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Adjunct Professor vs. Associate Professor: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on May 18, 2024
Adjunct professors are part-time, non-tenure faculty hired to teach specific courses, while associate professors are full-time, tenure-track faculty with more responsibilities and research commitments.

Key Differences

Adjunct professors and associate professors play distinct roles within the academic landscape of higher education institutions. Adjunct professors are typically part-time instructors hired on a contractual basis to teach one or more specific courses. They often work in the professional field they teach, bringing real-world experience to the classroom. Associate professors, on the other hand, are full-time faculty members who have moved beyond the initial rank of assistant professor. Achieving the rank of associate professor usually requires a significant record of teaching, research, and publication.
Adjunct professors, while valued for their teaching and practical expertise, do not typically participate in the governance or administrative responsibilities of the institution. The journey to becoming an associate professor involves a rigorous evaluation process that assesses the faculty member's contributions to their field, teaching excellence, and service to the institution.
Understanding the difference between adjunct and associate professors is crucial for students navigating their educational paths, as well as for professionals considering a career in academia. Each position offers unique opportunities and challenges, with the role of adjunct professors suited to those seeking to share practical knowledge without the commitment to a full-time academic career, and the role of associate professors appealing to those dedicated to research, teaching, and the pursuit of tenure within higher education.

Comparison Chart

Employment Type

Part-time, non-tenure track
Full-time, often tenure-track or tenured

Primary Role

Teaching specific courses
Teaching, research, and service

Job Security

Limited, contract-based
High, with tenure


Typically none
Includes benefits like health insurance, retirement plans

Research Expectations

Minimal, focused more on teaching
Significant, with expectations of publishing and funding

Adjunct Professor and Associate Professor Definitions

Adjunct Professor

A part-time instructor hired on a contractual basis.
The adjunct professor brought real-world marketing experience to the classroom.

Associate Professor

Enjoys job security and academic freedom.
The tenure that comes with being an associate professor allows him to explore innovative teaching methods.

Adjunct Professor

May not have access to full faculty benefits.
Despite her dedication, the adjunct professor lacked the health benefits full-time faculty enjoyed.

Associate Professor

A tenured or tenure-track faculty member at a mid-career level.
The associate professor received a grant to continue her research in renewable energy.

Adjunct Professor

Teaches specific courses without tenure.
He works as an adjunct professor, teaching night classes in economics.

Associate Professor

Has met rigorous standards for promotion from assistant professor.
She was promoted to associate professor after publishing her groundbreaking study.

Adjunct Professor

Often employed in their professional field outside teaching.
As an adjunct professor and engineer, she offers practical insights into mechanical design.

Associate Professor

Engages in teaching, research, and university service.
As an associate professor, he mentors both undergraduate and graduate students.

Adjunct Professor

Provides flexibility and expertise in curriculum offerings.
The department relies on adjunct professors to cover specialized courses.

Associate Professor

Involved in leadership within the academic community.
The associate professor chaired the committee to revise the curriculum standards.


What qualifications are needed for an adjunct professor?

Typically requires at least a master's degree in the subject area, though many have doctorates.

Can adjunct professors receive tenure?

No, adjunct positions are non-tenure-track.

How does one become an associate professor?

After earning tenure as an assistant professor, through demonstrated excellence in teaching, research, and service.

How is the salary determined for adjunct professors?

Usually on a per-course basis, without the annual salary benefits of full-time faculty.

Do associate professors have to publish their research?

Yes, publishing scholarly work is a key requirement for achieving and maintaining their status.

Are adjunct professors part of the faculty union?

This depends on the institution and local laws; some adjuncts are unionized, while others are not.

Can adjunct professors participate in academic governance?

Participation is often limited compared to full-time faculty.

What's the typical workload for an adjunct professor?

Workload varies widely, often teaching multiple courses at different institutions.

What kind of benefits do associate professors receive?

Full benefits, including health insurance, retirement plans, and sometimes housing or travel allowances.

Do associate professors have to teach, or can they focus solely on research?

They are generally expected to both teach and conduct research, though the balance can vary by institution.

How does the job security of an adjunct professor compare to an associate professor?

Associate professors, especially tenured ones, have far greater job security.

Are adjunct professors eligible for research grants?

They may apply for grants, but often with less institutional support than full-time faculty.

What's the impact of adjunct professors on students?

They can offer current industry perspectives and practical knowledge, enriching the curriculum.

How does teaching at a community college differ for adjunct and associate professors?

Community colleges may have different titles and expectations but similarly distinguish between part-time and full-time roles.

What is the promotion path for associate professors?

They may be promoted to full professor after further achievements in research, teaching, and service.

Do associate professors have office space?

Yes, they typically have dedicated office space for research and student meetings.

What advice is there for adjunct professors aiming for a tenure-track position?

Gain a wide range of teaching experience, continue publishing research, and network within the academic community.

Can adjunct professors become associate professors directly?

Moving directly from adjunct to associate professor is uncommon; one usually must start as an assistant professor.

What are the research expectations for an associate professor?

They are expected to lead significant research projects, secure funding, and publish regularly.

How does one transition from adjunct to full-time faculty?

Such transitions are rare and typically require applying for open tenure-track positions as they become available.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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