A major factor for e-learning’s growth potential is the part-time or adjunct instructor. Each adjunct costs about 20 percent (or less) of a full-time counterpart on a per-class basis.6 An adjunct professor often receives no office, phone, mailbox, computer, health benefits, and so forth, and needs another full-time job to survive… The growth of part-time faculty has been significant: according to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), during the period 1975 to 2003, full-time tenure-track positions increased by 18 percent while full-time non-tenure-track and part-time positions grew at 10 times that rate.

from E-Learning at a Crossroads—What Price Quality?
By Stephen R. Ruth, Martha Sammons, and Lindsey Poulin

I wrote about this subject at a recent Computers and Writing presentation I gave and while it was well received I could also tell that I had not persuaded my audience of the scale and scope of the problem. I think this is because they were mostly traditional academics immersed in the trials and tribulations of attempting to integrate technology into education.

They have a particular agenda, and a specific set of associated problems, and it is hard for them to commit their limited energies elsewhere. I understand that completely, because I was in that situation for a long time. This problem cannot be ignored for long. As I argued in my talk, I believe that the proprietary institutions are creating a second tier of education focused on the bottom of the class hierarchy.

On the one hand, this could be making education available to those that would not otherwise have access. On the other, this could be the birth of the fast-education market, analogous to the birth of fast food in the 1950s. Ruth, Summons, and Poulin, somewhat optimistically argue that “the biggest problem could be finding and integrating tens of thousands of new adjunct professors as partners in the academy.”

I am a little less optimistic, simply because the U.S. academic system is so profoundly rooted in class privilege and material entitlement. It might be possible, for example, to isolate and shrink proprietary education by offering a cheaper alternative taught by well-paid (and medically insured) full-time professors. That might even be the ethical thing to do. It’s as difficult, though, as asking the insurance industry to accept national health care.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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