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Adjunct faculty in demand

Rising enrollment at Utah colleges creates growing need for more educators

At Utah's fastest growing campuses, adjunct faculty have become quite a commodity.

Lynn Taylor, who teaches junior high school English all day, has been teaching three hours of English at Salt Lake Community College night classes for the past nine years. This year, she says her second job has expanded to include not only another hour of classes, but more students than ever before, sometimes reaching 30 students per class.

"There are just so many students," she said. "They really needed the help and I wanted to do it. I really think there is value in learning to write well." With Lynn Taylor's status as a published author, she feels that her students get to see real life opportunities for writing.

Evening and weekend classes are popular for the community college, this year with even more enrollment surges in those class times than in the past.

"We've filled our online courses right up to the gills," said SLCC spokesman Joy Tlou. He said the option has become very popular for students also working full-time jobs. "All our classes are more full than they've ever been."

Recent budget cuts prompted the elimination of more than 900 full-time positions in higher education this year — 202 of them regular faculty positions — but enrollment numbers continue to grow as economic conditions push more people back to school. In order to educate the masses, many schools, including SLCC and Utah Valley University, have had to tap into available community resources and hire teachers from various fields of expertise, much like Lynn Taylor.

"It's difficult because full-time faculty bring a level of service and continuity to the institution that I think is really valuable and yet adjunct faculty serve a great purpose in that a lot of them are right out of industry, and a lot of our students love the fact that their teachers spend all day out in the business world and then come on campus and teach it," said Deneece G. Huftalin, vice president of student services at SLCC. "A nice mix is great. We just need to be sure that mix is always a healthy one."

This semester's actual enrollment numbers won't be available until after the third week of school, but SLCC officials believe they're dealing with at least 15 to 18 percent more students than the same time one year ago. The influx led to a number of challenges, including the need for an open recruitment call for temporary workers who can help advise and direct students during the busy times. Other issues have been solved by offering an expanded selection of afternoon and weekend courses, Huftalin said, as well as more core class times for core requirements.

The Board of Regents will discuss current and projected enrollment numbers Friday at Utah State University, determining the best way to prepare for rising numbers of incoming students. The growing pains aren't tied just to the community college, as nearly all of Utah's eight institutions of higher learning are currently operating to the hilt.

UVU is experiencing a 10 to 12 percent enrollment jump from last year, translating into nearly 3,000 new students. It puts the newly-ascribed university on track to having more than 30,000 students, but space is significantly tighter at UVU, 121.5 square-feet per student, the lowest in the state. SLCC boasts a small 145.6 square-feet per students and other campuses are somewhere above that.

UVU is planning to build a new science building, which spokesman Chris Taylor said will help alleviate congested classrooms, but "won't solve all our problems." The Orem-based school is looking at various modes of delivery, in order to reach even more students as the numbers climb.

"We have to be creative because we offer distance education and satellite campuses, but the interpersonal element is key as well," he said. The school is working on getting to a point where 55 percent of its faculty is full-time, but adjunct hires were at 47 percent last year and Chris Taylor said "we've slipped from where we needed to be" already this year.

"Had we not experienced significant growth last year, and had we not been cut in our budgets, we would be right on target, but the economic circumstances have changed things," he said. "We still feel as though we're in pretty good position. We're doing what we can in terms of being creative, but it really comes down to resources — and we just don't have them."

SLCC's Lynn Taylor said that throughout the course of the first two days of school, she's turned away dozens of students who show up and are not yet registered for one of her classes. English 1010 is required for all students, but "there are only so many sections they can offer," she said. Students prepared enough to have registered early or lucky enough to get in, Lynn Taylor said, "really want to be there. There's an intensified energy in the room because the students are aware that there are so many who still want to get in."

She said the privilege of learning is sinking in to many students at various levels in their education.

None of Utah's schools have announced enrollment caps, and Huftalin said SLCC will "continue to accommodate students the best we can, we just can't guarantee the most favorable schedule for classes is still available."

e-mail: wleonard@desnews.com