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25 Telling Facts About Adjunct Faculty Today

Posted on Monday September 17, 2012 by Staff Writers

While it was once common for nearly all college professors to be tenure-track, full-time employees, these days a growing number are adjuncts: part-time employees who are hired on a contractual basis. In the past, these part-timers helped the university expand their course offerings or shared their own expertise in their field with students, but at many schools today, adjuncts teach more courses in certain departments than the full-time professors on staff. The growth in adjunct faculty has largely been driven by economic reasons, as universities look to cut costs by hiring faculty they can pay less and don’t have to offer benefits, rather than seeking out more full-time professors. This may save schools money, but many are beginning to believe that it’s a pretty poor deal in the long run, both for students who may not get the attention they need and the overworked and underpaid adjuncts.

In truth, little may have been made of the growing number of adjunct faculty if they were generally treated fairly and given support by universities, but unfortunately, at many schools that simply hasn’t been the case. Poor pay, no job security, and little respect from administrators makes adjunct work stressful and in some cases unsustainable, as well as preventing schools from opening up new full-time positions that would offer many adjuncts a way out of the insecurity of part-time work. As new studies have made the real depth of the problem clearer, protests have grown and adjuncts, full-time professors, and students alike are beginning to stand up en masse to push universities to make changes. Here we highlight some of the facts uncovered by that recent research, displaying some of the most serious problems caused by the growth of often exploitative practices in adjunct work.

  1. Adjuncts make up 73% of the 1.6 million-employee instructional workforce in higher ed.

    Adjuncts may often fly below-the-radar, but they aren’t a rarity on college campuses, at least not these days. Today, adjuncts account for almost three quarters of the instructors in higher education. This is a marked increase from the 22% of faculty they comprised in 1970.

  2. Adjuncts teach more than half of undergraduate courses at public institutions.

    It should come as no surprise then that adjuncts are responsible for teaching a hefty chunk of undergraduate courses, especially large, introductory courses, which are often avoided by full-time faculty because they are grading-heavy and can be tedious to teach year after year.

  3. Two-thirds of adjuncts receive course assignments just two to three weeks before classes begin.

    Think your job is stressful? Imagine trying to prepare a semester’s worth of material — a syllabus, readings, projects, and assignments — in less than three weeks. That’s just what most adjuncts do. A survey of adjuncts by the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education found that 33% of adjuncts are given three weeks or less to prepare, 17% less than two weeks, 18% between two and three weeks. What’s worse, it’s not only stressful for teachers, but that lack of time to prepare can also lead to diminished learning experiences for students.

  4. On-campus privileges are limited for adjuncts.

    The same survey also found that adjuncts rarely have access to resources they would need to prepare their course materials more than two weeks before classes begin. Forty-seven percent report limited access to copying, 45% library services, and 21% curriculum guidelines, all essentials for getting ready to teach students.

  5. They also don’t always have access to technology.

    In addition to missing out on basics like copiers and libraries, adjuncts are also getting shorted when it comes to access to the technology required to perform their jobs. A survey found that 41% of adjuncts were not provided with access to a campus phone, little over half either had no access to a computer or only gained access to one less than two weeks before classes started.

  6. Many adjuncts spend their own money on class supplies.

    Preparing for a course can take a significant amount of supplies and resources, which we’ve already discussed aren’t always easy for adjuncts to access at the colleges where they teach. As a result, many resort to buying their own supplies out of pocket, which can add up quickly in large courses and takes away from the already low salaries adjuncts are paid.

  7. Adjunct course preparation is often done on unpaid time.

    Not only are adjuncts spending their own money on supplies, but they’re also not always being paid for the time they spend prepping for courses. Even worse, when adjuncts finally are paid, many get checks as much as a month after they start working, a violation of many state employment laws that mandate pay on a bi-weekly or semi-monthly basis. Some colleges also require training that can take adjuncts as much as 20 hours to complete, time which, while a job requirement, is often unpaid.

  8. Adjuncts often are referred to as “staff” in class schedules.

    Not only do adjunct professors not know what classes they’ll be teaching, students rarely know who’ll be teaching their courses. Because courses are assigned at the last minute, adjuncts often show up as simply “staff” on student schedules. This not only demeans the work they do but also gives students little chance to learn about their professors before heading to class.

  9. Ninety-four percent of adjuncts receive no campus or department orientation.

    If you’ve gone to college, you know it isn’t always easy to get used to a new campus. Now imagine you’re trying to work there, with no one to help you figure out where things are, introduce you to coworkers, or help you understand the guidelines of your department. That’s the situation that many adjuncts are in, with the vast majority receiving no campus or department orientation. What’s worse, a whopping 49% of adjuncts are new to the campus.

  10. Adjunct compensation has plummeted over the past four decades.

    Adjunct compensation hasn’t kept up with inflation (neither have full-time professor salaries, but that’s another issue) and that means that many are struggling to get by on what they’re paid. At SUNY New Paltz, for example, adjuncts’ compensation (when adjusted for inflation) has plummeted 49% since 1970. And it isn’t simply a matter of the university lacking funds: during the same time, the salaries of the president and other top administrators increased by 35%.

  11. One-third of adjuncts make less than $2,000 per class.

    While some schools are willing to pay adjuncts fair salaries, many more offer little compensation for the work done by adjuncts. At an average of five classes a semester (if they’re lucky), getting paid $2,000 per class, those adjuncts earn just $20,000 a year, dangerously close to the poverty line. At this rate, adjuncts are paid only 30% of what full-time faculty earn.

