Obama wants to help community college students. What about the people who teach them?

obama4President Obama wants to increase the number of students in America’s community colleges by making it virtually free to attend.

His proposal has prompted questions, including who will teach all these new students.

Stung by budget cuts, community colleges in Georgia and around the nation increasingly rely on part-time faculty.

In this essay, Rick Diguette discusses the life of adjunct professors. A writer, Diguette teaches English at a local college.

By Rick Diguette

The plight of adjunct faculty at our nation’s community colleges is a frequent topic of impassioned debate at venues like the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Now that President Obama has floated the idea of making community college free to all comers, that debate needs to move beyond the academy.

If you don’t know what an adjunct is, a brief sketch is in order.  Adjuncts are typically part-time instructors who sign short-term contracts, often only days before the start of semester, to teach anywhere from one to three courses.  To do this at a community college, they must have at least a master’s degree, although many have a Ph.D.

Where I work a few adjuncts are retired educators who relish the opportunity to do what they love for a few more years.  They’re not in it for the money.  Others have full-time jobs in another industry and teach part-time for various reasons.

For instance, I was an adjunct for almost 10 years while my children were young.  My wife and I had decided that one of us needed to be home all the time, so she put her career on hold.  I worked two jobs and also hired myself out as a handyman.  Although the money wasn’t great, it beat slinging hamburgers on nights and weekends.

But for a majority of adjunct faculty, teaching part-time is their only option.  It’s not as much a choice as it is an unfortunate fact of academic life.

According to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “about 70 percent of the instructional faculty at all colleges is off the tenure track, whether as part-timers or full-timers, a proportion that has crept higher over the past decade.”

Why the proportion of adjuncts has continued to rise is a bone of contention that gets gnawed pretty hard at both ends.  Suffice it to say that otherwise reasonable people strongly disagree about the status quo.

Many argue that colleges and universities have no fiscally viable alternative when it comes to instruction.  There’s only so much money to go around; not everyone who wants to teach will have an opportunity to do so full-time, earning a salary plus benefits.

According to their opponents at the other end of the bone, that is both an excuse and a travesty.  The way they see it, the “adjunctification” of the academy is economically exploitative, pure and simple.

Adjuncts predominate in the teaching ranks because the powers that be, meaning legislators who hold the purse strings and college administrators who do their bidding, have misplaced their moral compass.

So how much are adjuncts paid?  Although that depends on where they teach, at a community college here in Georgia they will earn about $2,300 per course, a little more if they teach math or science.

They receive nothing in the way of benefits, seldom have a place to grade papers or meet with students outside the classroom, and are always one short semester away from joining or rejoining the ranks of the unemployed.

I am not opposed to President Obama’s idea, but the details of how this might work remain to be fleshed out.  Making the first two years of community college free would mean that enrollments would grow, if not leap into the stratosphere.

If there isn’t enough money for instruction now, won’t there be even less once the first two years of community college are free?

And if we are going to give community college students a big leg up financially speaking, shouldn’t we be willing to do something similar for all those adjuncts who will more than likely be teaching them?

 

 

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75 comments
jerryeads
jerryeads

I was once asked by one of the local private universities to teach a graduate-level statistics course. I was flattered - - until I discovered they would pay about what you note in your article - AND I would have had to pay my own expenses to drive to Macon to do the course (!). I applied once for a faculty position at a 2-year college. Their FULL time salary would be laughed at by public school teachers. I'm impressed the 2-year schools pay as much as you suggest for adjunct. What all that of course suggests is that there may be a fair number of rather desperate people teaching in 2-year schools - perhaps not the august college professors we imagine with all the talent we wish of those who will be providing YOUR kid a shot at a better future.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@jerryeads 

And, folks, please remember that a great many of these adjuncts have the doctorate, couldn't find a tenure-track job, and took the adjunct job "to keep in the field" while they kept looking.. They put 4-5 years into their graduate work, and can't imagine it won't result in a teaching job. Or they have the doctorate and really want to teach at the college level.



Tcope
Tcope

It sound like the free-market at work. The only weird thing is that the majority of the administrators making these staffing decisions are left wing idealogues. 

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Tcope 

Where did you get that fantasy? Many of the faculty may be "left wing ideologues," but those who are the administrators are right-wing pragmatists.

