Nothing about the Northwestern study suggests that colleges should embrace the rat-hole model of labor management. Rather, it's another piece of a growing economics literature that, taken as a whole, suggests exactly the opposite: Poorly paid, part-time faculty are poor substitutes for full-time professors.That seems obvious, but in professor-speak, even the brightest among you will benefit by a modicum of repetition. Or we remember Vince Lombardi practicing 48 and 39 and 31 Wedge every day.
To review, what does the study tell us? If colleges pay their professors a middle-class wage to teach year-in and year-out, they might just do a better job of it than faculty who focus on research and publishing.Yes, and at Northwestern those professionally respected and effective lecturers are working in an environment where a critical mass of motivated and responsible students is likely present to counteract the party pathway that diverts students elsewhere. In higher education's subprime sector, however, the rat-hole model of management is a false economy.
The Northwestern study is just one paper, part of a small-but-growing volume of economics research into which kinds of professors make the best teachers. And collectively, they suggest that schools may be hurting students by over-relying on adjuncts, especially at the community college level, where part-timers are most prevalent.There are subtleties. But note, in particular, part-timers who can say no might be more effective.
A retired executive teaching in his spare hours probably has more time to devote to students than an adjunct juggling 3 or more courses to make ends meet.Note, though, that a retired executive or a moonlighting engineer is in a position to be more selective about picking up a night class. Think DePaul rather than Joliet Junior, or Marquette rather than Wisconsin-Waukesha.
Reflecting on both studies, the team concluded that while a faculty full of adjuncts might hurt graduation rates overall, part-timers could still be very effective in certain subjects — especially pre-professional fields. Adjuncts might be great for teaching high level computer science and less great for teaching Chaucer.
The teaching point, though, is that attempting to offer what looks like a college program on 2s6d a day isn't sustainable as a business model.