Press "Enter" to skip to content

Taking a closer look at adjunct pay

Two Long Beach City College instructors have fired the latest salvo in a long-running saga regarding part-time pay. The lawsuit could have far-reaching consequences and could revise the way public institutions pay their part-time instructors.

At LBCC, adjunct instructors receive a fixed rate of pay for every credit hour they spend in the classroom. WCC pays its adjunct instructors similarly. In fact, many institutions follow the same model. The problem, according to the lawsuit, is that adjuncts do more than deliver classroom instruction. Those additional responsibilities – class preparation, conducting office hours, evaluating homework assignments and tests, filing grades, etc. – happen outside the classroom. They are all unpaid. Further, the lawsuit claims that adjunct instructors cannot provide the contracted work to satisfaction without performing these unpaid tasks. Adjunct instructors teach about 70% of community college classes in California.

The lawsuit seeks back pay for adjunct instructors for the past three years, payment going forward, plus appropriate credit in the state’s teacher retirement system. They’ve also asked the court to certify the lawsuit as a class action. Class action status would recognize that all adjunct instructors are in substantially the same situation, and subject to the same injury. It would also extend any rulings to all members of the class.

The Long Beach instructors are not the first people to seek recognition for the long-standing mistreatment of part-time instructors. One new bill in the California Assembly would require all California community colleges to pay part-time instructors and full-time instructors the same. Another bill would raise the hours an adjunct instructor could teach from 67% of a full course load to 85%. Adjunct instructors do not receive health insurance or other benefits.

Adjunct pay, working conditions reflect “1099 economy”

The issue of adjunct pay is not limited to California. Adjunct instructors at Howard University in Washington, DC, protested their low pay and long hours last month. An American Federation of Teachers (AFT) survey conducted in 2020 shed light on the poor working conditions adjunct instructors endure.

While the onset of the pandemic required virtually all higher education institutions to move course delivery online, part-time instructors often reported that they needed to make this transition with little or no help or support from the institution. Further, many institutions terminated their part-time instructors in response to pandemic-related enrollment drops.

The AFT survey found that 25% of adjunct instructors nationwide earn less than the minimum poverty threshold of $25,000 for a family of four. Respondents also revealed that half of part-time instructors earned less than $28,000 (gross) each year.

There are long-term consequences of chronically underpaying part-time instructors as well. Besides not receiving pay and benefits afforded to full-time instructors, two out of ten adjunct instructors report relying on Medicaid for health insurance. They also get short-changed on retirement plan participation, making it increasingly likely over time that long-term part-time instructors will have insufficient retirement funds.

Some people just can’t pass up free labor

According to data WCC reports to the Department of Education, it employed 156 full-time instructors in 2020, and reported no part-time instructors in 2020. In 2019, the institution reported having 161 full time instructors and 494 part-time instructors. Based on 2019 data, WCC hires about 3 part-time instructors for every full-time instructor on the payroll.

The WCC administration has no problem strictly limiting the number of full-time instructors on staff. While many part-time instructors hope to convert their position into full-time work, there is apparently a hard cap on the number of full-time instructors at WCC. Unfortunately, there is no such cap on the size of the administration. That explains why a mid-sized community college with declining enrollment has 13 vice presidents (and counting) on staff.

The pay model for adjunct instructors at the community college level must change. Instructors – regardless of their full-time/part-time status – must receive substantially similar compensation for substantially similar work. The “cost-savings” that community colleges realize by relying on part-time instructors is simply a by-product of mistreatment. It is yet another expression of the deep-seated desire on the part of certain people to benefit from the unpaid labors of others.

Photo Credit: mistersnappy , via Flickr