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Documenting Adjuncts' Pay Gap

January 20, 2011

If part-time faculty members assembled the equivalent course duties of a full-time job at a Pennsylvania community college, they still would earn only about $25,000 a year -- below state levels at which a family of four would be eligible for public assistance.

That is one of the conclusions of a report being issued today by the Keystone Research Center, a think tank in Pennsylvania that studies issues of interest to education and labor groups, among others. The report documents not only pay levels but also the distribution of teaching duties among adjuncts and those on the tenure track at the state's community colleges and state-supported four-year institutions.

The report's findings -- that public colleges rely on those off the tenure track and pay them much less per course -- won't surprise adjuncts or their advocates. The findings are consistent with a 2008 study on similar issues by the American Federation of Teachers, which is promoting the new study as part of a broader campaign to draw attention to the treatment of adjuncts.

At community colleges in the state, the research found that 54 percent of courses, on average, are taught by part-time faculty members, 2 percent by full-time, non-tenure track faculty members, and 45 percent by tenured and tenure-track faculty members. There was some variation among institutions, with Montgomery County Community College having 50 percent of courses taught by tenured or tenure-track faculty, while Lehigh Carbon Community College was on the low end, at 40 percent.

In terms of pay per course, the study found wide gaps at the community colleges:

  • Tenured and tenure-track faculty members earned an average of $5,881 per course.
  • Full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members earned an average of $4,637 per course, or 79 percent of the tenure-track pay.
  • Part-timers earned an average of $2,547 per course, or 43 percent of the tenure-track level. (Most part-timers in the state do not receive health insurance from their college employers, the report notes.)

The picture is better for adjuncts at the State System of Higher Education, which consists of four-year regional universities. Only 20 percent of courses are taught by those off the tenure track (8 percent by part-timers and 12 percent by full-time, non-tenure-track faculty). While the per-course average is only 63 percent of the total of tenured and tenure-track faculty members ($5,595 vs. $8,897), the gap is smaller than at the community colleges, and the full-timers are eligible for health insurance.

The AFT press release on the new report attributes the relatively better treatment of non-tenure-track faculty in the state system to provisions in the faculty contract that limit non-tenure-track faculty to 25 percent of positions, and require the conversion to tenure track for those who teach this way for five years. The AFT argues that this finding demonstrates that state systems can remain committed to keeping most courses taught by those on the tenure track, and that such contract provisions can advance the cause of adjuncts while also preserving tenure-track positions.

Some adjunct leaders elsewhere, however, have argued that caps can have the impact of displacing those off the tenure track, denying them the sections and income that they need.

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