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Do College Instructors Matter? The Effects of Adjuncts and Graduate Assistants on Students' Interests and Success

  • Eric Bettinger
  • Bridget Terry Long

One of the most pronounced trends in higher education over the last decade has been the increased reliance on instructors outside of the traditional full-time, Ph.D.-trained model. Nearly 43 percent of all teaching faculty were part-time in 1998, and at selective colleges, graduate assistant instructors teach over 35 percent of introductory courses. Critics argue that these alternative instructors, with less education and engagement within a university, are causing the quality of education to deteriorate and may affect student interest in a subject. However, little research exists to document these claims. This paper attempts to fill this void using a unique dataset of students at public, four-year colleges in Ohio. The paper quantifies how adjunct and graduate assistant instructors affect the likelihood of enrollment and success in subsequent courses. Because students with alternative instructors may differ systematically from other students, the paper uses two empirical strategies: course fixed effects and a value-added instructor model. The results suggest that adjunct and graduate assistant instructors generally reduce subsequent interest in a subject relative to full-time faculty members, but the effects are small and differ by discipline. Adjuncts and graduate assistants negatively affect students in the humanities while positively affecting students in some of the technical and professional fields.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10370.

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Date of creation: Mar 2004
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10370
Note: ED
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  1. Peter Temin, 2002. "Teacher Quality and the Future of America," NBER Working Papers 8898, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. George J. Borjas, 2000. "Foreign-Born Teaching Assistants and the Academic Performance of Undergraduates," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 355-359, May.
  3. Figlio, David N. & Rueben, Kim S., 2001. "Tax limits and the qualifications of new teachers," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 80(1), pages 49-71, April.
  4. Eric A. Hanushek & Steven G. Rivkin, 2003. "Does Public School Competition Affect Teacher Quality?," NBER Chapters, in: The Economics of School Choice, pages 23-48 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Ehrenberg, Ronald G. & Brewer, Dominic J., 1994. "Do school and teacher characteristics matter? Evidence from High School and Beyond," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 13(1), pages 1-17, March.
  6. Heckman, James J, 1979. "Sample Selection Bias as a Specification Error," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(1), pages 153-61, January.
  7. Caroline M. Hoxby, 2002. "Would School Choice Change the Teaching Profession?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 37(4), pages 846-891.
  8. David H. Autor, 2000. "Why Do Temporary Help Firms Provide Free General Skills Training?," NBER Working Papers 7637, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Peter Temin, 2002. "Teacher Quality and the Future of America," Eastern Economic Journal, Eastern Economic Association, vol. 28(3), pages 285-300, Summer.
  10. Hanushek, Eric A. & Rivkin, Steven G., 2006. "Teacher Quality," Handbook of the Economics of Education, Elsevier.
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