College adjuncts: Paid in full
When adjunct faculty assembled in November 2017 at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, it wasn’t for curricula conversation. Instead, after voting to form a union earlier in the year, they were rallying for better pay. The instructors called for more advancement opportunities and greater recognition of their contributions to the institution.
Adjuncts made headlines the same month at the University of South Florida, protesting low income and what they saw as action by the university to fight the efforts to unionize.
Similar events have been held over the past year at Virginia Commonwealth University, UMass Lowell, St. Louis Community College and Siena College in New York, among others. Low pay, while not the only complaint, is the common denominator—and an issue getting much attention from the media.
“Pay rates are staggeringly low,” says Adrianna Kezar, a professor of higher education at the University of Southern California. Her research shows that adjuncts, on average, earn just under $3,000 per course. A full load of six or eight courses brings total compensation to just $18,000 to $24,000 yearly—“fast-food-worker wages,” Kezar adds.
Academic leaders have long relied on adjuncts as an essential part of the higher ed workforce. Their short-term, inexpensive contracts, offering no obligation of renewal, provide institutions with much-needed options in managing budgets. But a new wave of activism is challenging the status quo.
Wages have been low for so long because the issue was largely invisible, Kezar says. “Now it is more visible due to media and unionization efforts.”
As more attention is focused on adjunct concerns, colleges and universities are taking action—with results that include better earnings, more integration with full-time faculty and greater job stability.
Negotiating with organized adjuncts
The past two years have seen a substantial increase in collective bargaining between adjuncts and institutions that employ them. In 2016, 22 new nontenure-track bargaining units were certified in the private sector of higher ed, according to an article in the journal Perspectives at Work. That’s a nearly 30 percent increase over the prior four years.
An additional three such units were created to serve part-time faculty in public institutions.
Union efforts have led to higher adjunct salaries at Washington University in St. Louis, which inked a four-year contract in 2016 with the Service Employees International Union Local (AFL-CIO) after 12 months of negotiations.
Increases vary depending on roles and previous levels of compensation, with some faculty earning up to an additional $100 more per three-credit course for each year of the contract.
Similarly, The California State University system has reached agreement on an extension of its contract with the California Faculty Association. Faculty—adjuncts included—will receive a 3.5 percent general salary increase on November 1, 2018, plus a 2.5 percent increase on July 1, 2019.
An extension of a previous contract, the agreement was reached in November 2017 through negotiations that began in July. In addition, the system has a pay range elevation process for long-serving adjunct faculty, says Toni Molle, director of public affairs—with some increases of 5 percent or more.
Offering more to narrow wage gaps
Non-union campuses are also responding to adjunct concerns. At the College of Charleston in South Carolina, administrative leaders and faculty have focused on wage growth and improvement of working conditions for adjuncts, says Brian McGee, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.
Even though the college has consistently paid the highest adjunct salaries in the region, according to McGee, its pay scale has been increased by amounts of up to 2.75 percent for fiscal year 2018.
At Colorado State University, the College of Liberal Arts recently increased its minimum salary for nontenure-track faculty (who teach a full load but are viewed as adjuncts) to $40,000.
In addition, a full-time faculty committee is currently looking at ways to integrate this group into the campus community more fully, says Daniel Bush, vice provost for faculty affairs. “We want to make sure they have the same opportunities as other employees.”
That has included inviting members of this group to faculty meetings, listing them on departmental web sites and providing support for professional development.
A compensation review conducted by the University of West Florida’s College of Education and Professional Studies confirmed that average adjunct faculty pay had not increased in more than four years.
Based on course level taught and the highest degree earned, the university gave raises to some adjuncts and created an additional pay step for those who had taught more than 12 credits there.
In January, Madison College in Wisconsin instituted a tiered compensation system offering three levels of pay for part-time faculty—as well as advancement opportunities available through a portfolio review process.
The system rewards high-performing faculty and helps adjuncts become more effective in their work, says Provost Turina R. Bakken. “It offers part-time instructors a vehicle for not only increasing their compensation, but also for developing as teachers and professionals.”
Enhancing the value proposition
Many institutions are combining modest pay increases with steps to integrate adjuncts more fully into the academic community.
“When it comes to valuing adjunct faculty, the issue goes beyond compensation,” says Jim Ostrow, vice president for academic affairs at Lasell College in the greater Boston area. “It’s about how they are included in the life of the institution.”
At Lasell, adjuncts can attend faculty assembly meetings and participate in an opening semester dinner orientation to discuss teaching and learning. New adjuncts earn a $500 stipend for completing an orientation workshop series, and they’re included in other professional development activities throughout the academic year.
The College of Charleston takes a similar approach. “Compensation for adjunct faculty includes not only wages and benefits, but all financial professional supports that are available, including professional development funding,” McGee says.
Paying adjuncts separately for mandatory training and other activities, including attendance at faculty orientation, has been a recent priority. Key faculty committees and the faculty senate now include part-time instructors, who can also earn new ranks of adjunct lecturer and adjunct senior lecturer.
The college created an adjunct teaching award, with a cash prize, and funding is available for additional professional development opportunities, including training in teaching distance education courses. New adjuncts now have expanded paid orientation programming—with more training in areas such as diversity, campus technology and student support.
At the University of West Florida, an award program recognizes outstanding teaching by adjunct faculty in each college. Awardees receive $1,000, a plaque and recognition at the annual honors convocation, says spokesperson Allison Morgan.
Washington University has established a cancellation fee for adjunct assignments. If a course is cancelled within seven days before the first class, the instructor receives a cancellation fee of $250 per credit, with a maximum payout of $750.
Part-time Madison College faculty are included in the school’s shared governance system—both on the faculty assembly and on each of eight councils—and they are compensated for their time and contributions.
“The compensation is obviously critical,” says Bakken of Madison College. “But the inclusion and respect garnered is also extremely important.”
As higher ed institutions strive to integrate adjuncts more fully into campus life, one result may be enhanced status for those who participate in training and other activities. At the same time, such developments do not change adjuncts’ contractual standing.
In the interest of employment stability, some advocacy groups are pushing for improvements such as long-term contracts.
That result has now been achieved at CUNY, where negotiations between the institution and the Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York have led for the first time to three-year contracts for adjuncts, which went into effect this academic year.
Considering the big picture
Efforts to improve adjunct compensation make obvious sense when issues of equity are considered. But investing more dollars in adjunct faculty may offer the potential to boost enrollment through improved student retention rates.
“As resources continue to be constrained and we focus more on data metrics such as course completion, all our faculty need to be supported to do the best for our students,” Bakken says.
“Whether attracting new part-time faculty or rewarding and recognizing those who have been here for years, advancing their pay and opportunity to contribute their talents on a broader scale is a wise investment.”
Mark Rowh is a Virginia-based writer who frequently covers HR topics.