Spotlight on Adjunct Faculty in 2024

Male adjunct faculty member with glasses
Faces of FacultyResearch
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Adjunct professors are a hardy bunch. It’s not news to anyone in higher education that adjuncts must deal with the uncertainty and variability that comes with lack of tenure. Compounding these factors, adjunct faculty, like all faculty, are tasked with teaching students whose needs and expectations are different from those of previous generations. Here are a few quick facts about the challenges of adjunct life today:

  • Around 70% of faculty are adjuncts, and they teach more than half of all college courses in the U.S.
  • Most adjuncts are contract workers who must, the L.A. Times writes, “patch together part-time gigs to support themselves, with salaries that don’t reflect their professional expertise or level of education.”
  • Adjunct faculty earn a median of $3,700 per course, a number that has gone down with inflation.
  • Over one in four adjuncts are earning below the poverty level for a family of four.
  • Well over half of adjuncts (57%) receive no medical benefits; this applies to nearly all community college adjuncts.

Given these undeniable challenges surrounding adjunct life, we wanted to hear from them directly. So, in our annual Faces of Faculty survey, we ask adjuncts from two- and four-year institutions around the country to tell us how it’s going in their working lives? Here are the top things we heard from adjunct faculty this year. (Spoiler – while there are some difficulties, it’s not all bad news.)

Adjuncts are teaching fewer courses than before

Some 15% of adjuncts say they are teaching fewer courses than last year – compared to 9% of faculty overall. This points to a decline in overall earnings for a group of professionals who rely on course – and therefore paycheck – stability.

Day to day, they’re spending a large chunk of time preparing

Despite the above reality, adjuncts are spending a significant part of their workday on course preparation (32% of the workday).

They are going above and beyond, despite changing student norms

From the potential of GenAI-derived plagiarism, to abuse of deadlines and an increasing need to be “always on” for students, it sometimes seems that the only constant in faculty life is change. Yet, despite the changing norms governing higher education, adjuncts are rising to the challenge and ensuring their students have everything they need to succeed.


“I found that it was necessary to have more one-on-one communication with students about grades and missing assignments than was needed in the past. Students seem less able to organize themselves, even with all of the digital tools available.” – Adjunct Professor, Texas


Adjuncts value teaching students above all else

The majority of adjuncts (67%) reported that teaching students is among the most satisfying components of their role. Other elements they find appealing include the professional autonomy that comes with the job (47%), and the ability to advise and mentor students and student groups (27%).


“I enjoy what I do, especially when I make a good connection with my students…” – Adjunct Professor, California


The bottom line for institutions? Adjuncts are hard-working, resourceful and many of them enjoy their job. Yet, given their often-tenuous professional circumstances, they could benefit from extra support. Whether that comes in the form of enhanced professional development opportunities and mentorship, financial reimbursement for time spent training or performing extra duties, or opportunities to stabilize their course load in a way that works for their financial and personal needs — every institution can improve the overall state of higher education by ensuring that these experienced and dedicated professionals understand their value and worth as educators, and are in turn given the chance to shine.


Faces of Faculty Report: Male teacher with beard


In our annual “Faces of Faculty” report, we explore what it’s like to be an educator in the evolving higher ed landscape. Want to explore more of our findings on adjunct life, plus all of this year’s “Faces of Faculty” results?