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The academic workforce in higher education has shifted in the last several decades from consisting of mostly full-time, tenure-track faculty to one comprised predominantly of contingent, non-tenure-track faculty. This substantial shift toward part-time academic labor has not corresponded with institutions implementing more supportive policies and practices targeted toward part-time faculty. This study examines the associations between part-time faculty satisfaction and a set of items that measure campus resources provided to part-timers, their perceptions of the campus climate, and measures of the institutional context. Findings point to opportunities for campuses and departments to improve part-time faculty’s satisfaction through providing access to office space and developing a sense of respect among part-time and full-time faculty.


part-time faculty, satisfaction, campus resources


The academic workforce in higher education has shifted from consisting of mostly full-time, tenure-track faculty to being comprised predominantly of contingent, non-tenure-track faculty over the last several decades. Nearly two-thirds of faculty appointments across all institutional types are now being made off the tenure track (Schuster & Finkelstein, 2006). While there has been an increase in all types of non-tenure track [End Page 448] appointments, the representation of part-time faculty in the academic labor force has ballooned in the last 20 years. In 1989, part-timers composed just 36.3% of all faculty at degree-granting institutions; as of 2009, 49.3% of all college faculty were part-time (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2012).

Reasons for increased reliance on part-time faculty vary between institutions and departments. Some units employ part-time faculty because of their expertise in a given field or discipline. In such instances, part-timers come from business or industry and offer their professional knowledge and experience (Cohen & Brawer, 2003; Rhoades, 1998). While this model may still exist at some institutions in specific departments, the rationale for employing part-time faculty has shifted over time in higher education as a whole, and budgetary cost savings have emerged as the primary driver for the increased reliance on part-timers (Gappa, Austin, & Trice, 2007; Schuster & Finkelstein, 2006). In times of tight budgets, part-time faculty can provide substantial cost savings as they often earn lower salaries and often lack benefits (Coalition on the Academic Workforce, 2012; National Center for Education Statistics, 2001).

Although part-time faculty can offer institutions substantial cost-savings, greater flexibility in scheduling, and professional expertise in the classroom, colleges and universities often do not devote adequate resources to this important component of the academic workforce (Baldwin & Chronister, 2001; Kezar, 2013a, 2013b). Part-time faculty in particular frequently encounter limited or no office space, a lack of clerical or administrative support, restricted involvement in campus governance, and no guarantee of a continued appointment (AFT, 2010; Baldwin & Chronister, 2001; Kezar, 2013b).

Despite lower pay and restricted autonomy, experiences which might logically predict a lower rate of satisfaction with working conditions, previous studies (Antony & Valdez, 2002; Clery, 2011) have found that part-time faculty appear just as satisfied as their full-time counterparts, suggesting diversity within the larger part-time faculty group; however, as the components of satisfaction are differentiated, differences in satisfaction between full-time and part-time faculty begin to emerge. For example, although Antony and Valadez (2002) show no differences between full-time and part-time faculty in overall satisfaction, the authors note that part-timers express significantly lower levels of satisfaction with regard to autonomy and students compared to their full-time colleagues. Toutkoushian and Bellas (2003) found similar levels of overall satisfaction between full-time and part-time faculty but noted that part-timers reported being significantly less satisfied with their benefits, [End Page 449] job security, and advancement opportunities compared to their full-time counterparts.

To better understand the nuances in satisfaction among part-time faculty, researchers have disaggregated part-time faculty based on their preference for full-time work. These studies examine differences in satisfaction between voluntary part-time faculty—those part-timers who choose or prefer to work part-time—and involuntary part-time faculty—individuals who teach part-time but would prefer a full-time faculty appointment (Antony & Hayden, 2011; Maynard & Joseph, 2008). These studies have found voluntary part-time faculty to be significantly more satisfied with various aspects of their academic work compared to their involuntary part-time colleagues.

Based on the findings of previous research examining satisfaction among part-time faculty, higher education administrators are left to conclude that increasing satisfaction of part-time faculty involves creating full-time positions for involuntary faculty, as their involuntary status is the key variable in question. Such previous studies, however, have three important limitations. First, they ignore the college contexts encountered by part-time faculty, as the campus environment may significantly relate to part-timers’ level of satisfaction with their academic appointment. Second, these studies do not have measures of campus support and resources afforded to part-time faculty, including provisions of office space, technology, and support staff. Finally, these studies have either lacked a strong theoretical foundation or have drawn primarily from a deficit framework, a position Kezar and Sam (2011) have called for analysts to move beyond in their analyses of contingent faculty.

To address these gaps in the literature, this study analyzes data from the Higher Education Research Institute’s (HERI) 2010–2011 Faculty Survey and draws from underemployment theory (Maynard & Joseph, 2008) and existence, relatedness, and growth (ERG) theory (Alderfer, 1972) to examine how the availability of support services and the presence of a respectful campus environment correlate with part-time faculty members’ job satisfaction. We extend previous research by examining satisfaction for both voluntary and involuntary part-time faculty while also considering individual behaviors, institutional support services, and campus culture. By including the college context in the conversation, this study addresses whether the institutional climate and resources provided to part-time faculty represent important considerations for their satisfaction, thus offering more practical implications for campus decision makers.

The following sections provide context to institutions’ increased reliance on part-time faculty, faculty satisfaction, and the frameworks [End Page 450] informing the study. We begin by discussing the concept of job satisfaction broadly and how it has been studied among higher education faculty specifically. Next, we contextualize the growing presence of part-timers in the academic workforce and highlight the emerging gap between the employment of part-time faculty and the institutional mechanisms designed to support part-timers. We then review research focused on connections between part-time faculty’s satisfaction, experiences, background characteristics, and institutional contexts. Finally, we discuss the application of underemployment theory and ERG theory in understanding the ways in which institutions can improve workplace satisfaction among part-time faculty.