Don't Tread
Don't Tread

In liberal fantasyland, everything should be free...paid for by confiscating wealth from "the enemy".

redweather
redweather

@DontTread  In conservative fantasyland, the enemy is the 99% who don't control the wealth in this country.

BCW1
BCW1

He just sent congress a 4 trillion dollar budget on top of the debt we already have...he just does not get it...let FREEdom ring!!!

Doom Classical liberal
Doom Classical liberal

"When I visited Deutschland to visit a few years back,the young professionals that I talked to universally said that their country's policy of free higher education for everyone was a mistake.They bitterly resented the people there that clogged up the system with no intent other than to extend their youthful idleness a few more years."


I've heard the same thing. When you make college free it just becomes someplace for a lot of young people to hang out and socialize with other young people for a few years. Some will take it seriously and take full advantage of the opportunity. Many will not. This is a really bad idea making it free. Moreover, the more we subsidize education the more expensive it becomes. If you don't believe that look at the direct correlation between the rise in student loan debt and the inflationary rise in education costs. The universities know that the students will just get loans to subsidize the cost and will in turn charge ever higher costs, with much of these costs going not to instruction but to more and better amenities to attract students. There is a reason why over 600 colleges and universities now feature rock climbing walls of all things.

WardinConyers
WardinConyers

@Doom Classical liberal People tend to appreciate things when they are invested.  I don't see the students appreciating it if it is free.  Think of the kid who earned the money to buy his car versus the student who got the car free from the parents.  Which student do you think will take better care of the car?  


EdGraham
EdGraham

Once again, the campaigner-in-chief looks at only one side of the ledger.  He wants to give, never considering where the money comes from, never considering the "unintended" results, and he does it by executive order, completely bypassing the constitution, the same one he allegedly taught at Harvard.

redweather
redweather

@EdGraham  The President has made the first two years of community college free by executive order?

Cere
Cere

I've posted this before, but community college is already almost free in Georgia. Especially if you enroll in a technical college.  The Hope Grant (with a requirement of a GPA 2.0) pays for diplomas and certificates - almost 100% - you end up with about $200 out of pocket per semester. Then layer on that the extra courses needed to make that diploma into an Associates Degree. Keep your GPA over 3.0 and the Hope Scholarship kicks in. Then move on to get your bachelors... with most of it paid with lottery money, which is where the Hope money comes from. Many students then qualify for a Pell Grant on top of this.


I do agree that the adjunct professor method of running a college is a poor method. Yes, a few are needed as fill ins, but colleges and tech schools should employ mostly full time instructors, with benefits, etc. Heck, state workers at the lowest levels get these benefits.  If you don't make the job attractive, you end up with professors who mainly 'phone it in'.

redweather
redweather

@Cere  The vast majority of CC students do not qualify for HOPE.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@redweather @Cere Actually, it depends on the two year college.  Many of them have a good percentage of students on HOPE, but certainly not as many as, say, Georgia Tech.  Many 4 year colleges don't have a good percentage of HOPE students, either.

Cere
Cere

@redweatherr @Wascatlady 

Yes, it's a grant. You don't have to repay it. It comes from the GA Lottery. And apparently, there's no GPA requirement in high school to get it (you just have to get accepted into a program) but you have to maintain a 2.0. If, however, you can maintain a (what is it now, 3.5?) then the Hope Scholarship can kick in if after you earn the diploma, you want to take the additional classes (about 6 more) to earn an associates degree... then even move on for a bachelors.  But the Hope Grant pays for the tech diplomas (and certificates I think)... like automotive, childcare, EMS Tech, HVAC, etc... programs that lead to nice jobs or a shot at more education... It's a great deal - and high school counselors are not sharing it. Maybe they don't even know about it - they tend to focus on traditional college-bound students. But we need more mechanics and plumbers in the world!

Cere
Cere

@redweather @Wascatlady 

Think about it - if people are able to get the training needed to secure a nice job with a future - they can become lifelong taxpayers at a much higher rate than without the training. The return on investment is good for the state - and the intangible benefits are good for everyone. It's how you build a strong middle class, which we need in Georgia.

redweather
redweather

@Cere @redweather @Wascatlady  I don't think a 2.0 GPA threshold is sufficient for any kind of financial aid, which is one of the reasons I wish the President and Congress would address the money pit that is the Pell Grant program.  Billions of taxpayer dollars are spent on students every year who qualify for Pell but who squander that resource.  I was encouraged when the President said that his free community college plan would be available to students who maintain a 2.5 GPA.  But since there is little chance that free community college will ever come to class, I suspect we are stuck with programs like the HOPE grant and Pell.

