Many articles in publications sympathetic to the higher-education establishment such as The Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed would lead the reader to believe that it won’t be long before nearly all full-time professors have been replaced by adjuncts — those pitiable academics who have to scrounge out a living by teaching classes for minimal compensation, sometimes racing from one college to another and lacking even an office.
Undeniably, there are people who are in that unhappy condition, but what is not true is the idea that “adjunctification” continues to spread. That’s the argument of George Mason University professor Phil Magness in this Martin Center article.
“As concerns about the adjunctification of the universities reach a fever pitch,” he writes, “the statistics unambiguously point to a continuously shrinking adjunct workforce.”
The increasing percentage of faculty who work on an adjunct basis peaked in 2011 and have been declining since then. What’s the explanation? Magness points to the rapid growth of for-profit colleges starting in the ’90s: typically, the for-profits rely on adjuncts for about 90 percent of their faculty. As they grew, so did the numbers and percentage of adjunct professors. That rapid growth has stopped and the for-profit sector is contracting. As Magness writes, “Now that the for-profit bubble is bursting due to issues of fiscal solvency and a government crackdown on the standards used by for-profit accrediting bodies, the adjunct workforce is experiencing its own parallel contraction.”
That doesn’t mean that there won’t be adjunct professors in the future. There will be because it often makes sense for schools to hire a part-time instructor for a single course. Back in the ’70s, long before anyone started to complain about “adjunctification,” part-timers made up 22 percent of the teaching force.
If there is really a problem with adjuncts, the solution lies in changing the policies that lead to the overproduction of people with doctorates who want college teaching careers, but that’s a different matter altogether.