What Part-Timers Want

National survey finds generally high job satisfaction, but many fault salaries, lack of health insurance or difficulty of moving to full-time faculty ranks.
March 22, 2010

Part-time faculty members are generally satisfied with their jobs, but their degree of satisfaction varies widely -- based both on their goals for their careers and the type of institution at which they work, according to a national survey being released today by the American Federation of Teachers.

Job satisfaction was highest at community colleges and private four-year institutions and lowest at public four-year institutions. Part-timers who teach only one course (many of whom do not depend on colleges for their livelihoods) are more satisfied than those who teach multiple courses. And by discipline, faculty members in the physical sciences are happier than those in other fields. A majority of adjuncts (57 percent) said that they were in their jobs because they like teaching, not for the money. About half are satisfied working part time while half would like a full-time position.

While the study was produced for the AFT, it was conducted by an outside group and not based on AFT or union membership. The sample was only of part-time instructors and so does not include full-time, non-tenure track faculty members, a fast-growing share of the adjunct ranks. While the faculty members surveyed were all part-time instructors, many also held other full-time jobs. Graduate students were included only in cases where they were identified as part-time faculty members whose teaching was not part of their graduate training.

Over all, the findings strongly back up several assertions commonly made by adjunct leaders, including the view that on many issues it is hard to generalize too much about what part-timers want. The data show a wide range in both economic circumstances and perspectives.

The survey found that 34 percent of part-timers have a single job as an adjunct. Another 28 percent have multiple teaching jobs, and 38 percent also have non-teaching jobs. The total salaries vary widely, with 20 percent reporting less than $50,000 in annual income, while 21 percent report more than $100,000 income.

The figures on per-course payments suggest that those in the six-figure group aren’t getting there on the basis of their teaching work. Only 42 percent reported earning more than $2,500 per course, and only 35 percent reported earning more than $15,000 annually from part-time teaching.

The lack of health insurance -- a major issue for many adjuncts -- is clear from the survey. Only 28 percent reported having health insurance provided by their college employer. The share was highest at public four-year institutions (42 percent) and lowest at community colleges (16 percent).

Many colleges provide health insurance based on the number of courses taught, and the survey reflected this, with just 11 percent of those teaching only one course receiving health insurance from their institutions. But even at the level of three courses a semester, only 39 percent received the benefit.

The survey is also consistent with the idea that many adjuncts love to teach, but get frustrated by compensation. Asked about different qualities associated with their jobs, they generally expressed high levels of satisfaction with those associated with the classroom, but lower levels on salaries and benefits.

Job Satisfaction of Part-Time Faculty With Various Job Conditions

Condition Percent Satisfied
Academic freedom 80%
Class size / workload 76%
Fair evaluations 62%
Communication / support from administration 62%
Office hours -- space and funds 61%
Job security 56%
Voice in decisions 52%
Salaries 41%
Pension / retirement 32%
Opportunities for full-time, permanent position 30%
Health insurance 29%

Asked to identify areas where improvements were most needed, salaries topped the list, followed by access to full-time positions and health insurance.

The survey is being released at a time when the adjunct faculty ranks have been growing both in the share of courses they teach and as a focus for academic labor. In the last year, AFT affiliates have won votes to create unions for adjuncts at St. Francis College (New York) and Western Michigan University; filed for elections at Central Michigan, Ferris State and Eastern Michigan Universities; and celebrated a first contract for adjuncts at Rhode Island College. Other academic unions have also been focused on adjuncts. The Massachusetts community college faculty union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, in November sued the state over lack of health insurance for adjuncts.

Here is a table with overall job satisfaction figures for those surveyed.

Satisfaction of Part-Time Faculty With Working Conditions

Category % Very or Mainly Satisfied % Somewhat or Not Satisfied
All 62% 37%
--Community colleges 68% 31%
--Public four-year 50% 49%
--Private four-year 67% 33%
Courses taught a semester    
--1 72% 27%
--2 63% 36%
--3 56% 44%
Union members 57% 42%
Non-union members 65% 35%
--0 to 5 years 56% 43%
--6 to 10 years 63% 36%
--11 or more years 64% 35%
--Humanities/social sciences 57% 43%
--Physical sciences 71% 29%
--Other 65% 35%


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