College faculty, College faculty, Corporate, Domestic, Education Quality, For-Profit, Investors, Regulatory, Required, Retention Rates, Unemployment, University & College - Written by Wired Academic on Thursday, December 8, 2011 5:00 - 0 Comments
Grand Canyon University Hires 98 Full-Time Faculty, Rare Move By A For-Profit College
Professors at online colleges can be an anonymous, itinerant bunch, moonlighting as adjuncts from far-flung locales and often struggling to cobble together a teaching load that can pay the bills.
Breaking this mold are 98 newly minted online faculty members at Grand Canyon University. The for-profit Christian university hired them as full-time employees, and they get standard benefits packages that are not available to part-timers. The group works weekdays from noon to 8 p.m., reporting for duty at two administrative buildings in Phoenix, near the university’s campus.
Full-time teaching gigs are rare in online higher education, which has a business model built on cheap labor with flexible hours. But Grand Canyon bets that having a cadre of long-term online professors will prove a competitive advantage.
Brian Mueller, Grand Canyon’s CEO, said the relatively expensive hiring binge is an attempt to send a message about “better teaching and better service.” He said the move would pay for itself by enhancing the university’s brand and reducing marketing costs, and also by improving student retention. “We’re trying to build a real faculty,” he said, who “teach and build loyalty for Grand Canyon.”
GCU may be in a luckier spot than some For-Profits in that it is connected to a place: Arizona. Although it is a publicly-traded company with 2,000 adjuncts who teach 40,000 students who attend online classes, GCU also has a traditional campus with 5,000 students taught by 100 full-time and 300 adjunct faculty. It includes the typical college features of a basketball arena and dormitories. That’s because investors who founded GCU took it from nonprofit status in 2004 into a mix of on-campus students and online students.
Fain reports that many of the new full time faculty were former adjuncts at Grand Canyon. Administrators made a point to hire faculty who had a talent at encouraging students. Those who didn’t live near Phoenix had to move there for the job. They are not tenured, tenure-track or enjoying academic freedom. But it’s still more stability and benefits than before. Fain also reports that the hiring is largely driven by Mueller, who was a former executive at the Apollo Group and the University of Phoenix.
The newly full-time employees now teach almost all of Grand Canyon’s entry-level classes, which are typically the first three courses in all academic programs, including master’s and doctoral degree offerings. Online students are more likely to drop out quickly than their peers at traditional campuses, so this vulnerable period is where the university can make its biggest retention gains.
By having instructors plugged in and available at predictable hours, Grand Canyon hopes to make online offerings less “impersonal,” Mueller said. The full-time professors teach up to four classes simultaneously, and typically have four computer screens up and running at their work stations.
Another part of what the university describes as a “high touch” strategy involves having student advisers and financial aid counselors in the same building. A faculty member can walk down the hall and tell a counselor about a student who’s having a hard time.
Some other colleges have made similar strides. For example, 320 faculty members are full-time at the American Public University System, an online for-profit, and many of those professors work at the system’s headquarters. Additionally, the University of Maryland University College employs 215 full-time faculty members among a total of 2,200 instructors. The fully online, public institution requires that full-time faculty work in university facilities
Read more: Inside Higher Ed (Adjunct Promotion at a For-Profit)
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