Understanding the role that adjunct instructors play in online education is critical as the amount of online education continues to rise. According to the U.S. Department of Education, distance education enrollment in fall 2018 reached approximately 6.9 million students, roughly 35 percent of the 19.6 million students enrolled that term. It is worth noting that, although overall student enrollment declined by five percent between fall 2012 and fall 2018, distance education course enrollment increased by 29 percent (NCES, 2021). And given the impact of the pandemic, it is likely that an even larger number of students have experienced online education since 2020.
In 2015, The Learning House (now part of Wiley University Services) and the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) conducted a survey of 202 deans, directors and provosts familiar with the online practices at their respective two- and four-year higher education institutions. Their report, Recruiting, orienting, and supporting online adjunct faculty: A survey of practices, examined online adjunct hiring practices, expectations, policies, and support. With the monumental shift from face-to-face to remote education brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020, as well as renewed attention on student access and equity and support from Every Learner Everywhere, WCET and the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) conducted a new survey of 119 administrators in the summer of 2021 to better understand the practices that impact online adjunct faculty, equity, access and quality. Following the survey, in-depth follow-up interviews were conducted with 12 institutions including six institutions that did not originally participate in the study and six survey participants. Where possible, we sought to identify successful practices that can be applied across a variety of institutions.