Paul L. Caron

Monday, September 9, 2013

Non-Tenure Track Professors Are Better Teachers Than Tenure Track Professors

David N. Figlio (Professor, Northwestern), Morton O. Schapiro (President, Northwestern) & Kevin B. Soter (Consultant, Greatest Good, Chicago), Are Tenure Track Professors Better Teachers? (NBER 19406):

This study makes use of detailed student-level data from eight cohorts of first-year students at Northwestern University to investigate the relative effects of tenure track/tenured versus non-tenure line faculty on student learning. We focus on classes taken during a student’s first term at Northwestern, and employ a unique identification strategy in which we control for both student-level fixed effects and next-class-taken fixed effects to measure the degree to which non-tenure line faculty contribute more or less to lasting student learning than do other faculty. We find consistent evidence that students learn relatively more from non-tenure line professors in their introductory courses. These differences are present across a wide variety of subject areas, and are particularly pronounced for Northwestern’s average students and less-qualified students. 

Inside Higher Ed, The Adjunct Advantage:

A major new study has found that new students at Northwestern University learn more when their instructors are adjuncts than when they are tenure-track professors. ... [T]hey note that previous studies have looked at the impact of adjunct instructors on graduation rates and retention rates. But they argue that it is important to shift the analysis to student learning and to behavior associated with student learning. ...

The study tracked eight cohorts of freshmen (those who entered from fall 2001 through fall 2008), and looked not at the grades or completion in the courses taught by the adjuncts, but at whether students enrolled in another course in that subject and the grades that students earned in that course. The study found that students were significantly more likely to enroll in a second course in the subject when the first course had been taught by an adjunct, and that they were likely to earn a higher grade in that second course if the first had been taught by an adjunct.

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Woody -- your comparison of tenured professors to leeches (as a statistical generalization, not absolute truth in all cases) needs no apology.

Posted by: Jake | Sep 10, 2013 11:39:09 AM

On a different point, adjunct professors tend to have practical experience in their fields and still work in those fields outside of the colleges rather than being limited to academics, and students would find real world experiences interesting and helpful.

Posted by: Woody | Sep 10, 2013 8:38:49 AM

Who couldn't anticipate this result? Many tenured professors become lazy teachers once they are secured in the positions, like many people dependent upon government become lazy once they are secure with their extended unemployment benefits, welfare, food stamps, Section 8 housing, free medical, free cell phones, and social security disability. Sorry to compare professors to leeches, but it simply illustrates that tenured professors exhibit standard human nature and that tenure and handouts are not the paths to making people productive.

Posted by: Woody | Sep 10, 2013 8:31:10 AM

I skimmed the study, and it has a big flaw: it doesn't look at what advanced class the student takes after his intro class. Thus, we might have one student taking intro econ from a tenure-track professor and then taking intermediate micro, and another taking it from an adjunct and then taking How To Read the Wall Street Journal. In particular, students inspired to become majors in the subject will have to take *required* courses in the subject, which will have tougher grading and more challenging material.
It would have been easy to do the study right. They should have looked at one particular advanced course in each subject.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Sep 10, 2013 7:29:07 AM

Of course, tenured track faculty are expected to publish not to teach. This survey is like one "proving" that the sun rises in the East.

Posted by: 30-yearProf | Sep 10, 2013 5:28:04 AM

As a prof., particularly as non-tenured, I had to prove myself through my scholarship. This is a just demand, but one that makes teaching more stressful. Years ago, Gov.Reagan suggested two types of professors, one group specializing in research and another in teaching. The researches would teach the advanced grad. courses. Good idea.

Posted by: Prof. Leonard Wessell | Sep 10, 2013 5:04:22 AM