Adjuncts vs Full-Time Professors at College

Dr. Michael Scharff

Whether you’ve just started college or plan to begin soon, you’ll learn a new vocabulary—starting with what you call your teachers. You probably already know that instructors at the college level are generally called professors. That’s because they’ve attained a certain degree level and experience at the collegiate level. But even under the title of “professor” you’re likely to encounter assistant and associate professors. Another category with which you might not be familiar at all are the adjuncts. These are people who work at the university part-time. And while they may be extremely qualified, they are not permanently affiliated with the college, don’t receive the same benefits as their full-time colleagues, and save the school money. Will you have full-time, full-fledged professors or adjuncts? Here’s what you need to understand:

What Is an Adjunct?

An adjunct instructor is a part-time faculty member who is hired on a contractual basis. They may teach for only a few semesters before they return to their industry full time. Per semester, they usually teach a few courses on introductory or general subjects. Because they aren’t considered a full-time employee of a college or university, they don’t have the same academic responsibilities that a full professor does—nor do they get the benefits of being a full-time hire.

On the other hand, a full professor is a full-time faculty member. They may hold the title of professor, associate professor, or assistant professor. A full professor will work toward tenure, a process that will make their job permanent. They may conduct research, sit on committees, attend department or college meetings, and advise students. A full professor will have a terminal degree in their field, which is typically a Ph.D. An adjunct may also hold a doctorate, a master’s degree, or even a bachelor’s degree, but requirements would vary by institution. Below are a few other differences between adjuncts and full professors.

Adjuncts Work in Industry

Many full professors have worked in the industry. But they usually don’t stay in industry long because they’ve chosen to have careers in academia. An adjunct does the opposite. They spend years in the industry and only a short while in higher education. Because they’re hired part-time, adjuncts usually continue to work in their industry while they teach.

Adjuncts Aren’t Permanent

For full professors, academia is their career. Their positions are virtually guaranteed once they are tenured. But adjuncts aren’t permanent. Adjuncts are asked to teach when there is a need, and when the budget allows for it. Some may teach for a single semester; others teach for multiple years. They may also move from college to college, depending on the availability of adjunct positions.

Full Professors Have Office Hours

Full professors are required to set office hours so they can be available to students. They have physical offices on campus, but adjuncts do not, usually due to space limitations. However, most institutions will require even adjuncts to meet with students regularly. You can request an in-person meeting with them, or they may set up virtual office hours on Zoom or Skype to meet. Check the syllabus for instructions or send them an email to schedule an appointment.

Full Professors Have More Responsibility

Full-time professors do much more than just teach classes. Since full professors are full-time members of a specific college or department, they are required to perform more duties that involve them in the institution. They may head a department or take on a leadership role at the university. Some of these duties may include:

  • Committee meetings
  • Department meetings
  • Student organization advising
  • Revising or updating the curriculum
  • Research or presentations

Another interesting benefit to full professorship is the sabbatical. Depending on the university, sabbaticals are granted to allow tenured professors to continue research in a particular field. A professor might conduct a lifetime of research, taking a sabbatical every seven years to do so.

You’ll Learn A Lot from All Your Teachers

Throughout your college career, you’ll be taught by both part-time instructors and full professors. You may not notice the difference between what you learn from an adjunct verses a professor, but that tenured professor has experience, knowledge, and a connection to the college that an adjunct does not. Their involvement on campus and in their students’ educational journey makes them dedicated to helping students like you succeed. At Limestone University, we’re proud of the high caliber of all our faculty; adjuncts and tenured professors. More than 80 percent of our on-campus instructors have a doctoral or terminal degree and a large majority of classes are taught by full-time professors.

Are you ready to begin your college journey? Schedule a visit today to check out the campus and meet some of our great faculty.