Churubusco native Jacquelyn Clapper, 29, received her bachelor's degree in elementary education in 2006 and spent the next few years teaching and volunteering abroad.
After stints in Australia, Tanzania and Taiwan, she ended up back home in the summer of 2011. In the midst of searching for a traditional education job, she heard about the chance to become a part-time faculty member at Ivy Tech Community College-Northeast.
She jumped at the job – in hopes of a challenge – and hasn't looked back since.
"I don't really look at the job as just paying the bills because I love what I do," Clapper said. "I feel like being an adjunct faculty member is a steppingstone for the next part of my life."
Increasingly, colleges across the country are relying on part-time faculty members like Clapper to teach a significant amount of their course loads. At Ivy Tech, between 65 percent and 70 percent of credit hours are taught by adjuncts – or part-time lecturers. At IPFW, about 30 percent of courses are taught by part-time faculty, which the school calls limited-term lecturers.
While university officials say the practice brings many benefits to the campus, others find the trend worrisome.
In addition to being less expensive than full-time faculty members, college officials said, part-time faculty members give students an inside look into the workplace and can provide great networking.
But some advocacy groups argue that an overreliance on part-time faculty can weaken the academic experience for students on campus. In addition, they said, offering too many part-time faculty positions can make it harder for professors looking for full-time work.
In 1975, part-time faculty made up only 24 percent of faculty members at colleges and universities across the country, according to the U.S. Department of Education. As of 2009, they made up nearly 40 percent.
Ivy Tech Northeast and IPFW officials said their numbers of part-time faculty crept up several years ago but have recently leveled off.
According to salary data provided to The Journal Gazette, IPFW employed about 579 limited-term lecturers – or part-time faculty – in 2011, paying them about $3.7 million. Ivy Tech employed 529 adjunct faculty in 2011, paying them about $4.7 million.
At IPFW, part-time faculty can make about $1,500 to $4,000 teaching a course. At Ivy Tech, the figure ranges from about $1,500 to $1,600, according to officials.
Part-time lecturers don't usually have health insurance. Many work full-time jobs in their fields, and some hold part-time jobs.
They aren't required to be student advisers or conduct research. And at Ivy Tech, they don't have to have office hours.
At IPFW, most part-time faculty are required to have master's degrees, according to officials. At Ivy Tech, requirements are more fluid and based on the guidelines set by departments. Generally, though, part-time faculty are required to have the same qualifications as their full-time peers.
Both Ivy Tech and IPFW officials said part-time faculty play a vital role on campus, allowing the schools to offer more courses and giving students a chance to learn from their real-world experience.
"Our adjunct faculty bring something very valuable to the mix," said Candy Schladenhauffen, Ivy Tech Northeast's assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs. "They are people who are working. They stay very current. They bring real-time experience to the classrooms as well as opportunities for networking."
That said, Schladenhauffen said the gold standard among colleges is to have a full-time/part-time staff ratio closer to 50-50.
"But there are very few places that come close to that," she said. "The number of full-time faculty we have in the room is limited by budget constraints."
Schladenhauffen said hiring full-time faculty is more expensive than people realize. In addition to having benefits, she said, full-time faculty also need office space, technology and other things people don't typically consider.
Many colleges across the country use budget concerns as a reason for relying on part-time faculty. But Gwendolyn Bradley, senior program officer at American Association of University Professors, doesn't always buy the excuse.
"The trend to having more part-time positions started before the recession and has gone on at many institutions while they do seem to have plenty of money for new stadiums, higher and higher salaries for top administrators, etc." she said in an email.
And while many part-time faculty members are community members willing to lend their skills to the colleges, she said many others are full-time faculty members who can't find full-time positions.
"This is a big problem in higher education as these teachers generally have no access to professional development, are excluded from departmental meetings, receive very low pay with no cost of living raises and no retirement or health benefits," she said.
Steven Sarratore, IPFW's interim vice chancellor for academic affairs, said finding the right number of part-time and full-time faculty is a delicate balance.
"Is it a concern? Yes," he said. "The cost is obviously significantly lower. But we would find it difficult, not to mention highly unpopular, to offer a complete program with limited-term lecturers. They are not here to do the kind of work done in the department. They are not here to do curriculum planning. They are here to fit a particular need."
Sarratore acknowledged that it's difficult to make a living as a part-time lecturer. That said, the university tries to be fair in its approach to part-time instructors. If limited-term lecturers have been teaching a significant course load for several years, they will sometimes be asked to become a continuing lecturer – a full-time employee with benefits, he said.
Clapper, who teaches at Ivy Tech, said she spends about 23 hours a week helping students with remedial math. For now, she is supplementing her income by working as a recreational leader for the New Haven-Adams Township Parks and Recreation Department.
In the future, she said, she'd like to pick up more courses with college-age students – perhaps after getting her master's.
"I'm still educating and loving my job and that's all that matters right now," she said. "I feel lucky. Things are looking up."