Cere
Cere

@redweather @Cere @Wascatlady Again, it's not financial aid that needs to be repaid - it's a grant - from the Georgia lottery, which would have never been allowed to form in Georgia if promises hadn't been made to spend the proceeds on education.  I happen to believe that everyone deserves a chance at a decent job and a chance to support a family. These kinds of programs will elevate many people to be able to do just that - accessing jobs like public safety, auto mechanics, plumbing, childcare, HVAC, etc. And I believe that intact families are what make a successful child and therefore a successful society. Our society is heading in the wrong direction as the middle class is being pushed down, forcing so many to live off of social programs in perpetuity. To over-simplify: In today's America, we have those who suffer poverty-level living due to working at WalMart -- and the Walton family, which alone holds as much personal wealth as the bottom 40% of Americans combined. And fewer folks in between than ever before.


http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2012/07/17/534591/walmart-heirs-wealth-combined/


Stepping off soapbox now.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Cere @redweather @Wascatlady 

The rules for both the HOPE scholarship and the HOPE grant have changed from the details you give above, and people interested should check the Regents website for current details. Both the grant and the scholarship only pay for the tuition, nothing else. The grants are for the USG Technical Colleges. I believe that the required high school GPA for a grant is a 2.5, and the required GPA to be maintained in the technical college is 3.0.

In 2012 when it looked like the HOPE reserves would be depleted soon, Governor Deal tightened the GPA requirements to hold a HOPE grant to 3.0. It seems to me that the requirements were changed the next year when so many technical college students were disqualified for grants. Those interested should check!

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

What a wonderful thing for the President to do, making Community College free. Charity and personal sacrifice for others on this scale - so rare these days. It does make me wonder, though, how he accumulated the personal wealth to be so magnanimous.

straker
straker

Some countries admit only the best students, strictly on merit, to colleges and pay ALL the costs.


These countries have the best chance of a future filled with their most talented people being properly educated.


Unfortunately, the US is not one of those countries.

Astropig
Astropig

@straker


When I visited Deutschland to visit a few years back,the young professionals that I talked to universally said that their country's policy of free higher education for everyone was a mistake.They bitterly resented the people there that clogged up the system with no intent other than to extend their youthful idleness a few more years.The direct translation was vague,but they were also appalled at the females using college as a paid-for mate finding service (one young woman said the same thing about men,so there's that),but the gist of their argument is that something "free" is worth what you pay for it.


Anecdotal,but I listened with great interest. They made sense.

BearCasey
BearCasey

@Astropig @straker  I would guess that most of those German students were from the higher economic strata.  No way to KNOW, but it's a good bet.


Astropig
Astropig

@BearCasey @Astropig @straker


Their moms and dads (and there were a few kids of single parents,to be sure), were generally the offsprung of engineers,like AstroWife (that's why I was there-tagging along with her on a business trip).They came from fairly well to do backgrounds.They did express astonishment that American public schools allowed many absences and passed students along that had not mastered the material. They thought that that was weird.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

President Obama is a pragmatic visionary, a rare combination of gifts.  Our nation has been fortunate that he has been our leader during these most turbulent times.


President Obama no doubt understands that increasing the numbers of students in America's community colleges by making them virtually free to attend will create a more literate and educated American populace, the same dream for this nation held by Thomas Jefferson, another pragmatic and visionary American President.


The focus is on the students, the young adults who will be the next generation of American leaders and citizens, not the logistics of the plight of adjunct professors.  Those logistics will be solved by administrators locally.


I graduated with a B.A. in English from The City College of New York, City University of New York, which was virtually free to all students of high academic standing.  Among the graduates of that fine school, who later became leaders in various areas of American society are Gen. Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger, Ira Gershwin, Mayor Ed Koch, Upton Sinclair, Jonas Salk.

popacorn
popacorn

@MaryElizabethSings Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger, Mary Elizabeth Sings. Three peas in a pod. A truly breathtaking meeting of the minds. 

