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Adding Further Insult: Cutting Adjunct Pay

Posted on Tuesday May 22, 2012 by Michael Keathley

At a time when education budgets are being slashed, the majority of the concern centers on how this affects students. There is, however, another large constituency that is affected while receiving almost no attention or concern: part-time faculty.

Also known as ‘adjunct’ or ‘contingent’ faculty, this group teaches about 70% of college courses on average nationally, provides extra service hours in the form of activities like curriculum development, committee work, and advising, with a very low rate of pay (Allen, C., 7 February, 2012). The average salary of part-time faculty is difficult to pinpoint because of the variations on types of contracts (e.g., some are for the academic year while most are semester/term by semester/term), regional difference in salaries, differentials in payment/non-payment for additional duties, the number of part-time positions these faculty may hold, etc. However, Allen gives a reasonable estimate at $1,400/course (7 February, 2012). There are some postsecondary institutions that allow part-time faculty some additional benefits, such as all or partial tuition reimbursement and health care; however, finding whatever time or money may be necessary to take advantage of such benefits is difficult, especially for those working multiple jobs.

The difficulties above are exacerbated by the current budgetary woes, as most schools are relying even more on adjunct faculty and some schools are cutting salaries and benefits at the same time. To many faculty, these recent cuts add further insult to an already grossly underappreciated, undercompensated occupation. This makes many feel less like “adjunct” faculty and more like “ad-junk” faculty.

Between the Rock and the Hard Place
Granted, something needs to be done to stem the tide of escalating higher education costs while meeting student demands. However, pulling funding from the salaries of part-time faculty is like cutting support from other borderline poverty groups like senior citizens.

For example, Argosy University recently announced it was cutting adjunct pay by as much as 33% “to bring the university more in line with other online institutions” (Fain, P. 16 April, 2012). After February 7, 2012, all undergraduate part-time, online faculty will be paid $1,600 per course and all graduate, online faculty $1,800 per course, down from $2,200 and $2,700 (Fain, P. 16 April, 2012). Adjunct faculty advocates Joe Berry and Maria Maisto both expressed that these new rates are low, especially for online courses which often require much more preparation than their face-to-face (F2F) counterparts; Maisto adds that paying at poverty level, even if it is the adjunct average, is hardly admirable (qtd. in Fain, P. 16 April, 2012). The difficulty is that as enrollments declined by 4.5%, Argosy, an online, for-profit institution, must have felt the need to do something to secure its sustainability.

Similar decisions to increase the number of classes taught by part-time faculty, while not increasing pay much for instructors, is historically evident at all types of postsecondary institutions. In an issue brief, the Coalition on the Academic Workforce reports the following:

• Between 1970 and 2007, the percentage of part-time faculty teaching classes jumped from 22% to 48.7%. The percentage of full-time faculty declined by about the same amount (78% down to 51.3%).

• To this 48.7% of part-time faculty should be added another 15% of non-tenure track faculty.

• Graduate teaching assistants also raise the total number of part-timers to nearly 60% of the teaching workforce.

• Therefore, about 75% of the faculty workforce is non-tenured, mostly part-time faculty. (February 2010).

Although this adjunct workforce, along with the tenured and non-tenured full-time faculty, frequently receives the blame for rising higher education costs, this is not true. The Columbia Chronicle recently shared information based on an American Association of University Professors (AAUP) report that:

• Private four-year colleges increased their tuition rates by 28.9 percent in the last decade, while faculty salary increases have ranged only from 1.9–7.7 percent.

• Faculty salaries have seen an average 1.3 percent cumulative salary decrease since 2009.

• Part-time faculty tend to be the lowest paid faculty, and their salaries increase very little or remain stagnant. (16 April, 2012).

Although it is understandable that all types of educational institutions must take a closer look at their bottom line to remain financially stable and we should support them in doing so, clearly trimming the budget for part-time faculty pay is the wrong place to look.

More Creative Solutions
The first step in finding a long term solution is to look at exactly what the salaries of adjunct faculty are; fortunately, the Coalition on the Academic Workforce is completing a study that should shed more light on the issue (Fain, P. 16 April, 2012). However, for those individuals and organizations interested in combining their efforts to improve the lot of today’s faculty, the CAW offers additional suggestions.

• All faculty members need to receive compensation, institutional support, and recognition commensurate with their status as professionals.

• Institutions should establish minimum levels of per-course compensation for all faculty
members serving off the tenure track that are equitable to those of tenure-track faculty
members, so that all faculty members have the support necessary to devote the time and
effort required to teach college-level courses. To ensure fairness and transparency,
compensation levels should be a matter of public record.

• All faculty members who teach 50% or more of a full teaching load should have access to
health and retirement benefits through the institution. [However, there is the potential that this may backfire and limit opportunity. I would suggest some safeguard here or perhaps something like a seniority system where top-performing faculty would move into positions of teaching a 50% or more load.]

• Institutions should compensate all faculty members for work outside of the classroom,
including student advising, committees, and other service work.

• All faculty members should get regular support for professional development in regard to
teaching skills, new course creation, scholarship, and occupational promotion.

• All faculty members should have access to administrative and technical support from the
department and institution.

These may sound like lofty goals, but there are many simple steps that can be initiated to see where budgets may be trimmed and the resulting savings diverted to the salaries and benefits of part-time faculty. For example, at a university where I was recently employed, simple measures like dimming lights in hallways, removing individual office phones for faculty who did not use them, and replacing restroom bar soap with foam versions saved thousands that were then used to avoid cutting positions and/or salaries.

Immediate Relief
Part-time faculty should keep in mind that there are ways they can help one another (e.g., see my previous post: “5 Simple Ways Adjuncts Can Help One Another,” 12 March, 2012). They should also realize they have many more who empathize and advocate for them in leadership positions and among full-time faculty than may be readily apparent. Hopefully, with all of the education reform going on, institutions will see the irrationality of decreasing part-time faculty pay and find more likely culprits for the rising cost of higher education to expunge instead.

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