A Community College Teaching Career: 4. The Adjunct Position

The discussion above has been directed to those seeking a full-time, tenure-track position at a community college. What about the part-time or adjunct position–either as a route to obtaining a full-time position or simply as an alternative? Throughout their history, community colleges have hired part-time instructors for the occupational expertise they bring to the classroom. In more recent decades, as public funding has tightened, community colleges have begun to rely more on adjunct faculty members across the curriculum as a way to keep salary costs down. Adjunct instructors are usually limited to teaching up to 60% of the annual load of a contract faculty member at the institution. And although the minimum qualifications for adjunct and full-time positions are often identical, the pay per course is often only a fraction of what the full-time faculty member receives. This limited pay from any single institution leads many adjuncts to teach part-time at two or three colleges to earn a living wage, yielding the phenomenon of the “freeway flyer.”

“Part-time faculty pay. Average pay for part-time faculty members teaching a three-credit course section varies widely between institutional types, with average rates of pay ranging from $2,263 per section in public associate’s institutions without ranks to $4,620 per section in private-independent doctoral institutions. Within institutional categories, minimum and maximum pay rates span huge ranges. [Survey Report Table 15]

Part-time faculty benefits. Most faculty members who are paid per course section do not receive either retirement or medical benefits contributions. Overall, 38 percent of institutions contribute toward retirement plans for some or all part-time faculty, and 37 percent of institutions contribute to premiums for medical insurance plans. Among doctoral institutions, part-time faculty are more likely to receive benefits, with 52 percent of institutions contributing to retirement plans and 60 percent contributing to medical insurance plans. [Survey Report Table 16]


Some institutions (the colleges of the University of Cincinnati are one such example) have a new layer of adjunct faculty, field service representatives, who are full-time, untenured faculty members, with indefinite reappointment possibilities. They receive the same minimum pay and benefits as tenure-track faculty members and have obligations to faculty development and service. This example is but one indication of greatly varying options for adjunct faculty members at two-year colleges.

Is there any good reason to accept this employment while searching for a job if a permanent position is your goal? It is difficult to suggest to graduate students that they consider being underpaid in such a position with few reemployment rights. But here are several reasons to consider such a position:

  • Teaching at a community college for a semester or two is the best way to determine if this kind of work suits you.
  • Having teaching experience at the community college will often make a difference between getting or not getting an interview when a full-time position opens up and may be important for being offered the position as well. Two-year colleges often favor the candidate with teaching experience at a community college over the candidate with a higher degree and university teaching experience. The interview questions themselves will resonate differently with each candidate. The answers of candidates who have already taught at the community college will tend to ring more true, especially as to their commitment to teaching at this level.
  • Successful adjunct instructors may have a better chance to obtain a full-time position at the institution where they have been teaching, if that experience has been successful. Although many community college administrators view good part-time faculty members as a pool of potential tenure-track hires (Twombly 441), adjunct experience does not guarantee that you will be interviewed for a tenure-track position, which often leads to hurt feelings among the part-time staff.
  • If your search is limited to one geographic area because of family commitments or continuing work with your graduate institution as you complete your doctorate, it may make sense to interview for a part-time position at a neighboring college and begin being known by the faculty in the institutions of your area. Again, since two-year colleges tend to hire from within a region, you may have an advantage over candidates who are not familiar with the community and its students.
  • If you accept an adjunct position, take advantage of opportunities to work with your colleagues and get to know the field (as time permits). Attending faculty meetings and serving on committees allows you to stay informed about your field and about college life, even though this service is usually optional for adjunct faculty members. Use student evaluations and supervisor or peer evaluations to your advantage; when your evaluations are good, ask those who observed your class to serve as references or write you a letter of recommendation.

Individuals will need to decide for themselves if adjunct teaching is a legitimate step on a career path in two-year college teaching.

Continue to 5. Resources & Works Cited.