Program Improvement in Adult Education through Professionalization

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David Borden

David Borden,, currently works at Austin Community College as the Director of the Career Accelerator, a program dedicated to moving non-traditional students through career pathways–associate degree programs faster and with more supports. He holds a Master’s Degree from UNT. He has taught and managed programs in the U.S. and abroad. This article is adapted from a forthcoming book titled, Unrig the Game: A Proven, Systematic Approach to Successful College Transitions for Adult and Developmental Education Students, with co-author, Charlene Gill.

Payne et al. (2012) show that full-time Adult Basic Education instructors achieve better student performance results than part-time instructors. Unfortunately, very few program directors believe they can afford the expense of hiring full-time instructors. During my nine year tenure as the adult education director at ACC, I oversaw the increase of salaried instructors with health insurance and retirement increase from 9 to 22. During that period, we made significant investments in instructor salary and benefits, but also witnessed significant enrollment increases and performance improvements.

I believe the path to professionalizing the industry is not found in low pay and/or encouraging regions to use more volunteers. Rather, the path is by providing teachers with stable employment, health insurance, retirement plans, and sustained and systematic professional development; by engaging them in decision-making; and by moving away from a seniority system to one that rewards excellence in teaching.

Raising teacher salaries is a long term solution that is difficult to implement in the short term. In our case, salaried instructors cost 30% – 50% more than hourly instructors when you factor in health insurance and retirement plans. This expense can be hard on a limited grant budget, and impossible on a small budget. We have a large enough program (about 4,000 students served per year) that I could find places to reallocate resources. I shut down classes with low enrollment, even with long-standing, high-profile partners that didn’t appreciate being sacrificed for the greater good. Every four classes closed generated a twenty-hour-a-week, salaried instructor with full benefits. Average class sizes grew, but we still capped enrollment at 20 per class.

This strategy created a core faculty that often accrue between 30 and 50 hours of professional development per year. These faculty are engaged in curriculum development, mentoring hourly instructors, and leading workshops. Over the years, hourly and salaried instructors have seen our commitment to them, and they have returned that commitment to the program. These changes have increased our ability to recruit teachers because salaries are more competitive with staff jobs at the college; thus, our ratio of teachers with master’s degrees has doubled. In addition, we’ve reduced costs associated with attrition and training.

In conclusion, we only hire the highest quality instructors into the core faculty. We do not follow a seniority system, but rather look to fill these positions with teachers who not only are effective with students, but also demonstrate a belief in the mission of the division by collaborating well with their colleagues to make considerable contributions.


Payne, E.M., Reardon, R.F., Janysek, D.M., Lorenz, M., Lampi, J.P. (2012). Impact on student performance: Texas Adult Education Teacher Credential Study preliminary results. Report for The Texas Adult Education Credential Project, Texas State University