  12. Adjuncts often make even less for courses taught online.

    Some online universities have recently cut adjunct salaries, in some cases by as much as 33%. Argosy University is one example, with adjuncts teaching online at the school taking a substantial pay cut. Now, many are only paid $1,600 for undergraduate courses and $1,800 for graduate courses. That kind of cut makes it even harder for adjuncts to make ends meet.

  13. Many adjuncts rely on welfare and other government benefits to get by.

    While highly educated Ph.D. and master’s grads aren’t the likeliest recipients of government assistance, many adjuncts simply don’t make enough money to get by without relying on welfare or food stamps. The most recent U.S. Census found that of the 22 million Americans with master’s degrees or higher, about 360,000 were receiving some kind of public assistance. Even sadder, that number is more than double what it was in 2007. To put things into perspective, the poverty line in 2012 for a single mother with two children is $19,090, a figure that many adjuncts barely out-earn.

  14. Freshmen who have many of their courses taught by adjuncts are less likely than other students to return as sophomores.

    Sadly, the reluctance of colleges to hire more full-time faculty does have an impact on students. A study published in Educational Policy found that courses taught by adjuncts who are not well-supported by their institutions tended to increase dropout rates in first year students by about 10% to 30%.

  15. Adjuncts often teach more than double the amount of classes tenured professors do every semester.

    The average full-time, tenured professor teaches three courses or fewer each semester. This allows for high-quality instruction and curriculum design, as well as time to focus on research and professional development, both of which benefit students. It is not uncommon for adjuncts to teach five courses a semester, with research, prep, and professional development having to be done on their own time.

  16. Because they are part-time, adjuncts don’t always get benefits.

    As part-time employees, adjuncts don’t qualify for the health care and retirement benefits offered to most full-time professors at American colleges. While adjuncts could buy health care on their own or set up retirement plans, few make enough to afford those kinds of expenditures, leaving both their health and future security in question. Add in dependents, which many adjuncts have, and the lack of those benefits becomes even more serious.

  17. Most adjuncts do not have access to office space to meet with students.

    While adjuncts may not get the same pay as full professors, they’re still expected to fulfill many of the same responsibilities, including meeting with students who have questions or concerns about their courses. In many cases, public spaces like libraries and coffee shops won’t suffice, as laws require these kinds of conversations to occur in private. Yet adjuncts aren’t even provided with a shared office on many, if not most, college campuses, making it very difficult to provide the support students need.

  18. The number of Ph.D. grads is growing, but full-time professorships are declining in number.

    Academia has become incredibly competitive over the past two decades. Since the 1990s, the number of new Ph.D. graduates has grown by more than 50%, yet the number of full-time positions at colleges has remained the same or declined as colleges look to hire more adjuncts. The problem has become so bad that the American Federation of Teachers is pushing legislation that will mandate that at least 75% of classes be taught by tenured or tenure-track teachers.

  19. Adjuncts are increasingly unionizing.

    One way adjuncts have been fighting back against poor working conditions is by unionizing. It seems to be helping. On unionized campuses, 34.3% of adjuncts get health benefits and 60.1% get retirement benefits. On non-unionized campuses, just 13.8% get health benefits and 27.5% get retirement benefits. There’s still a long way to go, however. Currently, just 59% of adjuncts work in positions covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

  20. During summer months, adjunct work is hard to find.

    Because there aren’t many classes taught over the summer, there aren’t many openings for adjuncts to teach. This can cause some serious problems. Not only do adjuncts not get paid when they’re not working (and most have to seek out other forms of employment to get by), but many lose the benefits they get from the university if they’re not working a set number of hours. That means health insurance could drop off for those three months, or in any semester an adjunct can’t pick up enough hours to qualify.

  21. Many adjuncts don’t qualify for unemployment.

    Even if adjuncts are out of work over the summer or during semesters when work is light, many don’t qualify for unemployment benefits or are blocked from doing so by the colleges where they teach. Why? Current unemployment laws block people from receiving benefits if they have a “reasonable assurance” of continued employment, which many colleges interpret as applying to the intention to rehire letters they give adjuncts. Yet, these letters aren’t a guarantee and are contingent on many factors like enrollment and available funds which are out of the control of adjuncts.

  22. Adjunct work is rarely the path to a full-time faculty post.

    Many new grads see adjunct work as a stepping stone to a full-time position or a way to get experience while they wait for a job to open up. Unfortunately, that’s usually not the case. Adjuncts are rarely hired on in a full-time capacity at the universities where they work, and the longer individuals work as adjuncts, the harder it is to find a tenure-track position.

  23. Fifty-four percent of adjuncts teach at more than one school.

    Adjuncts are often jokingly called “roads scholars” (a play on Rhodes Scholars) because many spend so much time commuting from one college to another to teach. A survey of 500 adjuncts found that 54% were teaching at multiple institutions, and of those 29% were teaching at two schools, 11% at three, and 6% at an insane four institutions.

  24. Adjuncts do not often interact with other professors and staff members.

    Being an adjunct professor can be a lonely profession. Adjuncts get to interact with students, but many don’t get a chance to establish relationships with professors or other faculty at the colleges where they teach. Part of it may be academic politics, but much more likely the lack of connection is due to the fact that most adjuncts simply don’t have the time to get to know colleagues, attend conferences, or engage in professional discourse as they balance teaching multiple courses at multiple universities.