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A Success Story…Oh, Wait…Nevermind

by Northeast Adjunct
My story is a bit different. I discovered a way to make a decent living as an adjunct. Or, at least I thought I did until some recent events.

I have been teaching as an adjunct as a third career for the last 10 years. At first, it was to gain some experience while earning a Ph.D. But later, I expanded to make it a full time occupation. I taught locally at a community college and at a university and was doing fairly well at each. The community college has a union and although adjuncts are paid very poorly compared to full time faculty, that pay is better than at any other local institution.

I also picked up several online teaching jobs for out-of-town institutions and an intermittent stream of publisher reviews, course design projects and consulting work. In inflation adjusted dollars, I was making as much as I did as a lower level corporate executive some years ago. And I had some benefits. I was able to obtain health insurance at group rates (though at my own expense) and to participate in several retirement plans (mostly at my own expense). At the community college, we have great offices with storage space, a microwave, refrigerator, relatively new computers and audio visual equipment.

But I was working 80 or more hours per week, and as is common in such situations, I began to burn out. I persisted though until things started to change at the institutions themselves. One for-profit institution had a sudden enrollment drop and the number of courses I was able to teach was cut in half. Then, they announced additional faculty responsisbilities and a 27% pay cut. It did not matter much since at that point, I was no longer being assigned to classes and full time faculty were being laid off. At one of the other online schools, the number of course assignments decreased as did class sizes. Pay there is somewhat dependent on class size, so my income dropped. At another, class size declined drastically and at this institution, pay is on a per-student basis.

The local university has had only one general pay increase for adjuncts in 10 years. But the cost of gasoline has tripled and other commuting costs have doubled. So, I switched to hybrid courses which required half the commuting time and distance. But now, even those are uneconomical for me. They offered online courses but the class sizes are far too large. At the community college, I had only one class cancelled in 9 years, but now, two have been cancelled this academic year alone.

This year, I expect to earn a bit more than half of what I did last year. But I do not mind, because I do not think I could have kept up the pace of the last three years. I am approaching retirement age and could begin collecting social security if necessary while still holding on to some teaching assignments. On the other hand, I wonder what other surprises are coming.

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5 thoughts on “A Success Story…Oh, Wait…Nevermind

  1. It’s interesting that you should be paid per student. I, opposite you, am paid by class, and the more students per class, the more money the college makes, but I don’t see a penny of that. Moreover, though I was teaching the same class as other instructors were, at the same “dual credit” campus, I always had way more students than the other instructors. The first year I said ok. The second year, I grumbled to myself but said nothing. This third year, when the number was 35 and climbing in one composition class, I asked nicely if they could redistribute classes so that all instructors at the same school would have the same amount of students; their answer? They took two of my classes away. They did eventually put a cap on student load, because I made both high school and college know the unfair situation I encountered, but I was out two classes. Luckily, I do not rely only on my income to survive. If I did, I would not be able to survive.

    But because this happened, I began a petition for adjuncts, which has gotten a lot of signatures thus far, but not with the help of the press or government. Though I have written to nine newspapers in my state, several around the country, and my local state representatives and senators, I have heard from no one. Through friends and family, through sites like this, through Facebook, where friends sign and post it, and others sign and repost, I am up to almost 800 signatures. BUT we have a long way to go before we can affect change. Josh has done great things and has been heard by a lot of people. He has started the ball rolling. Let’s keep it going. Sign this and then repost it yourself! AND thanks for the solidarity ;-)

  2. I signed the form. I shared it on facebook with my 251 friends. Hope it helps. I appreciated seeing your logical, non-emotional story–your reality is what it will take to make the problem seem realistic and not overblown as if told by bitter quacks. (Of course, it will need to be told about 10K times, but one is a start!) Thanks.

    • Thanks much; this is a start! I just sent a letter to Senator Davis, from Texas, whose office was just bombed, for sticking up for women and their reproductive rights. Previously, she has become Republicans’ new dirty word (as opposed to Obama) because she believes Texas should rank higher than 49th in state funding for education: hello!!! And people in Texas can really say she doesn’t represent their values? What happened to the belief in their children? In any case, I keep looking for new venues, for people who might be sympathetic to our cause, and I keep writing. One of these years they might hear. As you say, one is a good start.

  3. I wish I could pick up more opportunities where I am. I have worked for my school almost two years and constantly beg for more adjunct work. If I could pick up at least three classes a term I could survive on that. It would be difficult but I could and continue my PHD work.

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