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Adjunct Instructors: What Students Need to Know

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What is an adjunct instructor?

Definitions of an “adjunct” vary, especially as higher education has expanded to include hybrid and online courses. For the most part, adjunct faculty are contingent employees. This means that, rather than signing an annual contract, they sign a contract each semester based on the need for instructors in their fields of expertise. Some adjuncts are retired full-time faculty, who want to continue teaching on a part-time basis. Others are employed within their industry in the private sector, and teach their classes as additional, part-time work. Adjunct faculty members’ duties are generally -although not always- limited to teaching, whereas full-time faculty typically have research and service requirements, as well.


Does this mean my instructor is not a real professor?

At the university level, we generally describe anyone who teaches as being an “instructor” or member of the “faculty.” These terms can be used accurately for both full-time faculty and adjuncts. 

Professorship is different, in that it is an earned title comprised of various ranks, such as “assistant professor,” “associate professor,” and “professor.” Traditionally, these ranks are used when referring to full-time faculty. While people sometimes informally use the term “adjunct professor,” adjuncts are generally instructors who do not hold “professor” titles. However, an adjunct instructor is the official “instructor of record” for his/her courses, just as a professor is of his/her courses.


If my adjunct instructor is not a “professor,” how do I know that s/he is qualified?

All adjuncts at FHSU hold a minimum of a masters degree, and 30 percent hold terminal degrees. Terminal degrees are generally considered the highest degree available in one’s field. Most often, terminal degrees are doctorate degrees, such as a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), a Doctor of Education (Ed.D) or a Juris Doctor (J.D.). In addition, there are some substantial 60+ credit-hour specialist and masters degrees which are considered “terminal,” such as an Education Specialist (Ed.S.) and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA). 


How will I know if my instructor is an adjunct?

Most likely, you won’t know your instructor is an adjunct instructor unless s/he tells you. FHSU adjunct faculty are fully integrated into university systems and platforms. They have official university email addresses, and use the university Learning Management System (Blackboard). The course shells for your Virtual College courses taught by adjunct faculty will look no different than your Virtual College classes taught by full-time faculty.


How do I know that my adjunct instructor will be a good teacher?

Just as top-notch employees exist at all levels of most corporations, top-notch faculty exist at all levels within universities. While traditional notions hold that adjunct faculty are somehow “lesser” than their full-time counterparts, data does not reliably support this idea. In fact, a Northwestern University study showed that, where adjuncts were “well-compensated and enjoyed long-standing relationships with the university,” their students were more likely to take subsequent courses in the same discipline, and to earn higher grades in those courses, than students who took their initial courses from tenured or tenure-track faculty.


Fort Hays State University takes pride in employing both traditional full-time faculty whose degrees, research and publications make them renowned in their disciplines, and a diverse body of qualified adjunct faculty whose real-world industry experience provides invaluable insight to students looking to enter similar fields. 


Any questions about adjunct faculty at FHSU Virtual College can be directed to Nicole Frank, Coordinator of Adjunct Support and Engagement.



Berrett, D. (2013). Adjuncts are better teachers than tenured professors, study finds. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from



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