Adjunct Professor Versus Full-Time Professor: What is the Difference?

Mykaila Peters

There has been a lot of confusion between what it means to be an adjunct professor versus a full time professor. What are the differences and similarities? When looking at the big picture, adjunct professors are not too different from full-time professors; their main difference is the amount of time they teach.

Adjunct faculty are part-time, teaching one or two classes a semester. They are qualified by academic credential, just like full-time faculty, although a full-time faculty member may have a higher degree such as a Ph.D. instead of a master’s degree. Adjunct faculty usually don’t have a long-term commitment on behalf of the college in terms of continuous employment, which can be both good and bad: good because the college can easily decrease staff when necessary and bad in that adjunct faculty jobs are inherently insecure.

Full time professors are advantaged in that with teaching experience comes practice and finding varying methods of providing students information to learn different ways. Adjuncts are disadvantaged because they do not have the same residency–they are often times busy having to participate in additional jobs. In addition, adjuncts often do not teach the same course over and over again to get better at it. Since full-time professors teach the same courses year after year, they become skilled in their subject matter, and practice makes perfect.

“Full-time educators have an increased amount of time that is related to experience with students and in the classroom, said business professor David Anstett. “Since full-time professors have spent much more time in the classroom, they have more experiences and solutions to teaching problems.”

Adjunct professors also live semester to semester with job uncertainty; their commitment to the institution may or may not be all that strong. They typically teach first year level courses or courses that require unique training or experience and that don’t require a full-time position. Dr. Tammy Ostrander gave the example of business law.

“We have a plan in the school of business and technology to include adjuncts in teaching our courses,” said Anstett. “We consciously include adjuncts to help make them part of the family and to help them understand that they are important to the courses.”

Someone with a master’s degree would have a minimum of about five years of education, but more with an MFA. A Ph.D. is a minimum of eight years; four for undergrad, one for master’s and three for a Ph.D. The pay is markedly different because adjuncts are paid per class. Pay varies by area, but undergraduate adjuncts are paid about $1000 per credit. Full-time faculty have a four way pay scale depending on what discipline they teach. There is a general four rank system with full-time faculty: instructor, assistant professor, associate professor and full-time professor. The scales are based on market demand, and the higher the rank, the higher the pay. Humanities faculty have the lowest pay scale whereas business and technology have the highest.

“An important part of this too, is that adjuncts … can develop more educational opportunities for themselves, which could lead to full time teaching,” Anstett said. “I have developed a great respect for people who do adjunct teaching because it is difficult to have your life so full all the time; it is like you are going to school and have a full time job at the same time. I think adjuncts do a phenomenal job.”

Adjunct professors do not have all of the same opportunities that go along with being a full-time professor. There is also different esteem that goes along with the two positions, although both are equally important to college institutions. Adjunct professors do not have the same benefits time wise as full-time professor but that does not undermine their potential as educators nor their effectiveness in helping students learn. Many of the best professors are adjunct.