Opinion – Teaching Online at for-profit universities: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Every teacher’s experience of the online learning environment will be different, so this op-ed is only related to my experience as an online adjunct faculty member at for-profit universities. All of my courses were taught fully online, which also distinguishes them from a blended learning environment.

There are a few requirements to teaching university courses at an online school. Usually universities require:

  • At least 18 hours of graduate instruction in the course you are seeking to teach, but most require a Master’s degree or a PhD in the field.
  • A few years of traditional teaching experience.
  • Completion of an un-paid training course prior to assigning your first course.

So, after getting the first job, here are the bonuses and drawbacks of this kind of position.

The Good:

  • You have complete flexibility over when you teach or complete coursework as long as you fulfill the requirements as defined by the administration.
  • Employers normally offer some level of professional development to their adjunct faculty.
  • Some universities offer tuition assistance or stipends for research to their adjunct faculty.
  • Your work can be done fully online – from home, from Starbucks, from Timbuktu.

The Bad:

  • Instructors often have little control over course content or curriculum. They must craft announcements and lectures based on the given materials.
  • Course/curriculum updates occur frequently, meaning that instructors must continually update their announcements, lectures, etc. This can be time consuming, especially if the course is “in development” and needs to have revisions constantly.
  • Changes to administrative policies may come with little or no warning. At one of the universities that I worked for, administration eliminated the use of Teaching Assistants (who did the majority of the grading) with very little notice. Administration instructed faculty to absorb the grading of assignments, which significantly increased workload.

The Ugly:

  • The salary for most courses taught by adjunct faculty is fairly low. You can expect to earn between $1200 and $2000 for each 5-8 week course you teach, dependent upon previous experience and education. Considering the amount of work involved, this is a shockingly low rate of pay for someone who has, at the very least, a Master’s degree.
  • No benefits of any kind are offered to online adjunct faculty because they are considered part-time workers.
  • There is no established career path based on achievement, merit, or any other factor. Although there are sometimes job announcements for full time online faculty posted on the internal job boards, the chance of getting one of these coveted, full-time, benefitted positions is quite slim. Unless you’re well-connected, have worked there a long time, or are the most stellar instructor ever, it’s highly unlikely you will land one of these full-time positions even after years of service at a particular institution.

The Verdict:

Teaching as an online adjunct can be financially and personally rewarding, but that experience is completely dependent on your career goals. If you’re looking for something that will supplement your income either because you’re moonlighting or between jobs, this career path might be appropriate.  If you’re willing to take on several courses from multiple universities, that can be lucrative. However, if you’re looking for a career in which you can identify a solid career path to advancement, the online teaching field presents several challenges to this goal.