Underpaid adjuncts create a lose-lose situation for everyone. Adjunct professors are stressed and students are not receiving the best education they could be, despite spending thousands of dollars on tuition.
An adjunct professor is a part-time faculty member who is hired contractually.
Adjunct professors earn less pay, receive fewer benefits and do not have the same job security as a full-time professor.
Due to adjuncts receiving lower pay and fewer benefits than full-time professors, universities can save money by hiring several part-time adjuncts rather than full-time faculty members.
William Mea, Capital’s Vice President for business and finance, says the standard adjunct pay rate at Capital is $836 per undergraduate credit hour.
“However, not all adjuncts are paid at this rate,” Mea said. “For example, nursing clinical adjunct pay is on an hourly basis, not credit hours, and is also based on educational level. Also, adjunct pay rates for graduate courses vary between academic units, although the base rate is $1,000 per graduate credit hour.”
At this rate, an adjunct teaching one undergraduate four credit hour class would hypothetically make $3,344 for a semester or $6,688 for two semesters (a full school year). If they were teaching three 4-credit hour undergraduate classes, they would hypothetically make $10,032 for a semester, or $20,064 for a full school year.
Eric Swanson, a former adjunct who taught at Capital during the 2021 spring semester, discussed his experience.
“For me, teaching [at Capital] was about the fourth or fifth most important thing [in my life],” Swanson said. “If I spent more than about 12 hours a week trying to get material ready for the class, and in terms of like grading and things like that, then my wages start going below like $10 an hour… I was making more money when I worked at a hotel and I got health insurance when I did that.”
Swanson felt he was being under-compensated for his work and was unsure if he would still work at the university the following semester.
“Why would I put another couple hours into this week’s lesson plan to make it really good when I don’t know if I’m ever going to actually teach it again,” Swanson said.
Swanson believes raising pay would take a large burden off adjuncts.
“The people doing the work will be less stressed,” Swanson said. “The rates for depression amongst graduate students and recently graduated PhDs is really really high… a lot of that is due to the fact that both adjunct work and grad student pay are very low. If you’re working a job that doesn’t pay very well, that doesn’t offer you health insurance or the guarantee that you’ll be employed the next semester, that is stressful and it also doesn’t encourage you to put in long-term effort in improving your skills or improving your lesson plans.”
According to a Harvard article, graduate students are six times more likely to experience depression or anxiety. The lack of financial stability and job security are some factors that may contribute to graduate students’ worsening mental health.
Swanson continues, discussing how competition in academia makes adjuncts replaceable and easy to take advantage of for low pay.
“I think that you could attract much more qualified teachers as adjuncts with higher pay,” Swanson said. “The main reason why adjunct pay is so low is that there are just a lot of people who are willing to pick up those classes and teach them because there are a lot of people who are desperately trying to keep academic teaching positions so that they can eventually try to get a permanent position in academia.”
Jim Wightman, associate dean for clinical partnerships in the School of Education and president of the Capital chapter of the American Association of University Professors, weighs in on the issue and discusses what is being done to combat it.
“For many years the adjunct compensation for most on campus has not changed,” Wightman said. “There has been times in the past where Capital’s adjunct compensation in comparison to others was not as low as it may be right now.”
Wightman also shares his insights on how raising adjunct pay would improve students’ experiences.
“We know that we have lost adjuncts to other institutions where they can go and make more money. So, if we were able to adjust adjunct compensation, I believe we will retain really good adjuncts and we will be able to better attract really good adjuncts to come work at Capital, so ultimately both of those would better the student experience at Capital,” Wightman said.
“The university has put together a task force to look at adjunct compensation,” Wightman said. “We are looking at … how it compares to other institutions in Ohio … We’re not at a point yet where we’ve developed something that we can share with everybody, but we are looking at options for how we can improve adjunct compensation.”
With the creation of a task force, this issue may be improving in the future, giving both students and faculty a better experience at Capital.