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Title:A comparison of grading patterns between full-and part-time humanities faculty: A preliminary study.
Authors:McArthur, Ronald C.
Source:Community College Review; Winter99, Vol. 27 Issue 3, p65, 12p, 7 charts
Document Type:Article
Subject Terms:*COLLEGE teachers
*GRADING & marking (Students)
*INTERACTION analysis in education
Geographic Terms:NEW Jersey
Abstract:Examines the grading patterns of part-time and full-time humanities faculty at the Atlantic Cape Community College in New Jersey. List of grades indicating the academic achievement of the students; Association between the grades of the students and the status of the professor; Correlation between grades and learning.
Full Text Word Count:3686
Accession Number:2845074
Persistent link to this record:
Cut and Paste: <A href="">A comparison of grading patterns between full-and part-time humanities faculty: A preliminary study.</A>
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The use of adjunct faculty is a growing phenomenon in the community college setting. One study (Bethke & Nelson, 1994) states that 53.4% of the course sections taught at public two-year colleges are taught by adjuncts. Another researcher indicates that the number is much higher and is in the range of 63 % (Cohen, 1992). Although California passed AB1725 mandating that 75 % of all class hours in community colleges be taught by full-time faculty, that goal has never been met. In 1994 the number stood around 60 % of community college classes taught by full-time faculty (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, 1996). Despite California's attempt to limit the use of part-time faculty, it seems that this trend is unlikely to be abated in the near future. In light of this controversy in the academy, a serious study of the ramifications of this dependence is clearly warranted.

A review of the literature concerning the use of part-time faculty generally focused on the questions of quality control and the impact of adjuncts on the integrity of the disciplines they were teaching. Much of the negative opinions were from full-time faculty who saw adjuncts as a threat to the quality of instruction. One author stated that part-time instructors were found to have less teaching experience, hold lower academic credentials, assign fewer pages to read, and place less emphasis on written assignments in determining student grades (Friedlander, 1979). Kekke (1983) reported that part-time faculty are often viewed as a source of cheap labor, rather than as a valuable resource, because institutions are not required to provide fringe benefits or long-range financial commitments.

According to another report (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, 1996), institutions are getting a bargain, but they are not getting equal output from part-timers. Students are unlikely to get the same quality of instruction from teachers only tenuously linked to the institution. Often part-time faculty members are not given the professional recognition to have adequate preparation time for a course, or to participate in the curriculum and pedagogical decisions of the courses they teach. In addition, faculty in some academic areas have expressed concern over the lack of continuity in their department. This is the result of using many different individuals teaching only a fraction of a full load, and even a smaller fraction of the courses that constitute a program of study. One report refers to them as "gypsy scholars" and the "academic underclass" (Banachowski, 1996).

At the Hayward campus of California State University some faculty have raised concerns about part-timers, referring to them as the "invisible faculty." Professors have indicated that the increasing reliance on low-paid instructors is creating what they call "faceless departments" (Leatherman, 1997).

On the other hand, observers such as McGuire (1993) present a much more positive response to the use of adjuncts. He states that they bring "breadth, depth, and relevance" to the curriculum and allow the school to offer courses that might otherwise be unavailable. He also implies that they can be a strong link to the community and to the workplace, thus making them a key institutional asset (McGuire, 1993). Other observers point to the fiscal benefit to the college because of increased flexibility by matching course offerings with student demands. If matriculation drops, the part-time faculty can be reduced without having to deal with tenure laws and other forms of red tape (Banachowski, 1996).

Bolge (1995) completed a study to determine whether any significant difference existed in the amount of learning attained by students who received instruction from full-time and part-time faculty. Based on students' pre- and post-test scores on the mathematics subtest of the New Jersey Basic Skills Placement Test, Bolge found no significant differences in students' amount of learning based on whether they were taught by full-time or part-time faculty. Another researcher concluded that no significant differences existed between full and part-time faculty concerning the students' ratings of teacher effectiveness, class retention rates, and subsequent student achievement in advanced courses (Gappa, 1984).

Much of the literature reviewed indicated strong feelings in academia concerning the use of part-time faculty but emphasized a need for further research into this aspect of higher education. Except for a few research reports, there seems to be little information to back up the claims of both advocates and detractors. Many of the opinions were anecdotal and were described in terms of academic integrity or fiscal considerations.

The purpose of this research was to study the impact of part-time faculty from a perspective other than the prevailing direction of the literature. The approach was to examine an objective measure of the impact of part-time versus full-time faculty: the issuing of grades. The implied contract between the student and the institution is that in exchange for tuition, the professor will teach the subject matter and evaluate the student's mastery of the subject. Tied to the grading controversy is the whole question of the meaning of grades. Basinger (1997) argues that today's students are not required to master as much material as they once were. Colleges are held hostage to enrollment-driven concerns and the idea that students are valued customers who need to be nurtured. The result is a series of grades that might not have a strong correlation to mastery of the information. One professor has noted that students have developed a "disgruntled consumer approach" to grading. If they don't like the grade they receive, they feel the right to renegotiate it for something better (Wiesenfeld, 1997).

