Teaching Careers and Professional Development Updated September 1, 2020

Adjunct Professor: Job Outlook, Education, Salary

By The Editorial Team

In a recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics, of the 1.5 million faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, 47 percent were part-time. Part-time faculty are also referred to as adjunct faculty. Given the large number of adjuncts teaching students, the position of an adjunct is clearly an important one. Colleges need instructors, and this position allows prospective academics the opportunity to try out the role of professor and experienced instructors to expand their professional opportunities. Adjunct professors are typically hired by schools on a contractual, part-time basis.  

The role of adjunct professor may vary across colleges based on budgets and the availability of qualified applicants. There may be limitations to an adjunct professor position, but there are also definitely benefits. Depending on the desire of the prospective professor, the role of adjunct may be a perfect fit.

> Adjunct professor job description
> Who makes good adjunct faculty?

Adjunct faculty in-depth
> Education qualifications
> Salary range for adjunct professors
> Employment projections
> Advantages & disadvantages

Professional development
> Continuing education
> Professional associations

At-a-glance: adjunct instructor

Adjunct faculty now make up the majority of instructors in higher education institutions nationwide.

Adjunct professors are defined as professors who are hired on a contractual basis, usually in part-time positions. Adjunct faculty teach courses just as full-time professors do, but they are exempt from some of the responsibilities of fully employed university instructors.

The career pathway for adjunct professors may be an uncertain one: for example, jobs are on a contract basis and compensation is usually less than that of full-time professors. For some adjunct faculty, though, the opportunities may outweigh the challenges.

Regardless of the specialized circumstances adjunct professors find themselves in, one thing is sure: They love to teach and work with students.

Adjunct professor job description

Adjunct professors typically spend most of their time interacting with and teaching students, while maintaining flexibility in fulfilling various responsibilities.

Typical duties of adjunct instructors may include the following:

  • Teaching graduate and undergraduate students in a specific field of expertise
  • Developing and managing the class syllabus and ensuring that the syllabus meets department and college standards
  • Planning and creating lectures, in-class discussions, and assignments
  • Grading assigned papers, quizzes, and exams
  • Assessing grades for students based on participation, performance in class, assignments, and examinations
  • Reporting student learning outcomes, class reviews, and analyzing student data
  • Collaborating with colleagues on course curriculum
  • Advising students on how to be successful and achieve goals
  • Staying updated on innovations and changes within their course field
  • Participating in professional development activities

Adjuncts may teach a course in a face-to-face setting one term, and then the next term they may teach the same course in a distance education environment using a learning management system (LMS), as well as other media channels for communication. If you have attended an online graduate program or have worked in that environment already, then you bring additional knowledge and experience to an adjunct assignment.

In considering adjunct faculty positions, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the position’s responsibilities, as they may vary. Many of the duties expected of full-time professors are not required of adjuncts. For example, adjunct faculty are not required to conduct research, publish papers, or attend staff meetings and events as a condition of their appointment.

Who makes good adjunct faculty?

An effective adjunct professor is someone who is:

  • A clear communicator who provides value-added comments and information to students
  • Able to teach using real-world experience
  • Able to confidently teach and present to a class of students
  • Technologically savvy: can utilize email, a range of online learning systems, and other ways to communicate with students
  • Passionate about specific academic fields and education in general
  • An understanding of the use of curriculum design, pedagogy, and learning outcome alignment
  • Successful in collaborating with colleagues

Adjunct faculty in-depth

Education requirements

  • Education: Master’s or Doctoral graduate degree
  • Typical time to earn a graduate degree: 3-7 years

Most commonly, adjunct professors must have completed a master’s degree to teach in higher education. Community colleges or technical schools may only require a bachelor’s degree, along with relevant experience in certain disciplines. Previous teaching experience in a university or college setting is often preferred.

The demand for adjunct professors has grown, and so has the competition. Some areas of study have more applicants than open positions. As a result, many institutions may prefer applicants who have completed or who are currently enrolled in a doctoral program in the field of the teaching assignment.

Adjuncts are often hired to teach a specific course that other faculty may not have expertise in or courses that are in high demand. Individuals filling these positions may find recurring opportunities to teach these classes.

Average salaries for adjunct faculty

Salary ranges for higher education adjunct professors vary widely, depending on the state, type of college, the discipline professors teach, and the professors’ education level, teaching experience, and field expertise. It can also be based on the degree held by the applicant.

According to ZipRecruiter,com, average annual pay for adjunct professors by state varies from $51,077 to $72,907. Compensation can sometimes be calculated on a per-course or hourly basis, ranging from $26 to $95 an hour.

Salaries also vary by institution type: Typically adjunct faculty earn higher pay in traditional four-year institutions, compared to those who work in community colleges.

Here is a snapshot of average annual salaries for adjunct faculty:

  • Glassdoor.com: $35,839
  • PayScale.com: $35,269
  • ZipRecruiter.com: $58,422

Job outlook for adjunct professors

The employment of adjunct professors depends on several factors. While enrollment rates in colleges and universities are expected to increase, hiring of both full-time and adjunct faculty is dependent on school and departmental budgets and student demand for specific courses.

Job outlook for post-secondary teachers is expected to grow 11 percent through 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) BLS. The BLS also reports that the majority of employment growth is likely to be in part-time positions, including part-time post-secondary teaching.

Certain subjects are in higher demand than others. According to the job outlook data from the BLS, post-secondary professor employment projections will increase in these subjects by 2028 by the following percentages:

  • Business: 16%
  • Biological science: 12%
  • Psychology: 12%
  • Health Specialities: 23%
  • Nursing Instructors: 20%

Many online institutions of higher learning hire part-time adjunct professors. Teaching for an accredited online university allows for flexibility in hiring and in teaching since educators can be hired from remote locations.

Challenges and opportunities for adjunct instructors

Many of the disadvantages of working as an adjunct faculty member have been highly publicized. In most circumstances, however, there are advantages to consider as well.


  • Adjunct status can serve as a basis for pursuing a full-time position.
  • Adjunct instructors enjoy flexibility in their time commitments that allows the pursuit of personal or other professional opportunities while still fulfilling their teaching requirements.
  • Adjunct instructors can focus on teaching and curriculum, rather than committee or department work.
  • The environment is collegial and intellectually fulfilling.
  • Adjunct professors can positively impact the students they teach.


  • Salary, often on a per course or hourly basis, is usually less than that of a full-time professor.
  • Positions are contractual and are usually renewed on a per-course basis.
  • Adjunct faculty may commit the same amount of non-classroom hours as full-time professors.
  • Adjuncts do not usually receive health insurance, retirement plans, or other employee benefits.
  • Adjunct faculty may not have a physically designated office space at the university.

Professional development

For many adjunct faculty, the next step in their career path is to be appointed to an assistant or associate professor position with the goal of gaining full-time employment. Participating in professional development may give adjuncts an advantage in seeking full- or part-time positions.

Continuing education

Most adjuncts are subject matter experts in a particular discipline, but they may not have a lot of teaching experience or faculty development opportunities. A small number of institutions provide access to professional development funds.
A challenge for new adjuncts may be classroom management and teaching a wide age range of adults. Adjuncts who are able to teach graduate courses may receive higher pay than teaching at the undergraduate level, but institutions may require a terminal degree for graduate level teaching.

Professional associations

Historically, the professional landscape for adjunct instructors has not looked promising. Because adjunct jobs rely heavily on several external factors, the stability for those as contingent faculty is slim to none.

With college enrollment rates in flux and more schools reallocating their resources to accommodate contingent faculty, adjuncts are finding more benefits. Several professional organizations work solely to support the careers of adjunct professors:

Interested in an adjunct position?

For detailed information on applying for an adjunct teaching position, please visit facultyjobs.versidi.com.

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