There's a post up at the Homeless Adjunct that's well worth a read. Actually, since hir points about the harms that overreliance on undercompensated adjunct labor has done to universities, professors, and students alike will be of no surprise to any of my academic readers, it's one that is well worth passing on to your non-university friends with offspring about to go to college, or who are about to choose a university for themselves.
The post provides a list of questions that people in this position might consider asking on their campus visits. What's below is just a list of the questions, with my own answers. Note that the original post explains and explicates each and every one of them very nicely, and brings up some excellent points.
My answers about my own institution (mid-tier four-year state school):
1. What percentage of the faculty teaching your undergraduate classes is full-time? What percentage is adjunct? About 45% a couple of years ago; surely more than that right now, for the simple reason that, with each round of budget cuts over the last few years, another batch of adjuncts lost their jobs, or had full-time cut down to part-time. I don't think this is the way we want to go about "increasing tenure-track density."
2. A related question: what percentage of my child’s classes will be taught by Teaching Assistants? None, at least not in my department, but that's because we aren't a Ph.D.-granting program. I think that some classes over in Natural Sciences and Mathematics may be taught by TAs. (Note that HA does talk about the problematic nature of applying the term "assistant" to someone who is, in reality, fully responsible for a given class.)
3. Are undergraduate students guaranteed full access to their professors on campus? Faculty, whether TT or contingent, are required to hold office hours, but there's no minimum or maximum. I'd guess that 4-5 "official" hours a week are about average, with more random hours when we're between classes.
4. Are undergraduate students guaranteed private meetings in their professor’s private offices? Up until recently, most faculty shared offices, but usually not on the same days.
5. Are undergraduate students guaranteed advising from their departmental faculty? This is where I get cranky. There were hours available with one of two departmental advisers (both department faculty) every day of the week, staggered times so that any student could make them. We also scheduled mandatory meetings for new majors, whether transfer or freshman. But advising funding has been slashed. We now have one person tasked with doing the job that, until now, it's taken two people to do... and there may be a 50% reduction in hir compensation for that work. There is university advising as well -- important for general graduation requirements, but problematic when they try to give advice about the major. One, last year, advised at least a couple of majors to delay taking our (required for majors!) core course because it was "too hard."
6. What is the number of “general education” or “core” classes required of my student’s major, or of the general university degree? Good lord, I don't know... they seem to change this every two years or so. I'd direct you to ask our departmental advisor, but... (see above, #5)
7. Will undergraduate students be given ample access to the courses required for graduation within four years? Probably not. Too many students, too few faculty, too many budget pressures to cut "underenrolled" courses within the first couple of weeks of registration.
8. Will the university be willing to guarantee that my child’s classes will be taught by faculty who are compensated equally, provided with private offices and professional support, who will be available to mentor and guide my child outside of class as well as in? Hmmm... no, no/no, and... I'm supposed to do what?!? (Unless the author means that I'll be available to mentor outside of class hours? Because I'm in no way qualified to handle the many personal issues that my students have. Sympathize, yes. Direct them to the correct resources, certainly. But I have no business guiding their personal lives.) Honestly, while this is a lovely thought, I doubt that any but the highest-ranking SLACs could say yes to this one.
9. Where does the tuition go? Will universities provide a full accounting of... [and here there's a bit about various salaries] Actually, for my state, all public employee salaries are searchable online; if you know my name and institution, you can find my gross salary for as recently as last year. You can also find the gross salary of any adjunct or staff member or campus president. What you won't find is an accounting of the extras. For example: faculty members have (until recently) had access to about $800 per year in money for travel to professional conferences. Campus presidents in high-cost areas get a supplement to their salaries that is a "housing allowance" equal to about what our most recent full-time faculty were hired at. Lecturers get bupkis.
10. Finally, you might want to ask them about their corporate partnerships. I don't think our uni is allowed to have those (unless you count the concessions contracts). But I could be wrong. And I imagine that this makes more of a difference when you dig down into the corporations that are funding individual or group grants.
That's a longish post, and the original is even longer. But I thought I should make a full accounting. As you can see, my colleagues at Grit City U. are doing our best. But the odds appear to be stacked against us, and I might want to revisit these questions at the beginning of next academic year.