The Adjunct Pay Gap

A new study documents the extent of the pay gap between those on and off the tenure track.
January 27, 2005

Everyone knows that adjunct faculty members don't earn as much as tenure-track faculty members. What hasn't always been clear is how large that pay gap is.

A University of Richmond economist has now published an analysis of the gap, which is large, on the Web site of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute.

Among the study's findings, which are based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics:

  • Full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members earn approximately 26 percent less per hour than do tenure-track assistant professors.
  • Part-time, non-tenure-track faculty members earn approximately 64 percent less per hour from their institutions than do tenure track assistant professors.
  • Total earnings for part-time, non-tenure-track faculty members are only 1 percent less than assistant professors because so many of those part-timers hold down multiple jobs -- in and out of academe.
  • The median, full-time, tenure-track faculty member is paid $8,424 per section taught, compared to $5,435 for full-time, non-tenure-track, and $2,174 for part-time, non-tenure-track.

All of these figures underestimate the gap between adjunct and tenure-track faculty members because these dollar totals are based on salaries only. While the quality and expense of health insurance and other benefits vary from campus to campus, many adjuncts have few or no benefits and many full-time academics have extensive benefits.

James Monks, the economist who did the study, said it was important for colleges to have a better understanding of pay for adjunct faculty members, given their increasing role in the professoriate.

Monks is currently on the tenure track at Richmond. But he knows what it's like to be off of it; he had temporary positions at Mount Holyoke College and Wellesley College before he landed his current job.

"It's widely understood that contingent faculty are paid less than tenured and tenure track. What this study does is give an order of magnitude," he said.

What most surprised him, he said, was the fact that so many part-time faculty members hold down enough jobs to have their total salaries rival those of assistant professors. He said this group includes relatively well off professionals -- a lawyer who teaches a single course, for example -- but also people who are "cobbling it together" to make ends meet.

"There's no one type of non-tenure track faculty member. It's a pretty heterogeneous group."

Andrew Walzer, who is active in efforts in California to improve the pay and working conditions of part-timers, says the figures are important to have, but aren't surprising.

"The gap is definitely an injustice. We need to have equal pay for equal work," said Walzer, who teaches history, English, and interdisciplinary studies at Santa Monica College and at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona.

Walzer warns against assuming that there is no need to worry about part-timers who have decent total salaries (by virtue of holding multiple positions).

He has a 45-mile drive between his two campuses, and his course schedule calls for him to teach at both campuses three days a week. "I spend a lot of time driving, and that undermines my ability and my commitment to any one institution."

Analysis that focuses too much on hourly pay ignores the broader role of faculty members, he said. "The college runs on the ability of instructors to contribute to the functioning of an institution," he said.

Martin M. Goldstein, who teaches communications part time at Santa Monica, said there are other inequities that aren't clear from the numbers in the study.

"Part-timers, according to the study, earn roughly 1/3 as much as assistant professors, which is bad," said Goldstein, who is head of public relations for the California Part-Time Faculty Association. "And doesn't take into account the harsh reality that most part-timers will never earn much more than that, no matter how well they do or how many years they work -- while assistant professors on a tenure track are likely to double their income or more if they continue on in the profession."


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