Why adjunct professors matter

We are often students' bridge to the real world

FOR FAMILIES INVESTING heavily in a college education for their children, there may be some tendency to think that tenured professors are the best teachers. After all, they have dedicated their careers to education. They publish, they live and breathe academic life, they are scholars.

All true. Tenured professors represent some of the finest minds students will encounter during their college careers. It is a fantastic benefit and can change the way young people see the world and their place in it.

Yet, the reasons many people go to college are more practical than philosophical. A college education means more earning power throughout a lifetime, more career options and flexibility, and a valuable network that can make or break a career. A college education can be a journey of self-discovery, particularly for the independently wealthy. For the rest of us, it is an investment in the future designed to be an earnings multiplier and a career magnifier.

This is where adjunct professors shine. Adjunct professors get paid by the course at a much lower rate than their tenured counterparts, despite doing the same job. They work in the fields they teach: law, finance, government, engineering, communications, media. Their skills and knowledge are state-of-the-art because they have to be. They teach because they love what they do and want to cultivate new talent in their chosen fields.

How does this benefit your favorite college student? Students get the benefit of practical knowledge to complement the academic education they receive. They learn from people who are out in the world every day, practicing their trades and navigating industry changes in real-time.

Adjunct professors pass this real-world knowledge and experience to their students. They use their connections and relationships in the industry to secure internships, interviews, graduate school opportunities, and meaningful jobs for their students. They cultivate talent in the classrooms and connect students to opportunities that can set the path for their entire careers.

In fact, many students have been referred to campaigns and the State House through contacts made from adjuncts and have gone on to run for office and/or careers in politics and government. The financial district is right down the street from Suffolk University, where we teach, and where many business school adjunct professors work and connect alumni in the field to students all the time.

Despite the tremendous value and experience they bring to universities and students, adjunct professors in most universities face uncertainty every semester because they are often the last to know whether, when, and what they will be teaching. For the adjuncts, it means the inability to plan work and family activities and financial uncertainty. For students, especially those who have developed a rapport with a certain instructor, this can be frustrating. They may be forced to register for required classes with no information about who will be teaching the course.

The hope among the adjunct community is that higher education administrators will commit to improving the pay scale, job security, and course notification processes. Addressing these areas of uncertainty and disparity will convey a clear message to students and families that they value the entire team that delivers on their investment in the university, and allows those of us at the head of the classroom to adequately prepare and deliver the best possible experience to the students we serve.

Lawrence Overlan is president of the Suffolk Affiliated Faculty chapter of the American Association of University Professors. Kristine Glynn is treasurer of the Suffolk Affiliated Faculty chapter of the American Association of University Professors. She is a Suffolk alumna and has been an adjunct professor for 15 years in the university’s political science & legal studies department.