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The Adjunct Solution: Using Industry Knowledge to Teach Must-Have Skills for the Workplace

Cornerstone Editors

What is it with youth today? Millennials, Generation Y, young'uns — whatever you call them, they continue to baffle their baby boomer and Generation X managers. According to a survey from research and consulting firm Millennial Branding, 73 percent of employers think that universities aren’t properly preparing students to enter the workforce. However, adjunct professors may help change that. With a strong understanding of how skills are being used in their industries on a practical level, adjunct faculty are quickly becoming the norm on college campuses. Research from the American Association of University Professors shows that full-time tenured and tenure-track professors have dropped to make up less than one-quarter of university faculty, while part-time faculty now make up more than 40 percent — and this may be a good thing.

Many universities hire adjunct professors who are currently employed in the industry they are teaching about. Kelly Cherwin, Communications Editor at HigherEdJobs, says, "This allows the university to gain the insight of the person's practical knowledge and allows the professional to share their real-world experience with students because they want to, not because they have to."

The key to getting students the best education possible lies in striking the right balance between adjunct and full-time academic professors, says Neil Cohen, vice president of sales and marketing at Visage Mobile and a marketing adjunct professor at San Francisco State University. "Working professionals as adjuncts and academic professors are symbiotic, they complement each other," Cohen says. "They can also learn a lot from each other. When I put together my curriculum, it can’t be all real-world examples, you have to apply some rigor and thought to covering a curriculum. There should be some minimum academic standards for what kids take away from these classes."

Cohen sees young people struggling with basic business communication skills in the classroom and in the workforce, especially in their writing, which isn't exactly typo-free. Millennial Branding’s survey backs this up as well, finding that hiring managers look for cultural fit first when assessing a candidate, with the most sought-after characteristics being a positive attitude (84 percent), communication skills (83 percent) and teamwork (74 percent). However, this isn’t necessarily something Cohen sees as an issue that universities are responsible for solving. "Is it that schools aren't preparing kids properly or is it that students just aren't paying attention to the details?" Cohen asks. "Schools are not trade programs, but rather should be teaching critical thinking and problem solving."

While adjunct professors with industry experience are valuable, they can pose a different set of challenges for university management. On one hand, adjunct professors can feel disconnected from the university faculty. "Being an adjunct is sometimes hard on the ego as nobody knows you are there except the students and maybe the security guard, cafeteria ladies and librarians," Kim Burdick, an adjunct instructor of history, told HigherEdJobs. Universities must also find efficient ways to provide feedback on teaching skills for professors who haven't had training specific to the teaching profession. Some universities ask students for feedback on their classes at the end of each semester, offering some insight on skill level for adjunct faculty.

The benefits of adjunct teaching aren't restricted just to the student end of the equation either. "To go into a classroom and help students get a firmer grip on what they want to do, to inspire them, and to give them better knowledge to move forward, is worth every minute," Cohen says.

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