In spite of this controversy about the meaning or significance of grades, the fact is that all faculty members have to judge their students, and the vehicle they use is the grading system. The goal of this research was to take a small sampling of grades at one institution and determine if there was a difference in grading patterns between full and part-time professors. An earlier study at Miami-Dade Community College attempted to determine if there was a significant difference in the grades received by students in the next sequential English course. The control factor was the status of the professor in the first English course. The study suggested that part- time and full-time faculty are equally effective in terms of the subsequent achievement of their students (Davis, Belcher, & McKitterick, 1986).

The research described in this report was designed to focus on the significance of using adjuncts and examining grading patterns. Fedler (1989) examined the grades submitted by full-time and part-time professors at three schools of journalism at four-year institutions. The result indicated that adjunct faculty at all three schools graded higher than full-time faculty. Is this true in the community college setting?


Atlantic Cape Community College is a small two-year institution located in the southeast corner of New Jersey. It is in the bottom third of total enrollments within the state community college system. Atlantic Cape Community College is typical of the trend towards heavy use of adjunct professors. Over the past 10 years, the number of full-time faculty members has declined; the difference in instructional time is made up by using adjuncts.

A number of courses at the college meet the general education requirement for the associate's degree. Many of the appropriate courses are located within the Humanities Division. The courses selected for this study were those in the areas of Government, History, Philosophy, Religion, and Introduction to the Arts and Humanities. The faculty members who taught these courses were separated into two groups: full-time faculty and part-time faculty. The grades submitted were analyzed over the course of three consecutive spring semesters: spring 1995, 1996, and 1997.

The full-time faculty in this study consisted of 6 males with the following academic rank: 2 full professors, 1 with 26 years of experience and 1 with 30 years of experience; 1 associate professor with 25 years of teaching experience; and 3 assistant professors with an average of 10 years of teaching experience. The full professors held doctorate degrees, the associate professor held a master's degree, and the three assistants held master's degrees. The part-time faculty in the study consisted of 5 females and 7 males. Within this group there was 1 doctor, 1 J.D., and the rest held master's degrees.

Grades used to indicate the academic achievement of the students were as follows:

A--Consistent performance in mastery of the subject. Achievement of superior quality.

B--Consistent performance in achievement beyond the usual requirements of the course. Achievement of good quality.

C--Performance of a satisfactory nature. Achievement demonstrating an understanding of the subject sufficient for continued study in the discipline.

D--Minimal passing grade. Achievement demonstrating general understanding of the basic elements of the course.

F--Failure. Achievement at a level insufficient to demonstrate adequate understanding of the basic elements of the course in order to warrant credit towards the degree. (Atlantic Cape Community College, 1996-97).

To minimize the variance in the course delivery, the department requires a standardized textbook for each course and a uniform syllabus. Beyond these requirements, each faculty member is given freedom to teach the course in the manner that he or she feels is most appropriate. The class size of the courses is set at a maximum of 35, except for the Arts and Humanities class, which has 25 students.

The students register for these courses to fulfill their general education requirement. The courses also qualify as liberal arts and free elective options. Students are prevented from taking these courses if their scores on the New Jersey Basic Skills Test (NJBST) indicate that they are required to enroll in Reading/Writing I, which is a developmental English course. Having a writing prerequisite for the courses rests on the assumption that students have the appropriate reading and writing skills to be successful in these classes if they pass developmental courses.

As long as they meet the minimum requirements for the classes, students are randomly assigned to the various sections of humanities courses.


Data were extracted from the college's database for the courses and faculty members that fell into the control group. Faculty members were identified by the independent variable of faculty status, either part-time or full-time. A table was created where the X axis represented the total of the grades submitted during the designated semesters. The Y axis represented the dependent variable of the grade distribution indicating the number of A, B, C, D, and F grades submitted. This table was produced for full-time faculty and for part-time faculty.

To eliminate as many intervening variables as possible, the grade distribution was analyzed a number of times to determine if there was another significant factor in assigning of grades. The grades were sorted by the gender and by the age of the faculty member. The grades were also compiled on the basis of day and evening sections. This was done to determine if any of these variables was significant in grading.

The results were subjected to a chi-square analysis to eliminate the possibility that the relationship between the variables occurred by chance. From this statistical compilation, the mean, median, and mode of the grades were determined.

The grades were tabulated over the course of the three semesters and are presented in Table 1. Of the 1,300 grades submitted by full-time faculty, 22% were A, 32% were B, 23% were C, 9% were D, and 14% were F. Using the standard scale of awarding four points for an A, three points for a B, two points for a C, one point for a D, and no points for an F, the mean full-time grade was 2.39. The mode for full-time was a grade of B, which occurred 415 times.

