Adjunct Faculty: Who They Are and What is Their Experience?

Adjuncts are commonly perceived as recent Ph.D. graduates teaching multiple classes while pursuing a tenure-track position. This is hardly the norm.


Part-time nontenure-track faculty comprise 47% of the U.S. academic work force, and two-thirds of them are "adjuncts." (The rest have additional employment outside higher education or have retired from a tenured position.) Adjuncts thus make up roughly one third of all faculty. This report leverages data from the 2018 Adjunct Faculty Survey to examine the characteristics and experiences of adjuncts, including their demographics, employment experience, position preferences and career satisfaction.

Key Insights

  • About 70% of adjuncts are over age 40, and 52% are women. Most (56%) earned a master’s as their highest degree attained; one third have a Ph.D.
  • About half teach one or two courses at a single institution; 22% teach three or more classes at two or more institutions. * Adjuncts are paid an average of $3,000 per course, but almost 60% receive less.
  • While half would prefer to have a tenure-track position, two-thirds of all adjuncts report being satisfied overall with their academic careers. * Adjuncts under age 40 are more likely to be dissatisfied with their career, as are those with a Ph.D.

While the number of tenured and tenure-track faculty has grown in recent decades, the ranks of adjunct faculty have increased much more rapidly, resulting in a dramatic shift in faculty workforce composition.


The researchers surveyed 502 adjunct faculty members online from May 14 to June 8, 2018. Survey respondents were selected from the Research Now online research panel, one of the most comprehensive and deeply profiled online survey panels. Respondents represented all sectors of higher education, and 93% were employed at a college or university during the Spring 2018 semester. The remainder were employed during the Fall 2017 semester.


Paul Yakoboski

TIAA Institute

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