Defining and Understanding Satisfaction

Satisfaction represents a multifaceted, complicated construct, and there appears to be as many ways of operationalizing satisfaction as there are studies examining it. Locke (1976) articulates that job satisfaction represents a connection among individuals’ emotions, values, and needs. Locke (1976) distinguishes between individuals’ needs and values by noting that needs “confront man with the requirement of action” and “his values determine his action choices and emotional reactions” (p. 1304). Individuals have reduced levels of job satisfaction when they perceive a disconnect between their values, or desires, and what they believe to be gaining from their work.

Job satisfaction can be operationalized to focus on either extrinsic or intrinsic attributes. Intrinsic attributes are related to the work itself, such as the level of interest individuals have in their jobs (Kalleberg, 1977). By contrast, extrinsic aspects of job satisfaction relate to measures of compensation, collegial relationships, and advancement, among others (Kalleberg, 1977).

Researchers have investigated faculty’s job satisfaction across both these intrinsic and extrinsic categories. Studies have examined faculty’s satisfaction related to autonomy (Maynard & Joseph, 2008), instructional support (Antony & Hayden, 2011), compensation (Maynard & Joseph, 2008; Seifert & Umbach, 2008; Toutkoushian & Bellas, 2003), quality of students (Rosser, 2005), colleagues (Maynard & Joseph, 2008; Seifert & Umbach, 2008), and global job satisfaction (Bozeman & Gaughn, 2011; Toutkoushian & Bellas, 2003), among other areas. The items and datasets used to measure faculty’s job satisfaction are as diverse as the general areas. Many scholars have relied on data from the National Survey of Postsecondary Faculty (Antony & Hayden, 2011; Seifert & Umbach, 2008; Toutkoushian & Bellas, 2003) whereas others have used validated satisfaction scales, such as the Minnesota satisfaction [End Page 451] Questionnaire (Maynard & Joseph, 2008). Great diversity exists in the ways researchers operationalize and conceptualize satisfaction, the measures they use, and the datasets they analyze. These different perspectives all suggest that job satisfaction represents a multidimensional construct that is best operationalized with multiple indicators (Bozeman & Gaughn, 2011).

Scholars have focused so much attention on faculty satisfaction because of its relationship with organizational commitment, intention to remain at the institution, and productivity. Previous research suggests that there is a correlation between a supportive institutional environment that provides resources and rewards and faculty satisfaction and productivity (Bland, Center, Finstad, Risbey, & Staples, 2005). Additionally, faculty’s job satisfaction represents one of the strongest predictors regarding their intention to leave the institution or leave academe as a whole (Daly & Dee, 2006; Gardner, 2012; Xu, 2008). Similarly, Lawrence, Ott, and Bell (2012) found that faculty who reported greater levels of satisfaction with their work tended to score higher on measures of organizational commitment and organizational citizenship behaviors. Specifically, the authors found that satisfaction with opportunities for advancement, departmental leadership, and procedural justice significantly improved faculty’s odds of expressing organizational commitment (Lawrence, Ott, & Bell, 2012). Given the costs of faculty turnover and reduced organizational commitment (Gappa, Austin, & Trice, 2007; Schuster & Finkelstein, 2006), understanding ways in which institutions can improve faculty satisfaction and can thereby indirectly curb faculty’s intent to leave can provide cost savings to campuses while simultaneously improving faculty morale.

The Part-Time Academic Workforce and Student and Institutional Outcomes

The representation of part-time faculty in the academic labor force has increased dramatically primarily due to the burgeoning growth of college student enrollment and substantial reductions in public funding to higher education (Schuster & Finkelstein, 2006). Although part-time faculty members now account for 49% of faculty at four year institutions and 70% of the faculty at community colleges, few recent studies on the job satisfaction of part-time faculty exist (AFT, 2010). Even fewer studies distinguish between faculty who desire part-time positions (voluntary part-time faculty) and those who strive toward full-time academic appointments (involuntary part-time faculty) when discussing non-tenure track job satisfaction (Antony & Hayden, 2011; Maynard & Joseph, 2008; Toutkoushian & Bellas, 2003). [End Page 452]

Although employment of part-time faculty provides benefits to the institution, their increased employment at colleges and universities has prompted criticism from scholars who suggest that part-time faculty threaten academic quality within institutions (Bowden & Gonzalez, 2012). Evidence suggests that part-time faculty, when compared to their full-time, tenure-track colleagues, are less available to students, interact with students less frequently, and spend less time preparing for courses (Umbach, 2007). Analysis of the instructional behaviors of part-time faculty shows that they are significantly less likely to use student-centered teaching methods, which have been linked to student success and retention, compared to their tenure-track peers (Baldwin & Warzynski, 2011; Umbach, 2007).

Additionally, students who have greater exposure to contingent faculty have reduced probabilities of transferring from a community college to a four-year institution (Eagan & Jaeger, 2009; Jaeger & Eagan, 2011b) and have lower likelihoods of being retained into the second fall semester (Eagan & Jaeger, 2008; Jaeger & Eagan, 2011a); however, other research suggests no relationship exists between contingent faculty exposure and student retention (Johnson, 2011). Eagan and Jaeger (2009) emphasize the importance of not assigning blame to part-time faculty, as these empirical results do not account for working conditions nor do they specifically address what is taking place in the classroom; instead, these authors note that administrators and policymakers need to consider the working conditions endured by these individuals.

Part-Time Faculty’s Satisfaction

Variability across faculty appointment types in satisfaction (Antony & Valadez, 2002; Toutkoushian & Bellas, 2003) suggests substantial diversity within the part-time academic workforce. Maynard and Joseph (2008) conclude that involuntary part-time faculty report significantly lower levels of job satisfaction compared to part-time faculty who prefer part-time work. Although both voluntary and involuntary part-time faculty report feeling alienated from their institutions or being treated like second-class citizens, involuntary part-time faculty are less satisfied with opportunities for advancement, compensation, job security, and evaluation procedures than their voluntary part-time peers (Gappa, Austin, & Trice, 2007; Kezar & Sam, 2011; Maynard & Joseph, 2008). Voluntary part-time faculty report the highest level of satisfaction with their positions, and voluntary part-timers are more likely to agree that part-time faculty are treated fairly (Antony & Hayden, 2011). Additionally, voluntary part-time faculty have been found to rate their satisfaction with their positions in several areas, including workloads and salary, [End Page 453] equal to or higher than their tenure-track peers; only satisfaction with benefits was lower than full-time faculty satisfaction levels among voluntary part-time faculty (Antony & Hayden, 2011).

Other studies have taken a more holistic approach to studying part-time and other non-tenure track faculty satisfaction. Waltman, Bergom, Hollenshead, Miller, and August (2012) found that employment terms, such as job insecurity, limited opportunities for professional development or career advancement, and little or no guidance on how non-tenure track faculty are evaluated. Hoyt (2012) found that part-timers were less satisfied with their working conditions, including autonomy, pay, the ability to teach other subjects, contract length, better parking, and better communication from their institution—factors that contributed to faculty’s loyalty to their institutions and turnover.

Research on non-tenure track faculty, which includes those employed in part-time positions, has identified a lack of respect for part-timers from their full-time colleagues as a contributor to dissatisfaction. Waltman and colleagues (2012) interviewed 220 non-tenure track faculty and found that disrespect, or at minimum a lack of respect, from their full-time colleagues was a source of dissatisfaction in their work. Part-timers’ sense of disrespect from full-time faculty was experienced in departmental meetings, in interactions with departmental leadership, and a general perception of being ignored or devalued by colleagues (Waltman et al., 2012). Kezar (2013a, 2013b) similarly notes feelings of discontent among part-timers who experience being slighted or ignored by their full-time colleagues, particularly at times when part-timers’ expertise could have improved upon departmental decision making. These findings are core to the framework of essential elements offered by Gappa, Austin, and Trice (2007). This framework places respect at the center of faculty work, with aspects of collegiality, professional growth, flexibility, autonomy, and employment equity circling this core (Gappa, Austin, & Trice, 2007).

Missing from large-scale quantitative studies of satisfaction among part-time faculty are measures of institutional support structures. Kezar (2013a, 2013b) notes the shortcomings of institutions and departments in providing part-timers with adequate resources necessary to be successful and effective in their work. This study extends previous research by analyzing national data on part-time faculty to understand how perceptions of respect, beliefs about fairness, and levels of institutional support correlate with part-timers’ workplace satisfaction.

Frameworks to Understand the Experiences of Part-Time Faculty

Kezar and Sam (2011) suggest that research examining contingent faculty needs to move away from purely a deficit perspective and consider [End Page 454] alternative theories that may explain differences between non-tenure-line and tenure-line faculty. To counter the assumptions of deficit frameworks, Kezar and Sam (2011) suggest that underemployment theory (Maynard & Joseph, 2008) may provide better insight into the activities of contingent faculty. We also draw from Alderfer’s (1972) re-conceptualization of Maslow’s need theory, which focuses on the three basic needs of (E) existence, (R) relatedness, and (G) growth.

According to Maynard and Joseph (2008), a person is considered underemployed when his or her job is inferior to a given standard. Underemployment is typically defined using an employee’s perception of his or her fit with a particular position and can lead to feelings of disillusionment, frustration, and underutilization (Maynard, Joseph, & Maynard, 2006). Underemployment has been shown to have a significant, negative impact on individuals by fostering poor job satisfaction, decreasing organizational commitment and citizenship, and having negative ramifications on mental and physical health (Maynard, Joseph, & Maynard, 2006; McKee-Ryan, Song, Wanberg, & Kinicki, 2005). It is important to note, however, that underemployment theory is often applied in situations where “low-paying, temporary, or part-time jobs” are “occupied by individuals with a need for higher pay, job permanence, or full-time work, respectively” (Maynard & Joseph, 2008, p. 142). Part-time faculty members are only considered underemployed if they need, or want, full-time employment.

In a theoretical piece describing reasons for being underemployed and results of underemployment, Feldman (1996) posited 19 propositions associated with being underemployed. Among them, Feldman suggested that underemployed workers would be less satisfied with their jobs, be less motivated, have lower levels of job performance, and be less likely to demonstrate good organizational citizenship behaviors. Testing these propositions within academia, Maynard and Joseph (2008) conducted a single-institution study of faculty’s satisfaction and found that involuntary part-time faculty had significantly lower levels of satisfaction with regard to advancement and security compared to voluntary part-time faculty. The present study advances the work of Maynard and Joseph (2008) and Antony and Hayden (2011) by including measures of campus climate and campus support in a multilevel model predicting part-time faculty’s job satisfaction.

In considering part-time faculty, Alderfer’s (1972) ERG theory adds another level of understanding job satisfaction. Gappa, Austin, and Trice (2007) categorize Alderfer’s (1972) ERG theory as a content theory helpful in understanding faculty satisfaction. Likewise, Locke (1976) described Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory, which Alderfer (1972) advanced, as a content theory helpful in understanding satisfaction. [End Page 455] Alderfer (1972) suggests there are three basic sets of needs: existence needs which include physiological, physical, safety, and working conditions; relatedness needs, which include interpersonal relationships with coworkers, friends, and family; and growth needs, which include personal development, self-esteem, and self-actualization (Bess & Dee, 2008). Alderfer uses the concept of frustration-regression as a means to describe when the lack of satisfaction of higher-order needs, such as personal development, often lead to a return to a concern for lower order needs, such as working conditions. Bess and Dee note that Alderfer put a limit on how long a person will continue to endure the frustration of a higher-order need; thus, a frustrated higher-level need may not continue to be a motivation even if lower-level needs are satisfied. They add that if the next highest-level need continues to be frustrated, at some point it no longer serves as a motivator. In the case of part-time faculty, a lack of respect of colleagues or a lack of opportunity for professional growth may decrease their overall sense of workplace satisfaction.


This study draws from a sample of part-time faculty to examine how individual behaviors, institutional support services, and campus culture relate to part-time faculty members’ job satisfaction. Existing research examining part-time faculty has not considered institutional climate and support in determining satisfaction, in part due to a lack of data on the part-time academic workforce (Kezar & Maxey, 2012). Specifically, we address the following research questions:

  1. 1. To what extent does job satisfaction among part-time faculty at four-year colleges and universities vary across institutions? Can measures of campus climate and institutional characteristics account for this variation?

  2. 2. Is there a difference in overall job satisfaction between voluntary and involuntary part-time faculty? If a difference exists, can it be explained away by part-time faculty’s perceptions of the campus climate and campus resources provided to part-timers?

  3. 3. Are part-time faculty who have access to campus support services and resources (e.g., office space, computers, email accounts) significantly more satisfied in their academic appointments?


The data for this study come from the 2010–2011 administration of the HERI Faculty Survey. This cross-sectional triennial survey asks faculty [End Page 456] to report on the types of courses they teach, the pedagogical practices they utilize in their classroom, their priorities for undergraduate education, and their perceptions about their institution. This study analyzes a subsample of 4,169 faculty respondents who indicated they were employed in a part-time appointment by their institution; importantly, this sample does not include graduate student respondents, as graduate teaching assistants were excluded from the survey administration. These part-time faculty members were distributed across 279 four-year colleges and universities (see Hurtado, Eagan, Pryor, Whang, & Tran, 2012, for more information about the instrument and sampling design). We supplemented faculty-level data with 2010–2011 academic year institutional data from the Integrated Postsecondary Educational Data System (IPEDS).


The dependent variable for this study was a construct representing respondents’ workplace satisfaction analysts at HERI generated through item response theory (IRT) analyses, and Table 1 provides the parameters for the measure. The construct includes items related to faculty members’ satisfaction with autonomy, professional relationships with other faculty, competency of colleagues, departmental leadership, and course assignments. IRT takes a model-based approach to measuring and scoring latent traits, which is an improvement over classical test theory approach that are essentially model free (Embretson & Reise, 2000). The construct was standardized and rescaled to have a mean of 50 and a standard deviation of 10.

Previous research examining part-time faculty has focused on a number of aspects of satisfaction. Antony and Hayden (2011), for example, focused on faculty’s satisfaction with compensation and instructional duties. HERI’s workplace satisfaction construct taps into at least two of the subscales. By contrast, Maynard and Joseph (2008) took a broad approach and examined differences among full-time, involuntary part-time, and voluntary part-time faculty across 18 different facets of satisfaction. The HERI construct of workplace satisfaction includes aspects of satisfaction with independence and co-workers, which Maynard and Joseph (2008) measured as two separate five-item subscales. Given the items included in the HERI construct, we measure the self-directed (intrinsic) and the collegial relationships (extrinsic) aspects of satisfaction described by Kalleberg (1977).

This study had several key independent variables. Part-time faculty respondents answered questions related to support services offered by their institutions: use of a private office, use of a shared office, an institutional [End Page 457] email account, a campus-provided personal computer, and campus phone/voicemail. Respondents provided information about their perceptions of the campus climate, including their opinions regarding the likelihood that part-timers get hired into full-time positions, receive respect from students, receive respect from full-time faculty, and have access to professional development for improving teaching, among others. These support services and individual perceptions of the campus climate represented key measures in addressing the culture of support encountered and perceived by part-time faculty. Additionally, we included a variable indicating whether part-time faculty had recently sought full-time employment in academia, which would indicate the possibility of feeling underemployed. Prior research (Antony & Hayden, 2011; Maynard & Joseph, 2008) has suggested involuntary part-time faculty may be less satisfied in their positions than faculty who choose to work part-time. The model accounted for a number of other demographic, educational training, and professional experience variables that may relate to part-time faculty members’ workplace satisfaction (e.g. types of courses taught, academic discipline, use of student-centered pedagogy, hours per week spent teaching).

Table 1. Parameter Estimates from Item Response Theory for Workplace Satisfaction
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Table 1.

Parameter Estimates from Item Response Theory for Workplace Satisfaction

Finally, the model included several institutional characteristics and aggregated measures of faculty’s perceptions of the campus climate to account for institutional context. Due to data limitations, previous research has not fully explored contextual factors influencing the satisfaction of part-time faculty members. Therefore, we explored possible associations between part-timers’ job satisfaction and measures of institutional control and selectivity. Table 2 provides a full accounting of all included variables and their corresponding coding schemes. [End Page 458]

Table 2. Analytic Variables and Their Corresponding Coding Schemes
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Table 2.

