculum vitae.

Policies on contingent faculty need to take into account the variety of backgrounds and goals of individuals working in part-time positions. While it may be tempting to assume that most part-time faculty would prefer, and are in pursuit of, a fulltime position, this view is erroneous and leaves most part-time faculty out of the picture. Institutional policies and contingent faculty advocates should provide support and resources designed to help part-time faculty obtain the terminal degrees needed for career advancement in addition to addressing other issues of interest to those part-time faculty who prefer to remain part time as well as those seeking full-time employment.

James Monks is associate professor of economics at the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business.



Raw statistics may not tell everything.  I taught part-time at Rutgers University and the University of Maryland – College Park and Baltimore County -- for over twenty years, 1970-92)  (with a history PhD from Duke, 1968), but began a long career as a public historian with the Federal Government in 1972.   Student load (50-70 per course) put my yearly contact rate easily on par with the full-timers, although I of course had no committee responsibilities and only a few graduate students now and then.  In sum, my experience is not uncommon among government historians, most of whom chose that career track because academic openings were limited, but their choice should not imply that they have no interest in such work, only that the passage of time makes a transition to a full-time academic position less likely. 


All true. But the solution to the increasingly entrenched faculty inequities in American higher education  is not in helping abused PTers to become FTTTers; the solution is in narrowing the huge gap between the two tracks, gaps in qualifications and duties as well as in remuneration. When differing credentials do exist, they're a symptom of the vastness of the inequity, not a justification or explanation for it or a reason it can't or shouldn't be addressed. Plenty of PTers stuck on the adjunct track DO have equivalent credentials, though because of various other life circumstances they might not claim equity as their due. So others should, as the author and others from AAUP are doing: allowing the system that's given rise to such inequity to continue unadjusted is like perpetuating serfdom on the grounds that serfs usually smile when you pass them on the road.


The Part-time faculty are committed to the students and to teaching.  As a part-timer for nine years, it appears that the economics are the issue, when a part-timer is unable to support themselves even when teaching at more than one college.  The report does not account for the variables of teaching at numerous colleges without benefits, access to professional development and/or furthering one's academic pursuits as part of the college community.  Adjunct faculty are excluded rather than included and if not for the actual teaching, it is a wonder that they/we continue under such harsh economic and social structure in the United States.  That is the most alarming part, that this can happen in the land of opportunity.  I think that the international community would be shocked.


 Unfortunately your research fails to investigate one crucial situation which may affect the PT/FT "choice" -- namely "research".  At many institutions, tenure-track positions are only offered to those who have research interests, especially those which are capable of bringing in outside research dollars.  Teaching is at best a secondary requirement.  For those of us who are more interested in teaching than research, one could choose between a FT position at a community college, which limits access to advanced courses and students, or a PT position at a good college or research university.  In other words, the FT/PT problems boils down to an increasingly "one size does not fit all" problem on the FTTT end.  Yes -- I have a doctorate.  And Yes -- I have a very understanding spouse.


There's a trend toward "teaching specialists" -- faculty who could be tenure-track but who prefer teaching and are very good at it. They sign five-year renewable contracts and concentrate on teaching large numbers of students. See Dirk Mateer's "Tale of Two Teachers" at http://www.popecenter.org/clarion_call/article.html?id=1981.

J. S. S.

One really needs to know a lot more about how the data here was collected. It appears that responses came from about 2% of the pool, but what 2%? If responses were more likely from 4-year institutions than from 2-year institutions, that would produce an enormous skew in the results, as on the order of 2/3 of teaching at 2-year colleges is done by part-timers, while nearer to 1/3 is done by part-timers at 4-year colleges.

Are we including graduate students in teaching assistantships as part-timers or not? That would obviously decrease the number with full-time degrees. It would increase the number not seeking other employment, for whom a part-time teaching job is the primary job, and decrease the number wanting to be full-time ("Not till I've finished the dissertation").

Those who consider being a graduate student their primary job would report that the part-time teaching is not their primary job, though it might be the only income-producing work they have.

Even if we have appropriate proportionate questionnaire responses from 2-year and 4-year colleges and are not including graduate students, those part-timers working multiple positions may well be less likely to return a questionnaire, as they're really rather busy trying to earn a living; those who've been permatemping at universities for two or three decades might have little patience for filling out yet another survey, as well. We need a lot more info. about the data pool to properly judge the aggregated statistics. Given that the data here was gathered in 2004, it might be time for another survey, also. I used to  (a decade to a decade and a half ago) do surveys along these lines within institutions I worked at in CUNY, and while the groupings haven't changed a lot, the apportioning among them was considerably different. I don't recall ever having much above 1/3 of part-timers at 4-year institutions I surveyed working full-time jobs elsewhere, for example.

T. D.

Looking at the NCES description of the survey enables me to answer some, but not all of the questions I put previously.

Teaching assistants were not counted, but there is a range of other situations in which graduate students are employed for teaching duties (most basically, simply hiring them as part-time faculty after a year or two of teaching assistantship) that is not addressed. The breakdown of response sources is not evident; though it's stated in the study design that the 2004 study covered both private and public institutions, and that the initial survey (1987-88) covered 2-year, 4-year and doctoral institutions, there's nothing readily apparent about the distribution among these groups. One thing that is evident is that response rates decline with each administration of the survey. One wonders about trends among those who do not respond.


Wow. That “part-time faculty are exploited, underpaid, and afforded miserable working terms and conditions” is not a perception, it is a reality.  They are paid less, work harder, have fewer benefits, have less protection and are accorded less respect than full-time faculty.

It is true that many adjunct professors don’t recognize the nature of their exploitation, but that is even truer of full-time professors - a particularly confused group, the majority of which doesn’t even understand that they are workers.

The question is not whether part-time faculty would prefer a full-time position - the question is whether they want equal pay, decent working conditions and meaningful work.

As long as our unions act as job trusts, they will have little attraction to the unorganized and marginalized. The future of the AAUP will be largely decided by how we relate to the contingent faculty. Perpetuating mistaken notions - that contingent labor is less qualified than full-time faculty, or that they really want lousy working conditions - does not help in the critical process of building solidarity.