Part-time faculty pay reaching poverty level

class adjunct

The American Federation of Teachers recently highlighted the tenuous employment and poor compensation of part-time college teachers in an article titled: "New report blasts working conditions of adjunct faculty."

The article spotlights findings of two recent reports. In the first, a survey of 500 adjunct faculty found they are frequently hired at the last minute for courses they have little time to prepare for, with little or no support from the institution. They rarely have opportunities for professional development or chances to share in the collegial culture of education.

The second report, "Dismantling the Professoriate," paints a bleak portrait of the poverty-level wages and lack of professional support for adjunct faculty, who often make significantly less per course than their full-time counterparts:

  • "The median pay per course, standardized to a three-credit course, was $2,700 in fall 2010, and ranged from a low of $2,235 at two-year colleges to a high of $3,400 at four-year doctoral or research universities.
  • "Part-time faculty respondents saw little, if any, wage premium based on their credentials.
  • "Professional support was minimal for part-time faculty members' work outside the classroom and for their inclusion in academic decision-making."

Grassroots efforts are also drawing attention to the low pay, lack of benefits and lack of support in a field that has come to depend on the presence of a surplus of "freeway flyers," as adjuncts are often called.

A "crowd-sourced" spreadsheet at lists data from part-time faculty all over the U.S., on wages, health benefits (or more commonly, lack thereof), access to institutional support, union membership and retirement.

Budget cuts are often blamed for the over-reliance on part-time adjuncts to handle the bulk of teaching. Budgets have indeed been slashed in education, but data shows at the same time, the non-teaching administrative sector has grown.

While college administrations often tout the fiscal advantages of using part-time faculty, they don't apply the same logic to their own ranks. Between 1976 and 2005, part-time faculty rose from 31 percent to 48 percent, while part-time administrators declined from 4 percent to 3 percent.

College administrators' salaries are several levels higher than the wages of adjunct teachers. Although full professors' salaries may seem commensurate with those of administrators, salaries and wages for all teaching staff have not kept pace, even with rising tuition, as reported by the American Association of University Professors.

The AAUP says tuition rose much faster than full-time faculty salaries, with the greatest gap at public institutions, where tuition and fees grew by 72 percent, accounting for inflation, while professors' salaries rose by less than 1 percent at doctoral and baccalaureate institutions and fell by over 5 percent at master's universities.

Meanwhile, the AAUP says, between 2006-7 and 2010-11, median presidential salaries jumped by 9.8 percent, adjusted for inflation, while median full-time faculty salaries rose by less than 2 percent."

In fact most adjuncts have been hired when universities were not facing budget cuts, the AAUP reported .

At the same time, colleges are increasingly turning toward corporate models and business culture. And corporations and businesses are taking more of a role in diverting public education funds intended for colleges, and instead directing them to private profit. Cheap and surplus labor is the model for an expanding bottom line in Wall Street-driven institutions and the same process has taken hold of our institutions of higher learning, especially in privatization at public universities.

Without tenure, adjuncts are among the first to be fired when cuts are on the table, just like temps and contract workers across many other fields. This can translate to depressed wages across the board for teaching staff, higher class loads for the remaining faculty (in some cases throwing teaching duties on "stipend" paid graduate students who make even less than adjuncts), and a decrease in dues in the teaching union locals, attacking their ability to fight educational austerity measures.

Slashing the teaching workforce in education does not cause the economy to grow or save the budgets of universities in the long run. Expanding wages and benefits and teaching opportunities for adjuncts would bring more regional prosperity, increasing the tax base and helping to grow available funds for education.

The political will must also be found to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations, who benefit from the presence of public universities and a well-educated labor force. Full time and part time teaching staff must forge organized and unified fight-backs, to press universities to benefit the teaching staff who attract students to the school. Resisting the privatization of our public resources will also help reverse the trend of making education jobs poverty-level.

Adjuncts should not view themselves as "the expendables," but as a workforce that now makes up the majority of higher education staff. If there is a union at your college, join it. If the adjuncts are not organized or not part of the existing union, press to become a part of the union or form an adjunct union.

Organization is the best weapon against capitalism, which has definitely entered the arena of higher education. The future of our working people, teachers and students alike, is at stake.

Photo: A college class, stock photo. Yee Ting // CC 2.0

Post your comment

Comments are moderated. See guidelines here.


