OPSEU Local 417: Ontario Colleges Need to Check the Research

Published on: 2017/11/13 - in Releases

Research (scrabble)

The following release was issued by Ontario Public Service Employees’s Union (OPSEU), Local 417 and presented here in its entirety.

RELEASE — When a concerned constituent asked their MPP to support an end to the current labour dispute, this is the response they received:

“I do not view the use of contract or sessional teachers in a negative light, nor do I accept the premise that full time teachers are better or more proficient educators than part time teachers. I have searched for objective research on this topic, however the evidence to support this premise is absent.”

Challenge accepted. Our team dove into the academic literature and found the evidence. Here are the highlights:

  • The more courses students take with contract faculty versus full-time, the less likely they are to return for a second term.
  • A 14% drop in retention (i.e., students dropping out) occurs between first and second year for students who have more than 75% of classroom hours taught by contract faculty.
  • Students who start programs with contract faculty don’t perform as well in second year as those who start with full-time faculty.

Despite this readily-available, peer-reviewed research, colleges have allowed the percentage of classes taught by contract faculty to balloon to an incredible 81%.

It is crucial to note that these effects are not the fault of the instructors themselves. Instead, a lack of time, various institutional factors, and job insecurity work against them.

The above-mentioned studies show that these effects occur for the following reasons:

  • Unavailability of faculty—Full-time faculty are generally more available and form stronger relationships with students. These relationships are crucial to student retention.
  • Lower standards of evaluation—Contract faculty tend to use less rigorous methods of assessment, and the grades they give are much higher than those given by full-timers. This means students may pass courses without having gained the knowledge and skills needed to complete higher-level courses. They do this for multiple reasons, including a fear that giving low grades will affect their performance evaluations and reduce the chances of them being rehired.
  • Lack of time—Quality suffers because contract faculty are less available and the institution fails to support them outside the classroom (i.e., they have limited access to phones, email, and office space and they are paid only for classroom hours) even though many contract faculty put forth remarkable effort to engage with students despite these challenges.

University of Washington Professor Dan Jacoby, a leading authority on the correlation between part-time/full-time faculty ratios and student success, suggests there is no excuse for the current 19/81 full-time faculty to contract ratios.

“There now appear to be few real defenses that can justify maintaining a system of employment that evidence increasingly suggests has adverse results for students as well as for faculty,” Jacoby writes in The Journal of Higher Education, the world’s top scholarly journal on the institution of higher education.

Please see the below report researched and written by Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, Local 417, for further details and source documentation.

What are the consequences of the colleges’ over-reliance on contract faculty?

  • Harrington and Schibik (2001) found that as first-year students took more courses with contract faculty as opposed to full-time faculty in their first term, the likelihood of them returning for a second term reduced.
  • Eagan and Jaeger (2008) found that the higher the proportion of classes taught by contract faculty, the less likely students were to continue into second year. This was particularly true for “gatekeeper courses”.
  • Specifically, Ronco and Cahill (2004) found a 14% drop in retention between first and second year if students have less than one quarter of their teaching contact hours taught by full-time faculty.
  • Burgess and Samuels (as cited in Jacoby, 2006), found that students who start programs with contract faculty performed worse in upper years than those who started with full-time faculty.
  • Multiple studies have shown that the effects of over-reliance on contract faculty in community colleges included “reduced instructional quality, lack of curricular cohesion, and weak advising (Benjamin; Cross & Goldenberg; Elman; Schuster; Thompson; Townsend, as cited in Jacoby, 2006).

Why do these effects occur?

Availability of faculty to students

Persistence – the likelihood that a student will remain enrolled and graduate – is affected by the extent to which students are socially and academically integrated into the college (Jacoby, 2006). Jacoby notes that social integration includes participation in social activities and engaging with faculty, while academic integration is determined by academic achievement. According to Benjamin (as cited in Jacoby, 2006), contract faculty are less likely to engage students in social integration simply because they are less available.

According to Astin (as cited in Umbach, 2007), the extent to which students are involved with peer groups and with faculty improves both their learning and their grades. However, “part-time faculty interact with students less frequently, use active and collaborative techniques less often, spend less time preparing for class, and have lower academic expectations” than full-time faculty (Umbach, 2007). Similarly, Allison-Jones and Hirt (2004) found that full-time faculty are routinely given higher rankings in effectiveness as instructors than contract faculty because full-time faculty are more available and form stronger relationships with students.

Lower standards of evaluation and lack of academic freedom due to job insecurity

According to Benjamin (as cited in Jacoby, 2006) contract faculty tend to use less rigorous methods of assessment, and according to McArthur (as cited in Jacoby 2006) grades given by contract faculty are significantly higher than those given by full-time. This means that students may pass courses without having gained the knowledge and skills necessary to complete higher-level courses. Jacoby (2006) suggests that contract faculty may be unwilling to enforce stricter grading because low grades will result in low student evaluations, and low evaluations will affect the likelihood that they will be hired again. Academic freedom is also curtailed for contingent faculty because they may fear that they simply will not be offered more courses if they make controversial statements (Ochoa, 2011).

