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Part-time instructors hamper first-year retention, says paper

April 9, 2003

National Center for Education Statistics indicate the proportion of faculty employed part-time has almost doubled in 25 years, from 22 percent in 1970 to 42 percent in 1997.

A new paper suggests the phenomenon may be partly to blame for lower retention rates.
April 9, 2003

National Center for Education Statistics indicate the proportion of faculty employed part-time has almost doubled in 25 years, from 22 percent in 1970 to 42 percent in 1997.

A new paper suggests the phenomenon may be partly to blame for lower retention rates.

Charles Harrington and Timothy Schibik argue in "Caveat Emptor: Is There a Relationship Between a Student's First Semester Exposure to Part-time Faculty and Retention?" that their research suggests a negative correlation exists between first- to second-semester retention and courses taught by part-time instructors.

At the mid-sized Midwestern university they studied from fall 1997 to fall 2001, 60 percent of the students who did not persist had taken more than half their coursesan average of 60 percentfrom part-time instructors.

Harrington speculated two explanations for the findings: More motivated students register early, when openings are available in classes offered by full-time faculty. Less motivated or academically skilled students often make later admissions and enrollment decisions, thus ending up in classes added later and taught by part-time faculty.

Harrington and Schibik also believe that part-time instructors are less able to hold flexible office hours or identify and assist struggling students by pointing them to resources. Institutions typically invest less in retention training for part-time instructors.

In the February issue of "Recruitment and Retention in Higher Education," Harrington and Schibik recommend institutions train part-time faculty in first-year development and retention issues, especially when they teach first-semester introductory courses.