  • The switch to part time, low paid adjuncts is brutal to the adjuncts but also short changes the students. Full time college faculty spend their time, not just in classroom work, but in working individually with students, in preparing their courses, in keeping up with their fields of study. The latter entails massive amounts of professional reading, going to conferences etc. For example I have sometimes taught physical anthropology, a field in which multiple new and important discoveries are announced every year. If you can't afford to subscribe to the relevant scientific publications, you can't do justice to the development of this knowledge in your teaching.
    Part timers, even at the highest pay levels cited in the article, don't spend their time doing these things, but rather running like mad from one institution to another so as to accumulate a course load big enough to allow them to eat and pay the travel costs.
    I don't recall any part time position that I have had or heard about that included health insurance.
    I was marginally involved in two efforts to unionize part time adjunct instructors, one initiated by AFT and the other by NEA. In both cases the efforts sputtered because they were based on a model of having the adjuncts do the legwork of making contacts with other adjuncts. In most industries that is a good model, but in this case it runs into the problem that part time adjuncts live such harried lives that they sometimes never meet other adjuncts at the same institution. In many cases adjuncts are not given offices or on campus telephone numbers. Today, I suspect that the rise of online communications and social media will make this easier to do. Still, I think that the scale of the problem is such that labor should make it a priority.
    Also, I agree with Debra Leigh Scott's comment that what is needed is a regional and national effort to unionize--school by school is not enough.

    Posted by Emile Schepers, 09/22/2013 1:29pm (2 years ago)

  • "The median pay per course, standardized to a three-credit course, was $2,700 in fall 2010, and ranged from a low of $2,235 at two-year colleges to a high of $3,400 at four-year doctoral or research universities."

    This seems high to me. I have taught at 2 different community colleges, one 4-year university and 2 different for profit schools and the most I have ever been paid is 2300 a course. At one school it was only 1500 per course and at the community colleges it was 1900 per course so I don't know where these schools that are paying 3k or more are, but I'd happy with that.

    Posted by anon, 10/08/2012 7:36pm (3 years ago)

  • I agree with the article and find it amazing that I have taught at one college for six years annd have never been given a raise of any kind. What further is frustrating is the way the pay is distributed. Often we have to teach 5-6 weeks before getting a pay-check. For some it is really a harship for getting gas money and food! Adjuncts are increasingly the backbone of many institutions and often are left to their own devices. This is bad for them as well as their students.
    When you are teaching an evening class with 24 or more students in a laboratory intense course, it is impossible for the adjunct to meet the needs of all the students in their class. It is exhausting and reflects badly on all. In some community colleges it is so bad, that students are paying lab fees and there are no labs. As an adjunct I believe in the importance of my role as an educator. It is unfortunate that we cannot make a decent living and that are value is not recognized.

    Posted by Helene Paxton, 09/25/2012 12:59pm (3 years ago)

  • Thanks so much for this article. This information is crucial, and anything we can do to communicate what is happening to the general population is essential. My film partner, Chris LaBree, and I have been working on a documentary about the abysmal working conditions of America's professoriate, and the many ways it has diminished our system of higher education. The film is called 'Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. in America. I also blog as The Homeless Adjunct, discussing a lot of the issues facing the contingent labor force in academia. My latest blog, "How American Universities Were Killed, In Five Easy Steps," raised a lot of stir -- but I think it provides the larger picture of why and how the university is under attack, and how the deprofessionalization of our scholars is only one part of a five-prong attack.
    For those interested, the blog can be read here:

    Regarding your suggestion that we have to organize, and that unions are our best defense -- it is more complicated than that. It takes years to mount an organizing committee and a successful unionization effort, even in the best of circumstances. But universities in this current climate are far more willing to put tens of millions of dollars into legal fees, fighting unionizing efforts. Often, with the conservative courts being what they are, these cases are decided in favor of the universities. Private universities have battled against organizing efforts for decades. Catholic universities have battled successfully.

    What I believe is this: we need a national effort - not a school-by-school effort, which has failed to but an end to this 30-year trend. We also need to partner with parents and high school professionals, with our students and legislators. This is labor abuse; it is educational abuse. Fighting alone will never create the kind of tsunami of change we might be able to raise when all "stakeholders" come together and demand high-quality education, professionally compensated faculty, a reduction of administrative expenses, more transparency.

    Most important - let's continue the conversation and the efforts.

    Posted by Debra Leigh Scott, 09/24/2012 4:52pm (3 years ago)

  • American academia would be crippled by a good old fashioned work stoppage .. say around the time of midterms .. Adjuncts Unite!! STRIKE!!!

    Sorry, I'm dreaming again...

    Posted by Charles Bivona, 09/23/2012 2:23pm (3 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments