5 Questions with Kathleen Gibson, founder and CEO of Adjunct Professor Link

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Our award-winning Five Questions with education and edtech leaders continues with this insightful and thought-provoking Q&A with Kathleen Gibson, founder and CEO of Adjunct Professor Link (APL).  Her company is changing the way higher education institutions find and manage teaching talent as well as helping experienced professionals give back by teaching. Here’s what we asked and what she had to say:

Q: It seems everyone recognizes there are at least some problems related to hiring and keeping good adjunct faculty but not many people know the specifics. From a college or dean point of view, what are the key issues or challenges? 

As you know, the concept of academic freedom is one of the hallmarks of American higher education, and substantial component of academic freedom rests in the understanding that academic leaders (deans, chairs, and directors) decide who will be hired as faculty and what they will teach. This makes sense, chairs and directors especially, understand their accreditors’ hiring requirements, their departments’ or programs’ faculty needs and their students’ expectations, better than anyone else.

This group of academic leaders, who are responsible for faculty recruiting and hiring, are also some of the busiest faculty on any campus.  Chairs and directors are usually required to teach only one-course less than a full teaching load, plus, they are advising and mentoring students, managing their full-time faculty, researching and publishing in their fields and doing institutional service.

The biggest issue or challenge regarding adjunct recruiting and hiring is that you have the group who is probably doing the most important work on campus, hiring faculty, trying to do it with few, if any, resources.

I have literally been in chair’s and director’s offices when they are reduced to tears because of the frustration caused by having to do the impossible: find faculty who are qualified under accreditor’s standards, who are available to teach, and who are willing to work for low wages; oh and who also reflect theirs and their institutions commitment to hiring diverse faculty, all while they teach, advise, manage, research, publish and do committee work.

Back in the day, chairs and directors tapped their personal and professional networks to find adjunct faculty.  Sometimes they posted ads, but this was expensive and frustrating. It often meant having to spend hours and hours of parsing through cv’s and screening candidates. As the number of adjuncts needed began to rise, the old ways of recruiting became less and less effective.

HR departments have applicant tracking systems where adjunct faculty candidates can apply, but the applications contained therein are usually outdated and the candidates who are most-needed are typically passive-job seekers who come out of popular fields like applied health, technology, engineering and business. Those professionals are typically not visiting the job boards that drive applicants to ATS’s. Ironically, these ATS’s are what schools use to show compliance with federal regulations regarding diversity in recruiting and hiring.

So, in summary, you have some of the busiest faculty, with little or no experience in talent acquisition or recruiting, and no real resources, trying to recruit and hire greater and greater numbers of adjunct faculty, who need to meet stringent accreditors’ hiring standards. These needed adjunct faculty work in popular often lucrative fields and need to be convinced to teach for a relatively small compensation.

Q: How does your company tackle these challenges? And what would a long-term solution or improvement look like? 

APL provides deans, chairs and directors with a tool to find qualified adjunct faculty based on the hiring criteria they submit electronically in what we call a Custom Match.  On the Custom Match academic leaders tell us what their hiring requirements are and our proprietary software matches them to candidates who meet these requirements.  APL then provides pre-qualified candidate matches for about 1/3 the price of posting an ad.  Once a match is made, an extensive, digital candidate profile, highlighting higher-education specific hiring insights, is provided to the academic leader through the platform for review and an introduction is made to connect the dean, chair or director with the candidate.

In addition to the MATCH application, the APL platform has features in the application where the candidates’ profiles are presented (PROFoilo) for academic leaders to store, share, manage and report on information pertaining to this faculty.  A new feature in the application will allow contract workflow and execution to be managed on the platform later this year.

Because faculty hiring happens on the academic side at the department level of an institution, most schools do not have a centralized, digital repository for faculty information.  In fact, most often, CV’s, teaching contracts and evaluations are stored in paper files in chairs and directors offices.  PROFolio makes it easier for academic leadership to do internal-institution-wide searches for adjunct faculty, to report on compliance in hiring and to communicate with their adjunct faculty, all of which aid in retaining faculty.

APL ‘s 4 on-line Teaching+Learning courses, which are allocated and shared through the platform, also help in the effort to retain adjunct faculty.  Most adjuncts, when polled, suggest three things that would improve their experience:  regular communication and the occasional “thank you”, an invitation to department faculty outings and training on how to teach.   APL’s Teaching+Learning courses provide content that focuses on pedagogy, teaching techniques, strategies, and best practices to help ensure great teaching and high learning outcomes.

I think that APL’s platform provides important resources to help academic leaders recruit, manage and train adjunct faculty as teachers. I also believe that the APL platform has laid the foundation for a grander long-term solution. The APL platform can engender a recognition by all stakeholders: academic leaders, administrations, BOD’s, students, and policy-makers, that the single most important factor in student success, across the spectrum of metrics, is student access to good faculty.

APL may also change the national adjunct conversation, prompting stakeholders to begin to talk about the tremendous contributions adjunct faculty can make.  As practitioners in the field, adjuncts can provide an invaluable compliment to the knowledge that full-time, tenured faculty share with students. High-achieving, passionate, and professional adjunct professors are in a unique position to teach and model the practical and professional skills today’s students want and need.

Ultimately, it is my dream that APL’s platform will be the conduit to connect academic leaders and the best practitioners in every field so that students, schools, and employers reap the benefits of a deep collaboration in their efforts to educate and prepare students.

Q: How did you get here? What was your moment or spark of realization about these problems and that you may be able to do something about them?

I spent 14 years in higher education experiencing the problems APL is seeking to solve and decided two years ago that we should build the technology to make it easier and less expensive to find, not just qualified, but great adjunct faculty to teach students.

The spark was the look of fear in my student’s eyes after the recession in regards to their futures after graduation.

Q: Your solutions aren’t just ideas. You already have paying clients, which, for a young company, is pretty amazing. Who are you working with already and how have the early results been? 

We have 20 partner schools including Ivy Tech, the largest community college in the county. We have matched hundreds of qualified candidates with academic leaders.

It’s funny when we introduce APL to schools, no one says it’s a bad idea, though they sometimes say they have other priorities.

That said, I believe the national conversation is finally beginning to focus on teaching and teachers as the solution to many problems facing higher education. It is kind of crazy that we will spend gazillions of dollars on everything but the most basic answer: hiring and training people who can teach.

Q: What’s the future hold for adjunct professor link? What things are you focused on today and looking ahead to in, say, five years?

Today we are focused on getting the word out to schools that we can help.  Looking ahead, I hope 5 years from now students are being taught by top researchers in their fields (full-time, tenured faculty) and the best, most accomplished practitioners who have been trained to teach. I hope that there is deep collaboration between full-time and adjunct faculty. I hope that APL will have contributed to helping to make this happen.