Part-time faculty teach approximately 58% of U.S. community college classes and thus manage learning experiences for more than half (53%) of students enrolled in community colleges (JBL Associates, 2008). Often referred to as contingent faculty, their work is conditional; the college typically has no obligation to them beyond the current academic term. At many colleges, the use of contingent faculty began with hiring career professionals who brought real-world experience into the classroom. Historically, colleges also have hired contingent faculty when enrollment spiked, the college needed to acquire a particular type of expertise, or full-time faculty members were not available to teach a particular course.
Increasingly, however, contingent faculty have become a fundamental feature of the economic model that sustains community college education. Because they typically have lower pay levels than fulltime faculty and receive minimal, if any, benefits, part-time faculty are institutions’ least expensive way to deliver instruction. As public funding, as a percentage of college costs, has steadily declined—and as colleges have been forced to find ways to contain costs so they can sustain college access—the proportion of part-time faculty has grown at colleges across the country. Today part-time faculty far outnumber full-time faculty at most colleges.