Community and Technical Colleges: Anxious Students, Invisible Faculty

Part-time college faculty members continue to lag woefully behind full-time professors in their pay as the demand for higher education continues to increase.

When recessions hit, people go back to college to improve their chances of success. Washington state’s community and technical colleges had a record enrollment of 161,081 full-time equivalent students (FTEs) in 2010-11.

But in 2011-12, enrollments declined by 5 percent, perhaps reflecting declining public support. From 1990-2010, state funding for colleges declined by 26.1 percent, and by another 7.6 percent in the last year.

With classes canceled and faculty laid off, students are having trouble getting the courses they need. Tuition has skyrocketed, along with student-loan debt, which at $1 trillion has now passed credit-card debt.

Unemployment is still so high that even part-time jobs are becoming harder to get, and graduating students face a bleak job market, with unemployment rates for 20- to 24-year-olds hitting 13.2 percent in April.

But prospects have long been bleak for college teaching. From 1975-2009, the number of full-time, tenure-track jobs increased by only 30 percent, while part-time jobs increased by nearly 300 percent, according to the American Association of University Professors. In our state, the two-year colleges employ only 3,600 full-time but 8,000 part-time faculty.

While the full-timers average $60,000 a year, part-time or adjunct faculty earn far less. Not only are they paid about 60 cents on the dollar, their workload is restricted to less than full time while the same union contracts allow full-timers to teach overtime at will.

Since most adjuncts teach half time, these professors average only $18,000 a year, or slightly below the 2012 federal poverty level for a family of three ($19,090), and would be eligible for food stamps in Washington. For many teaching assistants, their graduation may actually mean a drop in income, since many adjuncts are actually paid less than graduate students.

While United Students Against Sweatshops was formed in 1998 to stop the overseas production of college memorabilia (sweatshirts, etc.) in abysmal workplace conditions, students and parents have yet to notice the sweatshop conditions of professors on U.S. campuses. Moreover, college sweatshops are often unionized, with the teachers’ unions (National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers) protecting the tenured faculty at the expense of the adjuncts who teach off the tenure track.

Even during this recession, with low-paid adjuncts losing courses and income, the teachers unions have been trying to secure annual raises chiefly for the full-timers. With few exceptions, the Democrats, who depend on the unions for campaign funds and workers, have supported the unions but not equal treatment for adjuncts.

On local campuses, full-timers teaching overtime have increased by 27 percent statewide over the past five years, displacing part-time faculty jobs.

Despite this clear conflict of interest, full-time and part-time faculty are required to be in the same bargaining units. It is past time to end this dysfunctional arrangement, particularly as higher education holds the key to upward social mobility for individuals and the competitiveness of our state and nation.

  • This article originally appeared in the Seattle Times.
  • Keith Hoeller has taught philosophy and psychology in the Puget Sound region for more than 20 years and is the co-founder of the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association. Jack Longmate has taught English at Olympic College in Bremerton for 20 years. Read other articles by Keith Hoeller and Jack Longmate.