Analytic Variables and Their Corresponding Coding Schemes

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Before proceeding with our multivariate analyses, we first addressed issues related to missing data. None of the variables in the model had more than 5% of cases missing; therefore, we relied on the expectation maximization (EM) algorithm to impute values for cases with missing data. The EM algorithm employs maximum likelihood estimation techniques to impute values for cases with missing data, which is a more robust method of dealing with missing data than listwise deletion or mean replacement (McLachlan & Krishnan, 1997). We did not impute values for data missing on the outcome, demographic characteristics, or any institutional measures

Given the multilevel structure to the data, as part-time faculty were nested within institutions, this study utilized hierarchical linear modeling (HLM). HLM accounts for the clustered nature of the data and decreases the likelihood of making a Type I statistical error (Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002). After running a fully unconditional model (a model without any independent variables), we determined that approximately 3.5% of the variance in workplace satisfaction was due to differences across institutions. Although this intraclass correlation coefficient was relatively small, indicating that the vast majority of the variation in workplace satisfaction can be attributed to differences across individuals, this study pursued HLM analyses given the interest in examining the role that institutional context plays in part-time faculty members’ workplace satisfaction. Additionally, Thomas and Heck (2001) note that single-level analyses are inappropriate if predictor variables occur at multiple levels, as is the case with this study.

Many of these part-time faculty reported working at multiple campuses; however, due to a lack of information on the other institutions at which they were employed, the analyses for this study draw from information about the “home” campus that administered the HERI Faculty Survey to part-time faculty. Table 3 compares background and professional characteristics for part-time faculty who reported working at only one campus and those who indicated they taught at more than one campus. We note a handful of significant differences between these groups. Part-time faculty teaching at just one institution are more likely to be affiliated with a STEM department (24% vs. 18%) and report working at their home institution for significantly more years (9.42 vs. 7.21). Part-time faculty who work at more than one campus are more heavily concentrated at the instructor rank (52% vs. 46%) and are significantly more likely to be underemployed (80% vs. 68%). In addition to controlling for whether part-time faculty teach at more than one campus, we conducted sensitivity analyses by rerunning our model on the [End Page 461] subsample of part-time faculty who taught at just one institution (N = 2,446) and found no substantive differences in coefficients.

Table 3. Descriptive Statistics for Part-Time Faculty Working at Single and Multiple Institutions
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Table 3.

Descriptive Statistics for Part-Time Faculty Working at Single and Multiple Institutions


This study has three limitations that must be acknowledged. First, we analyzed cross-sectional data, which limits our ability to make causal inferences. The outcome and predictor variables were all measured at the same time point, so it may be the case that an individual’s workplace satisfaction preceded the particular experiences or perceived climates reported on the survey. Additionally, analysis of secondary data restricted us to the variables included in the 2010–2011 HERI Faculty Survey and their associated definitions.

Finally, these data are not necessarily generalizable beyond the current sample. Although we analyzed data from more than 4,000 part-time faculty across nearly 300 four-year colleges and universities, the sampling process was not random and was not evenly distributed across institutional types, disciplines, or ranks. Multi-institutional data on part-time faculty remains somewhat elusive with only a handful of organizations collecting data on this growing component of the academic workforce. Although data collected by the National Survey of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF: 2004) and the Coalition on the Academic [End Page 462] Workforce (CAW: 2012) contain larger samples of part-time faculty, both instruments lacked variables regarding respondents’ satisfaction with colleagues and departments. Instead, these larger data-sets tend to focus almost exclusively on part-timers’ satisfaction with compensation. Other instruments often lack detailed information about the types of supports that institutions offer part-timers, as again both NSOPF and CAW data focus on the ways institutions support part-time faculty through salary and benefit packages rather than addressing some of the higher-order supports included in the 2010–2011 HERI Faculty Survey. Thus, although limited in terms of the systematic collection of data on part-time faculty, the measures included in the HERI Faculty Survey provide an opportunity to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the characteristics, experiences, and institutional contexts that correlate with part-timers’ workplace satisfaction. Despite these limitations, this study is the only one to examine the issue of part-time faculty satisfaction for both voluntary and involuntary faculty, while considering individual behaviors, institutional support services, and campus culture.


Descriptive Statistics

Table 4 presents descriptive statistics for variables included in the HLM analyses. This sample of part-time faculty is, on average, about as satisfied as all faculty at four-year institutions, as the workplace satisfaction construct built by HERI has a population mean of 50 and a standard deviation of 10. This sample of part-time faculty has a mean of 49.71.

Roughly 73% of part-time faculty in this sample were identified as being underemployed or involuntarily employed part-time—working in part-time appointments but desiring and/or seeking full-time academic positions—a sobering fact given the potential negative implications of underemployment mentioned earlier in this article and the reality that institutions cannot accommodate an employment change for this large group of individuals. The descriptive statistics in Table 4 show that 81% of the sample self-identified as White and 53% as female. Part-timers had spent approximately 8.6 years at their current institution, and just more than a third (34%) had earned a terminal degree. Fewer than one in five (18%) of part-timers in the sample had use of a private office on their campus, but nearly half (45%) were provided shared office space by their college or university. [End Page 463]

Table 4. Descriptive Statistics for the Full Sample
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Table 4.

Descriptive Statistics for the Full Sample

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HLM Findings

Table 5 shows the results of the HLM analyses for the full sample of part-time faculty. The appendix contains the results for the sensitivity analyses for the subsample of part-time faculty who reported teaching at just one campus (N = 2,446). Given the similarities between the results of the full sample and subsample models, we focus our findings on the results of the full sample.