The grades for the part-time faculty were tabulated over the course of the same three semesters and the results are presented in Table 2. Of the 1,313 grades submitted by part-time faculty, 42 % were A, 25 % were B, 14% were C, 5% were D, 14% were F. The mean grade point average was 2.75. The mode was a grade of A, which occurred 548 times.

The median grade in both cases was a B. When taught by full-time faculty, the grades were 52 occurrences away from a C. In contrast, when part-time faculty were involved, the grades were 217 occurrences away from a C. A chi-square analysis yielded x2 = 132.134 with a probability of 0.0000. This would indicate that the numbers did not occur by chance and are, therefore, valid for interpretation.

The numbers were also analyzed to determine if differences existed in grading patterns based on the gender of the faculty member. All of the full-time faculty were males, but the part-time faculty consisted of 10 males and 6 females. The grade distribution is shown in Table 3. The male professors awarded grades of A or B 69 % of the time whereas females awarded the same grades 57 % of the time. This would indicate that gender could be a factor in the awarding of grades. The only grades falling outside of the expected range were the Ds issued by the female professors.

In an attempt to determine if there were any other factors that might have influenced grading patterns, the faculty were also sorted by age. They were divided into groupings based on the year of birth. Group A was born between the years 1926 and 1933, group B was between 1934 and 1941, group C was between 1942 and 1950, group D was between 1951 and 1958, and group E was born between 1959 and 1966. From the information shown in Tables 4 and 5, it appears that the distinction of higher grading patterns from part time faculty is not influenced by the age of the faculty member. Consistently higher grades, as defined by the combined percentage of As and Bs, are given by the part-time faculty in each major age grouping. The only exception was found in Group A, but the numbers were so small that it is difficult to make an accurate assessment of the data.

Another consideration used to ensure the legitimacy of the findings was a study of the grades issued by full and part-time faculty based on day and evening courses. There is a widely held perception on this campus that evening students are more motivated and more self-directed than day students. The data displayed in Tables 6 and 7 seem to refute that assumption. There was virtually no difference in the percentage of As and Bs between day and evening from part- time faculty. In addition, the grades from full-time faculty in the evening were not as high as for the day students. In both cases the grades from the part-time faculty were consistently higher than those submitted by the full-time faculty.


The data indicate that an association exists at one community college between students' grades in humanities classes and the professor's status. The student is substantially more likely to get a grade of A from an adjunct professor than from a full-time professor. The reasons for this are not clear. One possibility that has been suggested is that adjuncts are more susceptible to student pressure for higher grades. Because they are not protected by tenure and can easily be replaced, there is the possibility that they are being held hostage to the student evaluations. Wanting to receive a good evaluation could influence a grading decision. Every faculty member is subject to evaluations in which their style and methodology are judged by students. Williams and Celi (1997) indicated that student evaluations are critical for untenured professors and can be the difference in the awarding or denial of tenure. Although adjuncts do not receive tenure, they do realize that their invitation to teach in following semesters will be affected by poor student ratings. Because all but one of the full-time faculty members is tenured, this argument would imply that they are less susceptible to student intimidation.

The size and scope of this research project was limited and cannot be generalized to all institutions and all faculties. It is, however, a starting point for the discussion. The apparent lack of studies concerning the impact of adjuncts on grading patterns is disturbing. Because so many colleges depend on adjuncts for a substantial portion of their teaching, it behooves us all to investigate adjuncts' effectiveness as teachers. With the increased use of adjuncts, many departments may be losing control over their desired outcomes. They also face the risk of having their instructional staff further isolated from the departmental goals and philosophy.

The true significance of the correlation between grades and learning is still being evaluated, and there are as many opinions as there are grades. In any event, this study clearly shows a grading phenomenon among two faculty groups at one college that may provoke further research and be useful in academic planning. We must strive to enhance our understanding of the ways in which we evaluate student achievement by using grades and other factors for examination. Ultimately, this may result in a better understanding of the correlation between grades and knowledge and how the use of part- time faculty fits into the discussion.

