It’s the first day of class. You show up to your 101 class in a new subject, anxious but ready to explore an exciting new field with an instructor who knows the subject like the back of their hand, because they’ve been studying it longer than you’ve been alive.
Instead, when you walk into class, you are greeted by a graduate student who, just a few years ago, could have been sitting in the same seat you are now. Although theoretically capable of teaching the course, they lack the experience of someone who has specialized in the field.
Or your 101 professor could also be an adjunct, a part-time professor who is trying to balance classes at the high school or another job while also trying to plan your coursework as well.
What effect would having an instructor who might not be as proficient or have the time commitment have on students in an introductory class?
According to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the effects can be far reaching for students.
Researchers found that students who take intro level courses in math and English with part-time faculty are less likely to move on to higher level courses.
Many reasons can be found to explain why students are more successful when learning from a full-time faculty member than an adjunct or grad student.
Long-time professors often have more access to resources on and off campus, including contacts within the field who can provide internships and entry-level jobs, to a better understanding of what types of assistance are available on campus to struggling students.
Conversely, adjuncts and grad students often don’t even have an office, or may not be around the next semester to provide mentorship or recommendations as to which specialty within a field to focus on.
The authors of the study suggest that universities should use the best teachers it has in its largest classrooms in order to boost retention and success rates, and should also increase support for part-time and grad student teachers.
At the University of Arizona, about 75 percent of faculty are full-time, which is much higher than the national average, according to collegefactual.com, a university comparison website.
However, the university also relies on nearly 1,700 graduate assistants to teach or assist in many of its lower-division classes, meaning the likelihood of having one teaching an introductory course is high.
The UA should work to put more of its tenured professors in these courses if it truly wants students to succeed in a subject and continue in the discipline beyond the minimum requisite courses.
However, it’s no secret that many professors don’t enjoy teaching these types of classes — for many reasons, from lower student engagement to dealing with more students, many of whom have little or no college experience.
But instead of just putting a warm body in front of a classroom and hoping for the best, universities must provide all the resources possible to professors, whether full time, adjunct or a grad student.
Professors must instead be incentivized to embrace the challenges presented in conducting intro level courses, and universities should not treat such assignments as punishments, but as an opportunity to show new students the level of instruction the institution is truly capable of.
If teachers are given all the tools required to provide the best learning environment possible, regardless of status, then student success rates are bound to improve.
The UA should be commended for its high level of full-time professors as an example of its commitment to excellence. Now, it must work to ensure that same degree of learning is available in all of its classrooms, regardless of who is leading the charge.
Editorials are determined by The Daily Wildcat Opinions Board and are written by its members. They are Editor-in-chief Courtney Talak, Opinions Editor Andrew Paxton, Content Editor Marissa Heffernan, Engagement Editor Saul Bookman and Arts & Life Editor Pascal Albright. Follow Daily Wildcat on Twitter.