We present our findings across five models: underemployment status only; underemployment status with demographic and professional characteristics; underemployment status, demographic and professional characteristics, and part-time faculty resources and perspectives; all faculty-level variables; and the final, full model with all faculty and institutional measures. Providing results across these five successive models allows for an opportunity to demonstrate how the relationship between satisfaction and our key variable of interest—underemployment status—changes as other predictors are added to the model.

In the first model that regresses workplace satisfaction on underemployment status, we found that involuntary or underemployed part-time faculty, the vast majority of the sample, have significantly lower levels of workplace satisfaction relative to their colleagues who prefer to work part-time. The difference in workplace satisfaction between involuntary and voluntary part-time faculty in this first model was roughly one-tenth of a standard deviation. The gap narrowed somewhat but remained significant in the second model when we added demographic and professional characteristics to the model. Among the demographic characteristics included in Model 2, we found that White part-time faculty were significantly more satisfied than their non-White colleagues. Additionally, faculty working in professional departments (e.g., education, business, architecture, journalism) tended to be significantly more satisfied than their part-time colleagues working in all other departments. STEM faculty were not significantly different in their reported level of job satisfaction when compared to faculty in other departments.

Model 3 added several measures of the campus resources provided to part-time faculty and part-timers’ perspectives about their institution. When we added these resources and perspectives to the model, the association between underemployment status and workplace satisfaction became nonsignificant. Investigating further, we found that the inclusion of part-timers’ perspective that part-time faculty have good working relationships with the administration and that part-time faculty were well-respected by full-time faculty shared enough predictive power with underemployment status to negate its significance. Specifically, [End Page 466]

Table 5. Findings from HLM Analyses Predicting Part-Time Faculty’s Workplace Satisfaction
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Table 5.

Findings from HLM Analyses Predicting Part-Time Faculty’s Workplace Satisfaction

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involuntary part-time faculty were less likely to feel that part-timers had good working relationships with the administration, and they were less likely to believe that full-time faculty respected part-time faculty. Thus, the change in significance for the underemployment coefficient suggests that part of the reason that involuntary part-time faculty have lower levels of workplace satisfaction can be attributed to the fact that involuntary part-timers tend to have more negative views about their relationships with administration and the respect part-time faculty receive from full-time colleagues.

In looking at the specific associations between campus resources given to part-time faculty and workplace satisfaction, we found that part-time faculty who had use of a private office were significantly more satisfied than their colleagues who did not have access to any kind of office. Likewise, part-timers whose campuses provided them with shared office space were significantly more satisfied than their part-time peers without an office. Having use of a campus-provided personal computer also had a significant, positive association with workplace satisfaction. Part-timers who felt close alignment between their chosen profession and their assigned courses reported significantly higher levels of workplace satisfaction. Likewise, respondents endorsing the notion that part-time faculty on their campus had a good working relationship with the administration also rated themselves as more satisfied. Sensing respect for part-time faculty from their full-time colleagues was significantly and positively associated with workplace satisfaction.

Model 4 included all faculty-level variables. In this model, the satisfaction gap between White and non-White faculty persisted, with White faculty reporting significantly higher levels of workplace satisfaction. Many of the campus resources and part-time faculty perspectives continued to have significant associations with workplace satisfaction; however, the gap in satisfaction between those with access to campus-provided personal computers and those without access became nonsignificant with the addition of other faculty variables. Part-timers who experienced close alignment between work and personal values rated themselves as more satisfied with their work. By contrast, respondents who felt they had to work harder in order to be perceived as legitimate scholars tended to be significantly less satisfied. Feeling a general sense of respect among all faculty at the institution was significantly associated with greater levels of workplace satisfaction. Likewise, respondents who felt that their campus rewarded good teaching also reported being significantly more satisfied. Sensing that departments valued one’s teaching and research significantly and positively correlated with workplace satisfaction. By contrast, part-timers who [End Page 470] felt that the students they taught lacked the basic skills for college-level work tended to also rate themselves as being less satisfied. Model 4 also included a measure of part-time faculty’s satisfaction with their compensation, and we found that part-timers who were more satisfied with their salary and benefits also tended to be significantly more satisfied with measures of autonomy and relationships with their colleagues.

The parameter estimates for faculty-level measures stayed consistent between Models 4 and 5. The final model added a small set of institutional predictors that aimed to assess the campus context for part-time faculty. Only one institutional predictor had a significant association with workplace satisfaction. Part-time faculty working at private colleges and universities rated themselves as significantly more satisfied compared to their colleagues at public institutions. It may be the case that private institutions have additional resources to provide more supportive working conditions for part-time faculty. Supplemental analyses not shown here indicate similar levels of support (i.e., office space, computers) were offered to part-time faculty across both public and private institutions. Thus, this finding may be tapping into other ways not measured on the HERI Faculty Survey that institutions support the work of part-time faculty, including contract length and notification of course assignments.

We present our model diagnostics at the bottom of Table 5. The predictors in the final model accounted for 44.2% of the within institution variance in workplace satisfaction and 86.4% of the between institution variance. It is important to note that a mere 3.5% of the total variance in the outcome was attributed to differences across institutions; thus, our model explains a very large percentage of a small amount of between-institution variance. Additionally, much of the between-institution variance was explained after accounting for the characteristics and experiences of part-time faculty working in those institutions. Overall, our final model explained 45.8% of the total variance in workplace satisfaction.