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

@MaryElizabethSings  Other CCNY graduates include the Russian spy Julius Rosenberg, CIA cryptographers Solomon Kullback and Abraham Sinkov, and Gordon Gekko of "Wall Street Fame" - Greed is Good.

Finished your father's book yet?

cgatlanta
cgatlanta

The system has worked this this for years. Now that possible Federal dollars loom in the distance it is time for the money grab.

This is why the idea will be exponentially more expensive.

Education is not in the Constitution. Leave it local.

Astropig
Astropig

Another example of how liberal thought processes work. If Obama somehow got this little puppy treat through congress,or even further out on the imagination scale, if the government paid students to go to JUCO,that money would not find its way to adjuncts.That cash would stop trickling down several layers above the actual people that do the work.This "supply side" education in theory-If we shower enough money on colleges (even though they already get a deluge of student-borrowed money), the people in charge would "share" it equitably with employees that come and go..Good for a chuckle this morning.Thank you.

Astropig
Astropig

@redweather @Astropig


I agree,but that has absolutely nothing to do with my main point: That more money in any form would not be distributed to adjuncts. 

Astropig
Astropig

@redweather @Astropig


Clearly, we need to identify and quantify all of the aggregate revenue of colleges and universities and distribute that money evenly across all deciles,quartiles or whatever iles we agree on so that those hardworking adjuncts who play by the rules have a shot at the academic dream.We need to make sure that college presidents,faculty and assorted highly paid hangers-on give up "their fair share" of their incomes so that all faculty,including adjuncts,can access the bounty of our education system.


Depending on your politics the above is either sarcasm or your worst nightmare.

EdUktr
EdUktr

@redweather @Astropig

How about we continue to let the marketplace determine pay and benefits, rather than creating yet another privileged elite at taxpayer expense?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Astropig @redweather 

In fact, this entire issue of the exploitation of adjunct faculty by universities is one that many within the profession have protested for some time. Since adjuncts are very widely used to teach Freshman English, the Modern Language Association--the professional organization of language professors--has been studying the adjunct issue with several Task Forces, proposed resolutions, and organized militant advocacy groups. In some states, adjuncts are affiliating with labor unions.


This is an issue of real injustice that has come about partly because the academic job market permits it: there are a lot more doctorates graduated than there are jobs for them. It can be a desperate, gypsy sort of existence where the adjunct commutes weekly, sometimes daily, to three or four schools. 



OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Astropig @redweather @EdUktr 

Of course! The University can offer the star faculty with name-power and scholarly recognition to draw in their students to "buy" their intellectual wares...but then stock most of their freshman/sophomore courses with adjunct faculty. The star "name" faculty get course releases and national grants to advance their scholarly research...improve the University marketplace...while 40%-50% of the total faculty are adjuncts.

redweather
redweather

@Astropig  The government already pays tens of thousands of students to attend college in this country.  That's what PELL grants do.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Astropig @redweather 

I disagree.... it would be distributed to adjuncts because much of the money would be used to hire them. I think that's Rick Diguette's point. It would increase the number of these equivalents of fast-food workers. I know that many local two-year colleges in Georgia ("community colleges," though they don't like to be called that) do offer tenure to their faculty. But I strongly suspect that flooding the market with community colleges would not be flooding the market with more tenure-track jobs (that come with costly benefits and tenure).

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Astropig @OriginalProf @redweather 

Why aren't you adding? "I'm shocked I tell you, shocked."

Since "academia" includes administrators with fixed funds and an ever-increasing number of students, of course it does. The alternative is just not offering as many courses as the students want.

redweather
redweather

@OriginalProf @Astropig @redweather @EdUktr  Very few (if any) colleges and universities are up-front about the percentage of classes taught by adjuncts and graduate TA's. This is not to say that adjuncts are inferior as teachers and mentors.  The collective silence on this issue is disconcerting.

