Professional Development for Part-time College Faculty to Enhance Student Success in STEM

Kimberly Lawler-Sagarin
Associate Dean of the Faculty, Associate Professor
Elmhurst University

Need: At Elmhurst University and many other small, private institutions, a significant percentage of introductory STEM courses are taught by part-time faculty. Instructors teaching first-year STEM courses play an essential role in student retention in college and in STEM. However, part-time faculty are associated with lower first-year persistence and lower graduation rates in STEM. Part-time faculty generally have fewer resources and less access to development opportunities. Studies investigating the needs of part-time faculty stress the need for connection with full-time colleagues, more awareness of campus resources, and greater inclusion in institutional efforts.

The ACCESS STEM program is a comprehensive effort to improve first-year student outcomes by supporting part-time STEM faculty. The program includes a faculty development curriculum including best practices for utilizing institutional support mechanisms, diversity and inclusion, STEM-specific evidence-based pedagogical methods, and utilizing psychological interventions based in cognitive science. ACCESS STEM also expands institutional support for part-time STEM faculty and investigates the impact of the comprehensive faculty development model on student success and on faculty attitudes and teaching behaviors.

Guiding Questions: The program asks the following questions:

  1. To what extent will part-time faculty members participating in the program change their pedagogical approaches?
  2. Are students’ performance in first-year STEM courses improving and to what extent are students persisting term-to-term?
  3. How effective are our efforts to increase support for part-time faculty members?

Outcomes: Our first implementation of the program began in Fall 2021, so student outcome data and post-program data for participants are not yet available. However, baseline measures of faculty experiences and teaching practices revealed some intriguing findings. At the beginning of the program, we administered the Survey of Climate for Instructional Improvement (SCII; Walter et al., 2016) and the Postsecondary Instructional Practices Survey (PIPS; Walter et al., 2017) to participating part-time faculty members and to all full-time and non-participating part-time faculty members in STEM. Full-time faculty members differed significantly from part-time faculty members on one of five factors of the SCII (full-time faculty reported experiencing higher Collegiality than part-time faculty, p = .016) and marginally significantly on two factors (full-time faculty reported higher Respect for Teaching but lower Organizational Support than part-time faculty, p = .075, p = .053, respectively). Leadership and Resources showed no significant differences. On the PIPS, full-time faculty members differed marginally significantly from part-time faculty members on one of five factors (full-time faculty reported higher Student-Student Interactions scores than part-time faculty, p = .088). The other four factors (Content Delivery Practices, Formative Assessment, Student-Content Engagement, Summative Assessment) showed no significant differences. Post-program surveys will look at changes in these scores for program participants.

Broader Impacts: ACCESS STEM will enhance effectiveness of part-time faculty, leading to increased student success (i.e., higher grades, reduced DFW rates) and persistence of students in first-year STEM courses taught by faculty members participating in the program. Ultimately, this will increase retention rates and persistence of students in introductory STEM courses, reducing equity gaps and thus contributing to the growth of a diverse STEM workforce.


Kimberly A. Lawler-Sagarin, Elmhurst University, Elmhurst, IL; Tina S. Kazan, Elmhurst University, Elmhurst, IL; Thomas P. Sawyer Jr., Elmhurst University, Elmhurst, IL; Brian C. Wilhite, Elmhurst University, Elmhurst, IL