Waiting to become: A descriptive phenomenology of adjunct faculty experiences at multi-campus community colleges
Dr. Lyn Brodersen
The purpose of this study was to describe the experiences of adjunct faculty who work at multi-campus community colleges, and who aspire to full-time positions in such institutions. Greater numbers of professionals are entering community colleges with aspirations of becoming full-time faculty. A paucity of research on this topic revealed a need to illuminate the experiences of adjunct faculty working at multi-campus community colleges (Wolfe & Strange, 2003). The widely-held notion that adjuncts choose part-time teaching to earn extra money, give back to the community, or are retirees is not a reality (House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democratic Staff, 2014).
The following research questions guided this study:
1). What are the experiences of adjuncts aspiring to become full-time faculty at multi-campus community colleges?
2). How might adjuncts’ career aspirations have changed as a result of their professional and personal experiences?
Descriptive phenomenology was employed to conduct this study. Seven adjunct faculty members, two men and five women, were selected as research participants, utilizing a purposive sampling technique involving two multi-campus community college research sites in the Midwest. Data gathered from 21semi-structured interviews were analyzed to identify emerging themes. The meaning of these themes and subthemes are discussed and contextualized within the current scholarly literature. From the data analysis, ten distinct themes emerged: (1) They thought I’d just figure it out, (2) Accidental academics, (3) I am not a professional, (4) No one was there to tell me what to do, (5) Insider yet outsider with full-time faculty, (6) The undercurrent with administration, (7) Place bound by family, (8) Interviewing for full-time faculty: Trying to get a foot in the door, (9) Reevaluating my career aspirations: Why am I still working as an adjunct?, and (10) Thank you for listening. Two additional distinct subthemes emerged from the data: I hope I set an example and We are the Walmartification of higher education. The analysis addressed how each theme is situated within Astin’s (1984) socio-psychological model of career choice. Several suggestions for best practice within administrative and community college cultures are provided.