Supporting Non-Tenure Track Faculty through Professional Development: Considerations for Success

KC Culver
Senior postdoctoral research associate
University of Southern California

Need: Higher education has fundamentally shifted the nature of its workforce in the last 20 years from mostly full-time, tenure track faculty to mostly contingent full- and part-time non-tenure track faculty (NTTF), who now make up 70% of all faculty (American Federation of Teachers, 2009; Finkelstein et al., 2016). While we are lacking nationally-representative data on NTTF in STEM fields, 39% of STEM doctorate holders employed by four-year institutions in the U.S. are in contingent positions (NCSES, 2021); faculty who do not have a doctorate are even more likely to be in contingent roles.

NTTF often teach introductory-level courses that are critical for student success. Yet NTTF often lack the institutional support to provide a quality learning environment for students in STEM. One critical dimension of support that can be improved is engaging NTTF in professional development. NTTF derive a number of benefits from professional development programs such as faculty learning communities that offer faculty intensive opportunities for learning and connection with colleagues. These benefits include not only instructional effectiveness, but also sense of belonging, institutional integration and knowledge of resources, professional networks, and career development.

Yet FLCs and similar programs have been primarily created for tenure-track faculty members. Even when intensive professional development programs (IPD) are technically open to NTTF participation, they often do not meet the needs of NTTF. This misalignment between IPD design and NTTF’s needs may be in part because there have been no studies of professional development specifically designed for NTTF and the ways that initiatives can be modified to suit their contract, time availability, and other specific needs.

Guiding Question: What environmental and design factors influence the success of IPD for NTTF?

Outcomes: Based on our research with 14 campuses who have created and/or modified IPD for NTTF, we have identified a multilevel model of the influences on the success of initiatives. At the broadest level, national, state, and institutional structures and policies influence whether and how IPD is made available to NTTF. Institutional climate and culture also plays an important role in the success of IPD for NTTF.

Design factors are related to how IPD is situated on campus, including where the program sits in terms of academic units or other offices, as well as whether the program includes collaboration or coordination with other offices or units on campus. The specific objectives, composition of participant groups, and rewards associated with participation also reflect the positioning of IPD within the institution.

There are also a number of factors related to implementation of IPD, including the format and length of programs, scheduling of meetings or other synchronous components, and facilitation.

Broader Impacts: Engaging NTTF in IPD that is accessible and inclusive is critical to NTTF’s ability to support student success. This multilevel model offers an opportunity for individuals who design and run IPD to assess existing IPD and design new IPD based on the best practices that emerged from our cross-campus case study.


Adrianna Kezar, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA