Part-time Faculty and the Student Experience


Lauren Klacza, Brock University

“I never imagined myself in this position…where every four months I worry about how I’m going to put food on the table” – 16-year Instructor at Wilfred Laurier University (Basen, 2014)

The plight of part-time contract faculty at postsecondary educational institutions has come to the forefront recently, with faculty from 24 Ontario colleges on strike just this week to protest current working conditions in the system. According to OPSEU (2017), 70% of the instructors at Ontario colleges are contract faculty, which includes “part-time” (less than 6 hours/week), “partial load” (7-12 hours per week) and “sessional” (over 12 hours/week) employees. Some of the employment issues with contract teaching include minimal job security, pay for only teaching hours in the classroom, limited opportunity for job advancement to full-time status, no access to benefits and no sick days (OPSEU, 2017). Striking faculty has also been prominent at Canadian Universities, with faculty strikes in the last few years at York University and University of Toronto over contract faculty working conditions (Levinson King, 2015).

It is clear from the recent strike action by Ontario college faculty that the system isn’t working and that the precarious employment position of so many can make for a challenging learning environment. Will better working conditions equal better learning experiences for students?

Part-time faculty and student experience

There is some evidence that employment status of faculty does not impact student learning in a negative way. Data have indicated that “part-time faculty evidenced neither a weaker instructional capacity nor less overall rigor in their grading, and no significant difference existed in student course evaluations or course grade distribution” (Landrum, 2009). Ronco and Cahill (2004) found little evidence that instructor type had any impact on student outcomes. Part-time instructors seem to be enthusiastic, passionate, and well-educated in their fields. This can be a breath of fresh air for students in their learning experience.

Other research shows a negative impact on student experience when faculty has part-time status. Umbach (2007) found that, compared with full-time faculty members, part-timers advised students less frequently, used active teaching techniques less often, spent less time preparing for class, and were less likely to participate in teaching workshops.

According to OPSEU (2014), a lack of full-time faculty means less time for dealing with students, less time for course and program development, and a greater challenge to maintain academic standards. Also, according to Landrum (2009), part-time faculty have many of the same teaching and grading requirements as full-time faculty but with less institutional support such as offices or university e-mail accounts.

Field, Jones, Stephenson and Khoyetsyan (2016) discuss two types of contract instructors: Classic Sessionals (those that teach for fun for a bit of extra cash, current or retired professionals who have other jobs) and Precarious Sessionals (those reliant upon the income from instructional work). Most of the latter are female, have graduate education credentials, and indicate an aspiration to find a full-time position with employee benefits in the field. Perhaps part time teaching jobs work for some, but for others who aspire for more it is currently a stressful, uphill battle. A study by Maynard and Joseph (2008) states that involuntary part-time faculty (part-time faculty desiring a full-time position) were more dissatisfied with working conditions than voluntary (part-timers that prefer part-time work) and full-time faculty.

The lack of support, resources, and job security for part-time faculty that wish to attain full time employment can make for a stressful and negative work environment, and if employment conditions were improved, experiences for students in and out of the classroom would be bettered as well (Field, Jones, Stephenson and Khoyetsyan, 2016).

Better working conditions to benefit students

Schmidt (2008) postulates that “because colleges are not likely to stop relying on part-time faculty members anytime soon, the key question raised by the latest research is how to make the best of the situation” (Making Do section, para.4).  Some solutions Schmidt (2008) mentions include rethinking the classes part-timers are assigned to teach (those with less time commitment) and having them work with populations who are least likely to need help outside the classroom.

Meixner, Kruck and Madden (2010) outline solutions for better working conditions put forward by part-time faculty themselves: engagement with department Chairs and Deans, being included in faculty email communications and events, and pairing part time faculty with a mentor that can help them in navigating resources can go a long way.

Also, outlining expectations for contract faculty at the beginning of employment is key. How many hours are they looking at spending in and out of the classroom realistically? As well, a key area to discuss with staff from the beginning involves what they are looking for from the employment-are they just teaching for “fun” or is full-time employment a goal? Promoting and retaining your most enthusiastic and qualified instructors is key to a better experience for students.

Contract faculty are some of the most enthusiastic teachers you will find, who truly love their students and teaching. Maynard and Joseph (2008) found that “part-time faculty… reported slightly higher emotional commitment to their institutions than full-time faculty” (p. 149).  Retaining these instructors and providing a better working environment for staff will impact all who cross their path.

Basen, I. (2014, Sept 7). Most university undergrads now taught by poorly paid part-timers. CBC News. Retrieved from:

Field, C. C., Jones, G. A., Stephenson, G., & Khoyetsyan, A. (2014). The “other” university teachers: Non-full-time instructors at Ontario universities. Toronto, ON: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

Landrum, R. E. (2009). Are there instructional differences between full-time and part-time faculty? College Teaching, 57, 23–26.