Resource and Perspective Differences between Voluntary and Involuntary Part-Timers

Due to the multicollinearity between underemployment status and several campus resources and part-time faculty perspectives, we tested for significant differences in these measures between involuntary and voluntary part-time faculty. Table 6 presents the results of these analyses. Involuntary part-time faculty were significantly more likely to have access to private offices (19.1% vs. 14.7%), shared offices (47.3% vs. 34.7%), and campus-provided personal computers (41.6% vs. 34.7%). [End Page 471] By contrast, voluntary part-time faculty were significantly more likely to feel that part-timers on their campus had good working relationships with the administration. Likewise, voluntary part-time faculty were significantly more likely to feel that full-time faculty respected their part-time colleagues. Thus, although our final model demonstrated that voluntary and involuntary part-time faculty reported similar levels of satisfaction with their working environment, we can say with confidence that part of the reason involuntary part-time faculty initially appeared to be significantly less satisfied with their working environments can be attributed to their likelihood to feel less respected by full-time faculty and a reduced sense of having good working relationships with the administration.

Table 6. Differences in Resources and Perspectives between Voluntary and Involuntary Part-Time Faculty
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Table 6.

Differences in Resources and Perspectives between Voluntary and Involuntary Part-Time Faculty

Discussion and Conclusion

Our findings add critical information to the discussion of part-time faculty satisfaction. Part-time faculty in this study were not satisfied with relationships with administrators and colleagues (Alderfer’s higher order (R) relatedness needs); thus, lower order needs (working conditions) became more important. Although campus administrators may not consider issues such as shared versus private offices or personal computers to be high priority, these concerns can become increasingly significant if the higher-order needs of part-time faculty, such as relationships with colleagues, are not met. Furthermore, a continued lack of satisfaction with (G) growth needs, which were operationalized in [End Page 472] this study as feeling that it is necessary to work hard to be seen as a legitimate faculty member and feeling valued for contributions such as teaching, could frustrate part-time faculty so that lower-level needs that part-time faculty previously found satisfactory, such as level of compensation, would no longer serve as motivators.

Our findings also connect with the framework of essential elements for faculty work proposed by Gappa, Austin, and Trice (2007). Satisfaction, as measured by relationships with colleagues, autonomy, and departmental leadership is lower among faculty who sense that their colleagues lack respect for the work of part-time faculty or feel that their full-time counterparts do not value their scholarly contributions to the department. With a diminished sense of respect, part-time faculty in our study tend to report significantly less satisfaction with other crucial elements of faculty work, namely collegiality, autonomy, and leadership.

Similarly, we argue that institutional support mechanisms, such as office space and computers, signify a level of respect coming from the larger campus. In cases where faculty enjoy these basic amenities of university life, they report increased levels of workplace satisfaction. Part-time faculty who do not have access to some of these essential support structures report significantly reduced levels of satisfaction. Thus, the notion of respect as it relates to part-timers’ satisfaction includes not only the extent to which full-time faculty esteem and value the contributions of part-time faculty but also the ways in which institutions allocate resources to support the important work of part-timers.

In addition to adding to our understanding of the connection between respect and part-time faculty satisfaction, our findings shed light on the issue of underemployment among part-time faculty. When considering underemployment status on its own, underemployed part-time faculty have significantly lower levels of workplace satisfaction compared to their part-time colleagues who prefer teaching part-time; however, our findings suggest that this gap in satisfaction may be due to involuntary part-timers’ perception that part-time faculty lack good working relationships with the administration and their diminished sense of respect from full-time colleagues. It may also be the case that those who involuntarily work in part-time positions may foster negative perceptions of the administration. Those who are classified as involuntary part-time faculty may have their senses heightened to issues of respect and inclusion, as voluntary part-timers may gain affirmation from colleagues in other employment venues.

Our findings begin to explain why involuntary part-time faculty tend to be less satisfied, building upon earlier research (Antony & Hayden, 2011; Maynard & Joseph, 2008). It is not necessarily the involuntary [End Page 473] status of some part-timers in and of itself that leads to lower levels of workplace satisfaction, as suggested by others (Antony & Hayden, 2011; Maynard & Joseph, 2008; Maynard, Joseph, & Maynard, 2006). Instead, involuntary part-time faculty’s sense of a lack of respect among their full-time peers and frustration with campus administrators explains, in part, the initial differences in satisfaction with measures of autonomy, course assignments, and departmental leadership. Workplace satisfaction among involuntary part-time faculty seems to be more strongly correlated with feelings of friction among themselves, campus administrators, and their full-time colleagues.


It is imperative that institutions realize that addressing part-time faculty’s lower level needs for adequate working conditions may not be enough to improve long-term workplace satisfaction among part-time faculty. Alderfer’s (1972) work and the data from this study suggest faculty development is critical for part-time faculty. Campus administrators need to provide ongoing professional development or other types of activities that support faculty’s higher-level needs such as self-esteem, growth, and self-actualization. If Alderfer’s (1972) theory holds, attempting to increase part-time faculty workplace satisfaction by only providing part-timers with office space may become insufficient, as part-time faculty also seek autonomy, professional growth, and respect.