Lack of time

According to Schuetz (2002), contract instructors are less likely to

  • be aware of counselling and support services, including tutoring, available for students
  • create collaborative/group learning opportunities and assignments, invite guest speakers, use multimedia in their classes, encourage the use of computers and the internet, or have students conduct experiments. All these activities can improve student retention and academic success.
  • update their curriculum. Allison-Jones and Hirt (2004) note the importance of continually updating curriculum, especially in programs for which the standards of regulatory bodies must be met.
  • engage in professional development to continuously improve their teaching skills and maintain currency in their field of expertise
  • engage with students on a daily basis, which is strongly correlated with student success
  • be connected with other faculty. This means that they are less likely to develop a strong understanding of the requirements, standards, best-practices, and challenges associated with teaching in a particular department; are less likely to engage in collaborative teaching with other faculty; and have limited capacity for expressing concerns.

Shuetz asserts that these deficits have nothing to do with the abilities and qualifications of contract instructors. Instead, it is as issue of time and availability.

Shuetz quotes a paper by Gappa and Leslie: “Quality suffers—not because part-timers cannot teach well, but because the department or the institution becomes less able to carry out the infrastructure work. People simply do not have enough time to maintain themselves, the institution, and the educational process”.

Jacoby (2006) echoes Shuetz’s assertion that the negative effects of over-reliance on contract faculty are not the fault of the faculty themselves. He notes that some reasons why contract faculty are less available simply include having limited access to phones, email, and office space. Similarly, being paid by contact hour reduces their incentive to be more available, though Jacoby notes that many are highly involved with their students despite the lack of financial incentives to do so. Shuetz notes that the willingness of contract faculty to engage with students outside of the classroom indicates “a remarkable effort” (p. 42) on their part.

Final thoughts:

“Community college graduation rates decrease as the proportion of part-time faculty employed increases” (Jacoby, 2006).

“The practice of part-time faculty hiring is now widely regarded as a consequence of budgetary economies, and it can no longer be explained as a limited practice in which a number of experts are hired part-time to augment the capabilities of existing faculty (Ehrenberg; Gappa & Leslie; Jacoby, 2001; Leslie & Gappa as cited in Jacoby, 2006).

Umbach (2007) advises prospective students of post-secondary institutions to consider the ratio of full-time to part-time faculty when choosing their programs and institutions. He states that “students who wish to have frequent interactions with their faculty, who want to learn in an active and collaborative classroom environment, and who seek to be challenged academically would be wise to consider the make-up of the faculty in their college choice set. They should ask questions about who is teaching both introductory and advanced courses in their chosen major. Students already in college might consider the different types of experiences they may have if they enroll in a course with a contingent instructor and choose their courses accordingly.”

“There now appear to be few real defenses that can justify maintaining a system of employment that evidence increasingly suggests has adverse results for students as well as for faculty” (Jacoby, 2006)


Allison-Jones, L. L., & Hirt, J. B. (2004). Comparing the teaching effectiveness of part-time and full-time clinical nurse faculty. Nursing Education Perspectives, 25(5), 238-243. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/neponline/pages/default.aspx

Eagan, M. K. Jr., & Jaeger, A. J. (2008). Closing the gate: Part-time faculty instruction in gatekeeper courses and first year persistence. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 115, 39 – 53. doi: 10.1002/tl.324

Harrington, C. & Schibik, T. (2001). Caveat emptor: Is there a relationship between part-time faculty utilization and student learning outcomes and retention? Paper presented at Annual Meeting of the Association for Institutional Research, Long Beach, CA.

Jacoby, D. (2006). Effects of part-time faculty employment on community college graduation rates. The Journal of Higher Education, 77(6), 1081-1103. doi:10.1080/00221546.2006.11778957
Ochoa, A. (2011). Contingent faculty: Helping or harming students? Journal of the Professiorate, 6(1), 136-151. Retrieved from https://caarpweb.org/publications/journal-of-the-professoriate/

Ronco, S. L., & Cahill, J. (2004, May). Student retention, achievement and satisfaction. Paper presented at the 44th Annual Forum of the Association for Institutional Research, Boston Massachusetts.

Schuetz, P. (2002). Instructional practices of part-time and full-time faculty. New Directions for Community Colleges, 188, 39-47. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1002/(ISSN)1536-0733

Umbach, P. D. (2007). How effective are they? Exploring the impact of contingent faculty on undergraduate education. The Review of Higher Education, 30(2), 91-123. Retrieved from https://www.press.jhu.edu/journals/review-higher-education

Release source: OPSEU, Local 417
Photo: Nick Youngson (cc)