“Wait, you work 3 jobs?” my student asked after class tonight.
“Well technically I have 5 jobs, but I’m only working 3 this week,” I replied.
Her perplexed look confirmed my suspicions; people don’t know how colleges are run today. Most college instructors, especially at private and for-profit colleges, are adjunct instructors.
An adjunct instructor is a part-time contractual employee who is paid by the class they teach. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the median compensation rate for a 3-credit hour course is $2,700. With four courses per term that only averages out to around $21,600 annually. This is a dramatic shift over the last several decades. In 1969, 78 percent of instructors were full-time and on a tenure track.
For the adjunct instructor this means maintaining multiple employers, trying to balance schedules in order to be available for classes, never knowing when your next class will come, no sick days, no paid time off, and of course, no benefits. Some adjuncts have dubbed us ‘road warriors’ because we drive from college to college and teach. Most of us don’t have offices and many of us travel great distances. (A colleague of mine travels 90 miles to teach one class.)
Most adjuncts love what they teach and have learned to take the good with the bad. The lack of an office means many of us work from home instead of holding traditional office hours. We do our best to smile and focus on what matters most, our students. However, higher education is becoming even even more challenging. Many of us have taught enough classes that make us almost full-time status, but not officially. While not ideal, many of us have learned to make this our livelihood. However, things are beginning to take a dramatic turn.
No matter what you call it, The Healthcare Reform Act, or “Obamacare”, its regulations are having ripple effects. One of the provisions in the act requires that employers provide full-time employees with health insurance. While on the surface this seems like a good idea, its consequences are significant.
Within the last several weeks I’ve received notification from the two colleges I’m teaching for this term notifying me that as of this summer they are permanently reducing my classes. The explanation behind these reductions is centered on what defines part-time and full-time.
Adjunct Instructors are only paid for the hours we teach; around 16 hours a week in the classroom with a course load of four classes. However, most of us spend at least that many hours outside the classroom preparing for these classes, usually an additional 16-24 hours. This puts us too close to the 40-hour week standard.
As a result, colleges are capping instructors at 2 classes, half of what many of us have been teaching. For many instructors, this also means a 50% decrease in pay. Instead of providing health insurance to its employees, colleges are choosing to reduce the amount of classes an adjunct instructor may teach.
What does this mean to students? This means that their instructors are even more likely to be part-time employees who teach multiple classes at multiple colleges. When students are seeking out assistance from instructors, they will not be able to find them. Instructors will be less likely to be on campus, and even less likely to hold official office hours. While studies are still preliminary, research is beginning to indicate that as colleges use more part-timers, students will less be likely to graduate. Other studies find that as the number of adjunct instructors goes up, class participation goes down.
What does this mean for adjunct instructors? Initially this will mean more instructors will teach at more colleges. (I’m already on payroll at four.) More instructors will be forced to take on additional part-time hourly work on the weekends. Eventually this will mean the good adjunct instructors, the instructors who truly care about their students and their success, will get fed up and leave the profession.
Adjunct instructors remain on the front lines at colleges and universities. We carry out the mission of the school each time we step foot in the classroom or spend our Saturday afternoon grading papers. We have become the majority of instructors on campuses and our numbers will continue to grow. At the same time, colleges are cutting our classes and our livelihood, in order to avoid providing us with health insurance.
We are overworked, under paid, unappreciated, and live our lives out of our cars. Those things we’ve come to accept. Having our livelihood further slashed because our schools don’t want to pay for healthcare? That part isn’t so well.
For more information on adjunct instructors, visit the adjunct project, compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education.