Astropig
Astropig

@OriginalProf @Astropig @redweather


Well,well, somebody that sorta understands. Kudos-


That's exactly what will happen. As long as the labor input is cheaper than technology or hardware or facilities,the universities will keep hiring more cheap adjuncts.I'll offer you a (brief) parallel-


Have you seen the "Made For You" ordering kiosks at McDonalds? Not real common here yet,but they are in Europe.Do you think McD's cares if your burger is right,after 50 years of not caring? They didn't start developing these until labor got prohibitive in Europe and workers here started demanding $15 an hour for unskilled work.Kiosks don't protest,take smoke breaks or call in sick. Colleges will do the same thing if adjunct salaries go up.


Raising the salaries and benefits for adjuncts means larger class sizes and even less job security for them,if such a thing is possible.


Academics talk like Elizabeth Warren,but they act like Carly Fiorina.  

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Astropig @OriginalProf @redweather @EdUktr 

You need to understand that academic faculty are basically divided into two groups: the tenure-track (permanent) and the non tenure-track (part-time). Their positions are designated as one or the other, and the faculty are forever put into one group or the other when hired. The tenure-track is a salariedgroup, with a fixed pay no matter how many classes are taught, benefits, and tenure; and the non tenure-track is a wage-earning group, paid per class taught and with no benefits or tenure.


Adjuncts are academic wage-earners.  They teach their class and leave.  No committee work, no service, nothing else demanded of them. They would probably rather be tenure-track, but a department has a limited number of such positions... fewer and fewer because of their expense, it seems.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@redweather @OriginalProf @Astropig @EdUktr 

Pretty obviously, that's because the schools are ashamed.


Some real advantages of adjunct faculty from the students' standpoint, I think, is that they tend to be young and still pretty idealistic about teaching, and their graduate knowledge of the subject is up-to-date. Not always true of the regular faculty!

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Astropig @OriginalProf @redweather 

I have heard that the Regents have had some talk about cutting back the number of courses that adjuncts will be allowed to teach in the USG system (no more than 29 hours total on all the different campuses) so that the USG will not have to offer them ACA health insurance.  I don't know the outcome of that.

Astropig
Astropig

@OriginalProf @Astropig @redweather


Well, I've had some illusions shattered today. It's as if I had found out that Santa Claus was really a child predator or something. The very idea that the academic community could act like sniveling hypocrites...Thanks guys,for taking my innocence from me.


(Assumes fetal position,cries self to sleep,wakes up and orders fajitas)

Astropig
Astropig

@redweather @OriginalProf @Astropig @EdUktr


" Very few (if any) colleges and universities are up-front about the percentage of classes taught by adjuncts and graduate TA's."


So they promise you a date with Katy Perry and you end up back at the dorm with Aunt Bee?

BearCasey
BearCasey

@Astropig  You are right about the money.  The only way to make sure it trickles down is a labor union for professors.

Astropig
Astropig

@BearCasey @Astropig


But Prof says that there is a "star" system of sought after professors. These are (I am made to understand) the rainmakers that bring in the research money.Do you believe that they would work in a union environment? Do you think that universities would (with so much federal money at stake) let them?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Astropig @BearCasey 

I think that BearCasey is really saying that the money will never trickle down.

To treat your question seriously, I think that is exactly why there aren't any labor unions for tenured University professors. They don't need them. Their profession guarantees tenure after a long apprenticeship period, so they can't be fired. Their "stars" are already mobile, for they carry their "intellectual capital" (as former Chancellor Erroll Davis called it) with them.  If they don't like their working conditions, they can find a job elsewhere. Plus, more and more, University hiring requirements assure that only "stars" are hired and tenured. And, as you know, unions are only be effective when all the workers join.

Astropig
Astropig

@redweather @Astropig


They're the fast food workers of education.Low pay,hard work,dead end prospects...From the very same people that theorize that such a regime is inequitable outside their little ecosystem.The academic cadres could demand that adjuncts be paid more money and have better benefits-today. They could start stenciling their protest signs right after they finish their lattes this morning...But something tells me that they won't. Now, how can this be? How can an educated,enlightened class of people encourage and perpetuate a system of such unparalleled injustice? 

Astropig
Astropig

@OriginalProf @Astropig @redweather @EdUktr


So help me understand here (I'll admit that the economics of giant universities can be murky). "Fairness" and "equal pay for equal work" only succeed outside an academic setting? So if a university hired,say, a disproportionate number of female adjuncts,that is not a "war on women",as they say,but if a business does this,it's a feminine Stalingrad?


Please clarify.