What Is an Adjunct Educator?

This article provides information about what it takes to become an adjunct educator and what this job entails, as well as salary statistics and job growth information. Read on to find out if a job as an adjunct educator is right for you. Schools offering Adult Education degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Adjunct Educator?

An adjunct educator is a postsecondary instructor who is not a fully appointed faculty member at a particular college or university. They are contractually hired, sometimes on a part-time or discontinuous basis. These professors teach classes in a particular topic of expertise, either to undergraduate or graduate students. Like tenured and tenure-track faculty members, they provide instruction and advise students on academic affairs, but they are not expected to conduct and publish research, and they do not have to serve on departmental committees. This allows them to focus specifically on teaching.

Take a look at the following table to get some more information about adjunct educators:

Degree Required Master's degree at minimum; doctoral degree preferred or required for some positions
Education Field of Study All academic disciplines
Key Responsibilities Design curriculum and course syllabus; prepare lesson plans; give lectures / provide hands-on training (depending on field of expertise)
Licensure Requirements Requirements vary by academic discipline
Job Growth (2014-2024) 13% (for all postsecondary teachers)*
Median Salary (March 2017) $30,623 (for adjunct professors)**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale

Adjunct Educator

Unlike tenured and tenure-track faculty at postsecondary institutions, adjunct educators work on a contractual basis. Contracts typically last for 1-5 years, at which point they may be considered for renewal. Some adjunct professors teach college classes part-time while having full-time jobs in their areas of professional expertise. Others work as adjunct instructors while trying to secure tenure-track positions. Still others are tenured professors who are visiting from different universities.

As an adjunct educator, you might be responsible for developing your own curriculum and lesson plans, or you may use those developed by the academic departments in which you work. They may teach lecture courses or lab courses, depending on the academic subject. Sometimes, they are hired to teach a single course in a highly specialized subject, because they have significant expertise in that area. At the same time, many adjunct professors are hired to teach general undergraduate courses that are required for first-year majors. Regardless of the kinds of classes you teach, you would be responsible for keeping students records, evaluating students with exams, tests or projects, offering office hours for students with questions and submitting grades.

Education Requirements

Like other postsecondary instructors, adjunct professors must hold a graduate degree in their field of expertise. While a master's degree may be sufficient for work at a junior or community college, you usually need a terminal degree in your field for a professorship at a four-year college or university. Therefore, even to work as an adjunct professor, you may need to complete a Ph.D. program (or the equivalent for your academic discipline). Depending on your area of expertise, it can also be helpful to have practical experience. For example, as an adjunct clinical professor, you would teach hands-on medical courses in a clinical setting, so you would need a doctoral degree in medicine and a significant amount of experience working in the medical field.

Employment Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the employment of postsecondary teachers is expected to rise 13% between 2014 and 2024, which is faster than the national average for all occupations (www.bls.gov). However, due to budget cuts, many universities are reducing the number of tenure-track professorships, so employment prospects may be even more favorable for individuals seeking adjunct positions. The academic fields in which job openings are expected to increase the most over the 2014-2024 decade are criminal justice, law and law enforcement.


According to the BLS, the median annual salary for postsecondary instructors in general, including adjunct professors, was $72,470 as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov). PayScale offers a more specific figure for adjunct professors; the website reports a median salary of $30,623 for adjunct professors as of January 2017.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of looking for a job as an adjunct professor, you could seek a tenure-track professorship. In this position, you would not only be required to teach undergraduate and/or graduate courses, but you would also need to conduct high-level research in your subfield of interest and contribute to the field by publishing your work in books or academic journals. You would also be required to serve on departmental steering and curriculum design committees. For a tenure-track job, you need to have a master's degree, Ph.D. or other terminal degree, depending on your academic subject. Alternatively, if you want to dedicate your career specifically to teaching, you could become a high school teacher. Like adjunct professors, high school teachers usually offer courses in a single subject area, such as biology or history. Additionally, they may have school supervisory duties outside the classroom, such as monitoring the hallways or cafeteria. In order to work as a high school teacher at a public school, you must have a bachelor's degree and a teaching license.

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