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Better Faculty Development At Lower Cost

Better Faculty Development At Lower Cost
Like all adult learners, higher education faculty have various learning styles and are at varying stages in their career and family lives, but must learn together. Photo by Derek Gavey.

Higher education institutions are facing the dilemma of ever changing student populations, significant numbers of faculty retirements, and many new faculty hires while at the same time facing pressure to reduce costs including that of faculty development.  With fewer funds, faculty are under pressure to increase research and scholarship, improve teaching, link instruction more closely to the needs of industry, expand access, improve retention, and develop remediation for marginally prepared and unprepared students at the same time they are being asked to impose more rigorous academic standards and assess student learning in order to increase accountability to our stakeholders.

The earliest form of faculty development was the sabbatical leave first begun at Harvard in 1810. The original purpose of the sabbatical was to provide the professor an opportunity to learn enough to teach a subject.  Over the years, the purpose of the sabbatical has evolved to provide faculty the opportunity to do research projects or publishing that requires both travel and free time.  Sabbaticals are expensive.  Professors often receive one term at full pay or a year at half pay.  Institutions are looking to find ways to improve faculty subject-area expertise and teaching skills at lower costs than sabbaticals.

Although most institutions still offer sabbaticals, more recently the focus of faculty development has been to improve the faculty member as teacher.  Teaching and Learning Centers have sprung up to consult with faculty on classroom teaching skills and online learning as well as working with students from diverse backgrounds more of whom may not be ready for the college experience than in the past.  In addition, community and career colleges are providing opportunities for career faculty to stay current in programs that teach technology and health careers.

In order to be cost effective and meet the needs of individual faculty, adult development theories have been applied to faculty development in attempts to tie adult stages of development to faculty careers and faculty development concerns which may be related to things such as age, years of experience, previous background, and/or gender.  In addition, motivation for participation has been studied with institutions looking at both “carrots and sticks.” that range from contractual mandates to paying faculty to participate to providing released time.

Faculty are at different stages in their lives and careers.  They have time and monetary barriers to participation.  In addition, learning styles vary, and while some faculty prefer group activities, others prefer to learn by reading professional journals, visiting industry, and/or attending conferences and seminars.  Collective bargaining agreements encourage administrators to treat all faculty “equally.”  They neither foster nor provide systems and procedures for working with either individual faculty or groups of faculty with similar demographics to develop faculty development programs that meet faculty needs related to topics, activities, and incentives for participation.

In order to provide high-quality teaching, colleges must continually monitor and update their faculty development programs.  This will enable colleges to select cost-effective programs and activities to best meet the needs of their faculty in an era of scarce and declining resources.  Affordable programs that improve instruction can greatly impact the quality of college education.  We need to have less universal thinking about faculty development.  Faculty must be considered as individuals and less as part of a larger group.  Those responsible for faculty development need to carefully consider the demographics of their faculty and plan a wide range of programs and activities to accommodate the needs and motivations of individual faculty.  In this way institutions will be able to get more “bang for their buck.”