Ironically, adjuncts are breathing counter-examples that higher education is a beneficial financial investment. Universities have been a great growth industry in America, as the “American Dream” demands higher jobs, and more money. Yet, what about those graduating from college, earning the highest degrees, who cannot financially afford to survive? As a Boise State University freshman, entering the College of Education, it’s astonishing that these are our instructors.
Universities essentially function within a two-tiered system: the full-time/tenured, and mass of adjuncts. Adjuncts are referred to as a non-tenured or “part-time” professors. Within these institutes, there’s an immense discrepancy between non-tenured educational requirements and astounding level of pay. While receiving around $2,700 a course, the average adjunct earns $20,000 annually. This leads a shocking 31 percent of adjuncts surviving on or below the poverty line, in addition to no health care or job security. Educators with Ph.D.s heavily depend on welfare, Medicaid and food stamps, at a time when the hourly minimum wage is rising to $15. We’re beginning to see non-tenured professors making hundreds less than a Wal-Mart worker, even with such contrasting expectations. To claim this as a low-wage job is an understatement.
Students should be concerned. Currently the American college student is paying more in tuition than ever, averaging around $45,000 annually. In fact, only $70 of that is attained toward the instruction of the class. Professor Adrianna Kezar, at the University of Southern California’s College of Education, claims, “Initially, part-time teachers were popular because they brought real-world experience to the classroom.” Thirty years ago, 80 percent of college faculty members were on a tenured track and full time. That role has flipped, as currently two-thirds of staff are non-tenured. This growing dependency has a negative impact on learning as well, as adjuncts in introductory courses show an increase in lower graduation and retention rates. So how did the non-tenured get to this position, having the inability to successfully do their job?
Becoming an elementary teacher, I automatically have the expectations to be provided with most assets needed to successfully educate. And those in tenure-track positions are provided with tools to their disposal. But it’s a struggle for adjuncts to be equipped with the basic resources to properly teach. We’re talking simple tools like learning objectives and syllabi. But adjuncts have no job security, not knowing if they’ll be hired or canceled the night before class. It’s impossible for them not to be inadequately prepared. This is due to institutions’ lack of policies, not even providing adjuncts a proper office space.
Adjuncts are essential to higher education. Yet associations struggle to differ for fair employment and human rights, with the pressure to remain competitive and cost-savvy. No matter the efforts to unionize, schools cannot hear the voices of the adjunct over the silence of the tenure, so who’s left? Students have the voice to fight for the innovative education we’re investing in. As instruction is turning into sport franchises or campus perks, colleges and universities are progressively drifting away from what they’re all about.
Samantha Rentfro is currently enrolling into the College of Education at Boise State University. She is pursuing a degree in elementary education, and hopes to follow her passion in teaching the world’s greatest future resource — children.