Table 1

Full-Time Faculty Grades

Semester         A        B         C       D         F    Total

Spring 95       83      132       96       22        51      384
Spring 96      103      148      121       55        63      490
Spring 97      101      135       84       34        68       46
Total          287      415      301      115       182     1300
%               22       32       23        9        14      100

Table 2

Part-Time Faculty Grades

Semester         A        B        C        D         F    Total

Spring 95      181      145       87       23        67      503
Spring 96      191      105       46       25        64      431
Spring 97      176       75       57       16        55      379
Total          548      325      190       64       186     1313
%               42       25       14        5        14      100

Table 3

Part-Time Faculty Grades by Faculty Member's Gender

                  A       B       C       D        F       Total


Number          433     263     134      34      139        1003
%                43      26      13       3       14         100

Number          115      62      56      30       47         310
%                37      20      18      10       15         100

Table 4

Full-Time Faculty Grades by Faculty Member's Year of Birth

                  A       B       C       D        F       Total

Group A--1926-33

Number            9      14      11       2       10          46
Percent          20      30      24       4       22         100
Group B--1934-41

Number           78     143     131      24       74         448
Percent          18      33      28       5       16         100

Group C--1942-50

Number          134     159      97      55       74         519

Percent          26      31      19      11       14         100

Group E--1959-66

Number           66      99      62      34       26         287
Percent          23      34      22      12        9         100

Table 5

Part-Time Faculty Grades by Faculty Member's Year of Birth

                  A       B       C       D        F       Total

Group A--1926-33

Number            6      11       6       2        6          31
Percent          19      36      19       7       19         100

Group B--1934-41

Number          191      84      32      15       63         385
Percent          50      22       8       4       16         100

Group C--1942-50

Number          277     174     118      47      102         718
Percent          39      24      16       7       14         100

Group D--1951-58

Number           31      31      17       0        4          83
Percent          37      37      21       0        5         100

Group E--1959-66

Number           43      25      17       0       11          96
Percent          45      26      18       0       11         100

Table 6

Full-Time Faculty Grades by Day and Evening Classes

                  A       B       C       D        F       Total


Number          227     297     230      83      127         964
%                24      32      24       9       13         100


Number           60     118      71      32       55         336
%                18      35      21      10       16         100

Table 7

Part-Time Faculty Grades by Day and Evening Classes

                  A       B       C       D        F       Total


Number          338     198     133      41      110         820
%                41      24      16       5       13         100


Number          210     127      57      23       76         493
%                43      26      12       5       15         100


Atlantic Cape Community College. (1996-97). Policies and procedures. In Atlantic Cape Community College catalog (p. 14). Mays Landing, NJ: Atlantic Cape Community College.

Banachowski, G. (1996). Perspectives and perceptions: A review of the literature on the use of part-time faculty in community colleges. Community College Review, 24 (2), 49-62. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 398 943)

Basinger, D. (1997). Fighting grade inflation, A misguided effort? College Teaching, 45(3), 88.

Bethke, R, & Nelson, V. (1994). Collaborative efforts to improve conditions for adjunct faculty. Paper presented at the Annual International Conference of the 16th National Institute for Staff Organizational Development on Teaching Excellence and Conference of Administrators, Austin, TX. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 373 822)

Bolge, R. (1995). Examination of student learning as a function of instructor status (full-time versus part-time) at Mercer County Community College. Trenton, NJ: Mercer County Community College. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 382 241)

California Community Colleges Academic Senate. The use of part-time faculty in California community colleges: Issues and impact. Sacramento, CA: Author. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 395 634)

Cohen, M. (1992). Benefits on a budget: Addressing adjunct needs. Paper presented at the 78th Annual Meeting of the Speech Communication Association, Chicago, IL. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 355 578)

Davis, D., Belcher, M., & McKitterick, T. (1986). Comparing the achievement of students taught by pan-time versus full-time faculty. Community/Junior College Quarterly, 10, 65-72.

Fedler, F. (1989). Adjunct profs grade higher than faculty at three schools. Journalism Educator, 44(2), 32-37. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 394 850)

Friedlander, J. (1979). Instructional practices of part-time faculty in community colleges. Paper presented at the annual forum of the Association for Institutional Research, San Diego, CA. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 169 971)

Gappa, J. (1984). Part-time faculty: Higher education at a crossroads. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Research Report No. 3. Washington, DC.

Kekke, R. (1983). Who's Mr. Staff: Cheap labor or valued resource? Paper presented at the Conference of the Central States Speech Association, Lincoln, NE. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 251 134)

Leatherman, C. (1997,March 28). Heavy reliance on low-paid lecturers said to produce "faceless departments." The Chronicle of Higher Education, 43, p. A12.

McGuire, J. (1993). Part-time faculty: Partners in excellence. Leadership Abstracts, 6, 3. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 367 429)

Santa Fe Community College. (1996). Part-time faculty professional development plan. (1996). [Pamphlet]. Santa Fe, NM: Santa Fe Community College. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 305 959)

Wiesenfeld, K. (1996,June 17). Making the grade. Newsweek, 127, p. 16.

Williams, F., & Celi, S. (1997). How am I doing? Problems with student ratings of instructors and courses. Change, 3, 13.


By Ronald C. McArthur

Ronald C. McArthur is an assistant professor of history at Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing, New Jersey.

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Source: Community College Review, Winter99, Vol. 27 Issue 3, p65, 12p
Item: 2845074
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