Thursday, March 28, 2013

Obama Care & Adjuncts

Just about every college and university relies on both full-time and adjunct instructors to teach classes. Adjunct instructors are part-time faculty who are basically hired on a semester-to-semester contractual basis to teach specific classes. It truly is an exploitive system for a number of reasons.

The amount of pay adjuncts receive is low (at our institution it currently ranges from around $2,200-$2,500 for a three-credit course before taxes - the higher value for adjuncts who have taught at least 24 three-credit courses!). Try to put together a living wage this way. Just to get above the $11,175 (2012) poverty line, you would have to teach a minimum of 5 classes a year - even if you were at the high end of the pay scale. To get above $20,000 a year (before taxes), you'd have to teach 8 three-credit classes. Guess what, you can't teach 8 three-credit classes a year at most colleges due to contractual restrictions that keep adjuncts below 12 credits per semester (7 three-credit classes would be the limit).

Let's even look at this even closer. The so-called Carnegie model assumes, for both faculty and students, that a three-credit class involves nine hours of work - two hours outside of class for every hour in the classroom. For students, those two hours are for studying, reading, homework, etc. That's why 12-15 credits a semester is considered full-time for a student. For faculty, those extra hours are for lecture preparation, grading, discussions with students outside of class, etc. So an adjunct faculty member teaching a three-credit course making $2,500 (highest end of pay scale) is paid for working 9 hours per week for a 15 week semester. That's $2,500 for 135 hours or $18.50/hour.

Doesn't sound too bad, right?

Keep in mind, however, that this is not full-time work so it doesn't add up to much. Adjuncts need to teach at multiple colleges (due to restrictions on how much they can teach at any one college) to make enough money to survive so spend lots on gas and wear-and-tear on their cars (especially in rural areas like mine). Each semester they have to struggle to fit together class schedules at different colleges. Needless to say, they get no benefits (health or otherwise). They also have no job protection and may have classes canceled at the last minute.

As mentioned above, adjuncts are also contractually restricted to generally teaching less than 12 credits a semester (4 three-credit classes). This varies from college to college. Why the restriction? If it didn't exist, some colleges would staff the entire campus with adjuncts and never pay anyone benefits or a living wage. Even with this restriction, the college where I teach has 1/3 of the faculty as full-time and 2/3 as adjuncts. This is not good for students (see my previous post on this) but an economic reality of higher education today given the public and politicians do not support public higher education in this country (not how it counts, with adequate public funding).

We have adjuncts at our community college who have PhD degrees in their field of study and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt! Working for essentially minimum wage. Most of them do it because full-time faculty jobs are very hard to get. Many of them hope to get a full-time position at some point. Most of them won't. It's a terrible system.

This terrible system will get even worse in January of 2014. The reason is that Obama's new Affordable Care Act regulations will require companies to provide benefits to those employees working 30 or more hours a week. Because of the Carnegie model mentioned above, adjuncts teaching 10 credits or more now fall under this restriction. Guess how companies will deal with this new law?

Brain-dead politician: "Uninsured working people who can't afford private insurance is a problem. Hey, let's solve it by passing a law saying you have to give health insurance to part-timers working 30 hours or more a week."

Chief financial officer at a company: "Part-timers are not allowed to work 30 hours or more a week anymore."

Result: Poor working people without insurance become even poorer!


Our college, along with many if not most others, will cut adjunct hours beginning in January 2014 and restrict them from a maximum of 11 credits/semester to a maximum of 9 credits/semester (a difference of up to five grand in their pay!).  It's even worse since many math and English adjunct instructors at our school also work at the college's math tutoring and writing centers.  These hours now count toward that 30 hour limit.
Adjunct faculty will now be screwed over yet again.  Is it too much to ask politicians to think through the consequences of their half-assed laws?


  1. Steve,

    Only in the past few months have I started reading your blog (just happen to stumble on to it during a search), and since you were one of my favorite professors when I was a student, I decided to keep up with your blogging.

    I think you are missing an important subset of adjuncts that do not fit within the scope of your blog entry. There are some of us adjuncts that teach in the business department (not sure of the other areas on campus) that teach not so much for just the money (while the money is definitely an incentive), but for the enjoyment that comes from having an impact on the students futures. We have normal full time jobs during the day, and come to the college in the evening to teach in areas that we are proven experts in. We generally only teach 3-6 credit hours a semester and utilize benefits provided by our full time employers.

    It would be interesting to find out percentages of adjuncts that fall into your outline of most adjuncts as opposed to the type of adjunts that I fall in to.

    I did link back to your other article on adjuncts and had some musings about that, but I wont derail the topic of this interesting blog post.

    1. I agree. I'd like to see another crowdshare spreadsheet like the Adjunct Project, this time to get a better idea of how many adjuncts are piecing together classes to make a living and would prefer full-time, and how many are happily doing some side work. We do need that data.

  2. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for your comments. You're correct that many adjucnts have day jobs and are only interested in teaching one or two classes and not needing health insurance (I think that's the more common at community colleges). I don't know the percentages looking for full-time jobs, but it's not uncommon if you read, for example, the Chronicle of Higher Education or College Misery (less seriously).

  3. You missed the most important points here:
    - adjunct system fucked up
    - health care fucked up
    - health care slightly improved; fucks up adjunct system even more
    --> adjunct system needs un-fucking, not health care un-improvement.