Levinson King, R (2015, Mar 19). Why this is far from Ontario’s last university strike. Toronto Star. Retrieved from:

Maynard, D.C., & Joseph, T.A. (2008). Are all part-time faculty underemployed? The influence of faculty status preference on satisfaction and commitment. Higher Education, 55, 139-154.

Meixner, C., Kruck, S. E., & Madden, L. T. (2010). Inclusion of part-time faculty for the benefit of faculty and students. College Teaching, 58(4), 141-147. doi:10.1080/87567555.2010.484032

OPSEU (2014). Report on education in Ontario colleges. Retrieved from:

OPSEU. (2017, Oct 14) College faculty table final offer in a bid to avert strike. Retrieved from:

Ronco, S. L., & Cahill, J. (2004). Does it matter who’s in the classroom? Effect on instructor type on student retention, achievement and satisfaction. Published in the 44th annual forum of the Association for Institutional Research. Boston, MA.

Schmidt, P. (2008). Use of part-time instructors tied to lower student success. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 12.

Umbach, P. D. (2007). How effective are they? Exploring the impact of contingent faculty on undergraduate education. Review of Higher Education, 30(2), 91-123.




2 thoughts on “Part-time Faculty and the Student Experience

  1. Hi Lauren,

    This is a very timely topic and one that has many perspectives and implications. There are seemingly many lenses a researcher might take in examining the issue.

    The title of your blog set the stage for a discussion about student experience in relation to part-time faculty but began with a quotation focused on the monetary aspect of this situation from a teacher’s perspective. I wonder if that is what you wanted me to be considering and where you wanted me to direct my attention? I wasn’t really able to make the connection between teacher pay and student experience.

    You outlined compelling arguments and used your academic resources well to highlight the working conditions and experiences of part-time faculty. You might have been more explicit about how they may affect student experience. For example you made two important statements about part-time faculty, that they have “less time for dealing with students, less time for course and program development, and a greater challenge to maintain academic standards” and you said “have many of the same teaching and grading requirements as full-time faculty but with less institutional support such as offices or university e-mail accounts.” How do these conditions affect student experience?

    The first sub-section has the same title as the blog. A different or simply shortened title might have been more effective in narrowing my focus. For example, you might modify “Part-time faculty and student experience” to just “Student experience”. The section did a good job of highlighting both sides of the student experience argument and also that the research results are mixed. I think highlighting this aspect in a sub-title would be quite effective to put the reader right where you (the writer) are.

    My sense was that focus of the blog was more heavily weighted to the working conditions of part-time teachers than on student experience. You could, quite easily, refocus on part-time faculty working conditions as this employment status is seemingly on the rise and unlikely to be eliminated any time soon. The thesis might loosely be: Improving part-time faculty teaching experience as a way forward in higher education? Student experience, then, might become a positive by-product of improving working conditions for part-time teachers. I do think, however, that if you choose to be more explicit about how current working conditions for part-time faculty affect student experience your work would also add to the conversation in an equally meaningful way.

    The blog was somewhat longer than the criterion for this assignment (500-750 words) and called for 6-8 references. You may want to consider the guidance provided by the syllabus when writing your next assignment.

    Lauren, this issue will surely be part of the landscape of higher education in the future and we will likely be talking about it for some time to come. Your work here is so important…enjoy the rest of your research and writing.


  2. Hi Lauren, an interesting topic, and it’s certainly topical with regard to the job action taken on the part of college faculty. My first question though is whether your study will relate exclusively to college faculty, or integrate the experience of university faculty as well? The quotation a the start of your piece reminded me of a report that Nick Purdon did for the national earlier this year ( and might be worth considering — the story of Ellis-Hale seems applicable to your topic.
    Another area that might be worth exploring is the difference (if any) between contract/part-timers who are relatively new to the profession — straight out of university — and those who have been part of the machine for some time. Are they as energetic as their younger colleagues or have they been made cynical by the situation?
    Also, what about those instructors who find themselves in their preferred field, even though it might be part-time — is there any distinction between those instructors and those who “will take anything” either out of necessity or in an attempt to get into the teaching system and use it as a stepping stone to their preferred field?
    Is there any sense of animosity (reported by Field, et al, or otherwise) amongst the different camps of part-time instructors? Certainly at the high school level, there’s an issue with retired teachers (doing it for extra cash or for fun) who occupy space that might be better allocated towards younger teachers — many of whom need it to pay off student debt, mortgages or medicine for one of their two children.
    Just a handful of thoughts/ideas for further reflection on this topic, I hope that it helps! Good luck with the continuation of your research and writing,

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