I got my masters in the late 1980s, during a time when lots of colleges were churning out lots of higher degrees. I worked as an adjunct for several institutions for 18 years, waiting and hoping for the opportunity to get a full time job. I’d been told from grad school on that there was going to be a lot of professors retiring in the 1990s, and then again after the turn of the century, and that if I got a part time adjunct job with a college they would eventually promote me from the inside. In the end, that’s exactly what happened. But I didn’t realize it would take so long to happen. In fact, by the time it did happen I’d long since given up hope that it would ever happen.
First thing, the retirements never happened. When the head of our department “retired” about ten years ago he just moved one office over and started teaching online classes, still keeping his position. Further more, there are so many retired people out there, living on pensions and teaching a few classes for fun and extra money, not to mention the the folks right out of school with Masters Degrees and PhDs who are desperate to get started, that the colleges have no interest in hiring more expensive full time faculty. The fact that there are even folks out there with PhDs, toiling away as adjuncts is the main reason why I’ve never gone to get my own PhD. Why go through all that trouble and expense to simply slip into a different line for the same part-time job?
After working for Central Texas College for eight years or so, teaching one subject (eight week semesters, five semesters a year) and making a meager salary at most, I finally took the advice that several colleagues had been giving me for several years. I went back to school and got enough graduate credit in another subject to enable me to teach that subject. 18 hours of credit is what is required here in Texas. After I did that my earnings potential went up every year for several years. In three or four years I went from making about $22,000 a year to teaching two subjects for three colleges and making $70,000 or more, still as an adjunct.
Then, after about 12 years as a regular adjunct with Central Texas College, I was promoted to be an Extended Category Adjunct Faculty, which recognized the fact that I was teaching way over the regular, legal course load (9 classes a year in Texas – I was teaching more like 35). Their accreditation period came up and someone on the main campus panicked when they realized what a few of us Adjuncts were doing.
It turned out that if you worked for several different campuses of the same college, both online and conventional, with none of them keeping up with what the others are doing, you could teach a lot of classes and make enough to live a decent life, buy a house and pay a mortgage.
This new ECAF position provided me all the benefits and retirement of a full time professor while I still remained a part-time worker, signing a new contract to teach a hand full of new classes each semester. That allowed the college to keep using my talents as much as they had been before while avoiding the accreditation issues of over using their adjunct faculty. Then, after 18 years of working part time, the college signed a contract with the state to teach classes at a state prison in West Texas. This was my opportunity. After 18 years they finally hired me as a full-time professor.
My new job was to drive 150 miles a day, 4 days a week, teaching prisoners at a state prison is west Texas. That full-time job (contracted to teach 15 classes a year) paid me as much as I was making teaching all those classes as an Adjunct. Plus, I still taught most of those old classes along with my full-time responsibilities. I would drive down to a local high school and teach three AP, college credit classes in the morning, then drive to the prison and teach a class or two, and then drive back to town and teach a few evening classes on base. 150 miles a day, four days a week.
I did that for almost 3 years, making almost $100,000 a year. I felt like I’d finally made it to the position I’d always dreamed of. Then, after almost two years of feeling good and being well paid, the state funded prison job went away. Even though I’d just received a letter from the main campus offering me another years contract, I was immediately told by my Dean that “there was no money in the budget” for me to be kept on as a full time professor or ECAF, and I was re-hired as a simple adjunct.
I was just about to turn 50, scheduled to have my first colonoscopy, and now I have no medical benefits. Then the same Dean loaded me up with 6 extra classes for the next semester. After over 20 years of teaching for this institution I was back to feeling like a simple cog in a large, impersonal machine. They were going to get their classes taught for as little money as they could. That was the only thing that mattered.
Today, I’m working as an Aide in a local middle school, which provides me with a ridiculously low salary, but all the full medical benefits of a full time teacher. At the same time I’m slowly working in an alternative program to get certified to teach my subjects full time in the public school. Meanwhile, I continue to work as an Adjunct, teaching online for Victoria College, and as an “Associate Professor” (adjunct Instructor – Wal Mart has “associates” too) for the University of Phoenix.
On the one hand, I feel like I wasted 20 years of my life. If I had it to do all over again I would have gone ahead and gotten my PhD right after getting my Masters, but I was burned out by then and just wanted to get a job. I thought I could get one at a community college like the one I started school at. Work there in a more relaxed atmosphere and spend 20 or 30 years as a respected professional. But things didn’t work out that way.
Remember the big retirement that my grad school profs predicted back in the late 1980s? Lots of old geezers letting go of their full-time positions in the 1990s? It turns out the real demographic change that occurred was not the big retirement, but a shift to PhDs getting all the full time jobs at community colleges while something like 60% of all the college classes in the country are taught by badly paid Adjuncts. The real shocking realization, I suppose, that I discovered after years of working in a liberal arts institution, was that the only thing college administrators respected was the bottom dollar, and that while the full-time faculty got the status, the offices, and the easy schedules (no classes in the evening or early in the morning, no classes on the weekend – I was paid $68,000 and all the benefits to teach just 15 classes a year?), Adjunct faculty are all replaceable.
At the same time, I’m left with a huge amount of pride in the job I did, reinforced every time I run into a former student somewhere and they smile and wave, or tell me what a good teacher I was. I taught here so long, it happens fairly regularly.
My advice to you… Get your PhD, and get enough graduate credit to enable you to teach two or three subjects. 18 hours of credit is what is required here in Texas. After I did that my earnings potential doubled every year for several years. If you don’t want to go there and you think you’re going to stay as an Adjunct, go ahead and get the college hours anyway. As I said before, in three or four years I went from teaching my one subject and making about $22,000 a year to teaching two subjects for
three colleges and making $70,000 or more, as an adjunct.