From our findings, we offer a set of recommendations for campuses to consider to improve the working conditions and experiences of part-time faculty. Four-year colleges and universities have an opportunity to improve the campus climate for part-time faculty. Part-timers who felt respected by their full-time colleagues and who had a general sense of respect among all faculty at the institution also rated themselves as significantly more satisfied. Administrators and department chairs may cultivate respect for part-timers by offering opportunities to become more integrated into the institution and the department. Part-time faculty—particularly those with desires for full-time academic positions— may embrace voluntary opportunities to participate in departmental and institutional decision-making, allowing them to make use of their extensive training and socialization in academia writ large and their respective disciplines (Rhoades, 1998). For example, Kezar (2013a, 2013b) notes that part-time faculty often feel slighted when departmental colleagues ignore the expertise they have to offer with regard to textbook selection or curricular input. Having greater visibility and recognition for part-time faculty within the department and institution may foster a [End Page 474] stronger sense of respect among faculty of all appointment types, which has the potential to increase part-timers’ workplace satisfaction.

Our findings also point to recognition for good teaching as a way that campuses can improve part-time faculty’s workplace satisfaction. Part-timers who felt that their departments valued their teaching and that their institutions rewarded good teaching also rated themselves as significantly more satisfied. Given that the primary responsibility of part-time faculty is teaching undergraduates, it is no surprise that recognition of instruction positively connects with part-time faculty’s satisfaction. Including part-time faculty in the consideration of teaching awards is a simple strategy that department chairs and other administrators might consider to improve workplace satisfaction among part-time faculty. Although it is likely that teaching awards may be open to part-time faculty, part-time faculty may not be made aware of such opportunities nor encouraged to apply. Improving communication between administrators and part-time faculty about these opportunities is a low-stakes effort that has the potential to significantly improve workplace satisfaction for this group of faculty.

Offering part-time faculty access to professional growth opportunities that focus on career development could be viewed as another means by which the institution recognizes the contributions of part-time faculty and signifies its commitment to them, which connects to work by Kezar (2013a). Our results show that instructors are less satisfied than part-time faculty who have achieved some higher level of rank and those without terminal degrees are less satisfied than part-time faculty with terminal degrees. Offering professional development opportunities that would support part-time faculty in advancing in rank or furthering education would not only benefit the faculty member but would also benefit the institution. Faculty development sessions could also address Alderfer’s relatedness issues, as part-time and full-time faculty would have opportunities to engage together in such sessions.

Providing part-time faculty with office space on campus—whether it be private or shared—could significantly improve part-timers’ workplace satisfaction. Offices give part-time faculty a space to re-group and decompress before, after, and between classes, plan their lessons, connect with colleagues, and meet with students, enabling them to engage in professional behaviors that resemble those of their full-time colleagues (Kezar, 2013b). Given that part-timers appeared equally satisfied whether they had use of a shared or a private office, we propose that campuses could provide such space to part-time faculty relatively efficiently and inexpensively. Providing such space could also support [End Page 475] higher-order relationship needs as full-time and part-time faculty may be more likely to interact if in close proximity.

Campuses have an opportunity to think more holistically about ways to support the work of part-time faculty. Addressing issues of office space and computer access represent some of the low hanging fruit institutions can use to improve working conditions endured by part-timers. Given the growing numbers of part-timers nationwide, bold action is needed. Integrating part-timers into departmental and institutional governance structures, recognizing and valuing them from their contributions, and integrating them into the fabric of the university represent much larger challenges, yet our findings suggest that these strategies may have the most significant benefits with regard to addressing part-timers’ workplace satisfaction.

Areas for Future Research

While our study sheds new light on ways that campuses can improve the working conditions and workplace satisfaction among part-time faculty, our findings raise several questions. First, future work in this area should consider connecting measures of campus resources and perceptions of campus climate to part-time faculty’s institutional commitment and pedagogical effectiveness. Prior research has contended that part-time faculty are less effective in the classroom and less available to students (Baldwin & Wawryznski, 2011; Umbach, 2007); however, such work has ignored the role of campus resources and campus climate. As shown through our findings, the resources afforded to part-timers and part-time faculty’s sense of the campus climate have a significant connection with their overall level of workplace satisfaction. Thus, by including measures of campus resources and perceptions of campus climate, future work may find that it is not part-time faculty’s contingent status that contributes to less desirable outcomes; instead, perhaps it is the working conditions that they endure.

Second, future surveys of part-time faculty need to include measures related to professional development opportunities and professional development funds provided to part-time faculty, as the current dataset lacked many of these measures. Having access to these measures would provide additional opportunities to examine how meeting part-timers’ growth needs connects with outcomes related to satisfaction, institutional commitment, and performance.

Finally, our final model indicated a persistent satisfaction gap between White and non-White faculty, with non-White faculty reporting lower levels of workplace satisfaction than their White colleagues. This is an important finding that needs further exploration. Future research [End Page 476] needs to explore the differences between non-White and White part-time faculty in terms of their experience.

The growth of the part-time academic workforce shows no signs of slowing. Given part-timers’ ever-increasing representation on all types of campuses, research needs to continue to investigate ways in which colleges and universities can better support these individuals in their important work of educating students. Likewise, college administrators and department chairs need to consider the actionable implications of such work and begin implementing policies and programs that aim to improve the working conditions of part-time faculty. This study has offered several efficient, inexpensive strategies that campuses could begin implementing immediately, including providing office space to part-time faculty and offering voluntary opportunities to begin participating in campus and departmental governance. These low-cost, low-effort strategies require few resources on behalf of administrators; however, such policies and practices have the potential to make significant differences in the job satisfaction of part-time faculty, building stronger institutions that are more supportive of the needs of their employees.

M. Kevin Eagan

M. Kevin Eagan Jr. is an Assistant Professor in residence at the University of California, Los Angeles;

Audrey J. Jaeger

Audrey J. Jaeger is Professor of Higher Education and Alumni Distinguished Graduate Professor at North Carolina State University.

Ashley Grantham

Ashley Grantham is a doctoral candidate at North Carolina State University.


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