Deregulation and the 'Gig Academy'

60 Pages Posted: 29 Apr 2021 Last revised: 31 Mar 2022

See all articles by Karen Halverson Cross

Karen Halverson Cross

University of Illinois Chicago School of Law

Date Written: April 28, 2021


For decades, colleges and universities in the U.S. have responded to increased competition, shrinking budgets, and other challenges by relying on growing numbers of part-time faculty. Scholars use the phrase “gig academy” to analogize higher education institutions, and their growing reliance on adjunct faculty, to the gig economy. This article examines how the government and higher education accreditors have relaxed full-time faculty requirements at colleges and universities, failing to constrain a drastic increase of gig workers in academia. When evaluating institutional quality, accreditors and the federal government focus less on an institution’s resources (including faculty resources) than on student outcomes (such as graduation and debt default rates). Although holding institutions accountable for student success is often appropriate, a negative consequence of this approach has been a lack of transparency and absence of public accountability regarding a college or university’s investment in its faculty. The ABA, in contrast, maintains relatively strict full-time faculty requirements. But in response to pressure from the federal government, even the ABA has relaxed enforcement of these requirements over time. The article argues that the ABA’s strict rule-based approach may err on the side of raising educational costs but is preferable to reliance on vague standards. It also considers ways to improve public disclosure of higher education institutions’ reliance on adjunct faculty.

Keywords: higher education law, accreditation, adjunct faculty, ABA Standards

Suggested Citation

Cross, Karen H., Deregulation and the 'Gig Academy' (April 28, 2021). 67 Wayne Law Review 151 (2022), Available at SSRN: or

Karen H. Cross (Contact Author)

University of Illinois Chicago School of Law ( email )

300 South State Street
Chicago, IL 60604
United States
312.360.2652 (Phone)


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