As an adjunct professor, Kristin Quadracci teaches about six classes a semester and works well over 40 hours per week.
It’s enough for Quadracci to scrape together a salary of about $40,000 a year. But she works about 50% more as a contract worker than full-time college instructors, she said.
Plus there’s “no vacation and no job security,” Quadracci said.
Adjunct professors are those contracted part time to educate students. Many like Quadracci say they’ve dedicated their careers to teaching in college and endure tough conditions that they say carry over to students.
Senate Bill 84 would allow Colorado adjuncts to qualify for forgiveness of federally backed college loans. The bill makes a minor change to state law to better calculate how much work adjunct faculty perform in a semester.
Adjunct faculty and the unions supporting them also want the state to someday address the low pay, limited benefits, and little say part-time faculty have in the classroom. Until that happens, access to loan forgiveness is one way to ease the burden on adjunct faculty, who often need advanced degrees to do their jobs.
David Chatfield, who teaches art appreciation at Arapahoe Community College, has taught as a part-time instructor for years. He was one of the lucky few who was able to find a one-year full-time position. The job has since ended and he’s back to part-time work. The full-time position made it easier for him to earn a living and teach students.
“The overreliance on adjuncts is bad,” Chatfield said. “They need to bring in more full-time people.”
What once was a supplement to the core faculty now is a common practice at schools. Historically, adjuncts were mostly made up of people working in professional fields who wanted to teach students.
More and more, the majority teach at several schools to make a living.
Schools vary in their portion of adjuncts.
Nationally, about 48% of all academic staff is part-time faculty, according to the American Association of University Professors.
About half of all classes in the community college system are taught by adjuncts, with colleges and universities having different shares. For example, almost 70% of the Community of College of Aurora’s classes are taught by adjunct faculty.
Supporters of Senate Bill 84 said during testimony that they end up working long uncompensated hours outside of class, and they want the state to redefine how schools calculate how much adjuncts work.
The proposed change to how hours are calculated wouldn’t require colleges to give benefits to any instructors who don’t otherwise qualify. But it would allow instructors to reach full-time status to qualify for the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. The program allows those who work in the public sector, including at a nonprofit, to have their student loans forgiven after 10 years.
Senate Bill 84 is sponsored by state Rep. Mary Young, a Greeley Democrat, and state Sens. Janice Marchman, a Loveland Democrat, and Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat. The Senate has approved the bill, and it goes next to the House.
During testimony, adjunct instructors said they make less than $30,000 a year and hold side jobs to survive. National surveys show nearly a third of adjuncts make less than $25,000 a year and many rely on public assistance.
Some adjuncts also don’t qualify for benefits, especially if they cobble together work from different schools. The Colorado Community College System does offer benefits including health insurance to adjuncts who work more than 30 hours a week within the system, and those who work fewer hours can purchase plans at a discounted rate.
Chatfield said when he was able to get contracted as a full-time employee, he made three times his annual $20,000 adjunct wages for a little more work. The few additional responsibilities were “not enough to justify that kind of disparity,” he said.
Some colleges don’t include adjuncts in program decisions, Chatfield said, which directly affects how students learn. The community college system does have a statewide advisory council for adjuncts, according to a system spokeswoman.
Adjuncts also don’t have their own private offices, meaning it can be hard to meet with students needing extra support, he said. That could mean the difference between the student passing or failing a class.
Quadracci said it’s detrimental to students to have their teachers hurrying from campus to campus without getting a break to eat lunch or take care of themselves.
“Adjuncts can’t be there for our students,” Quadracci said. “And it’s a huge, huge detriment to them and their learning environment.”
Correction: This article has been changed to reflect that the Colorado Community College System provides some benefit options to adjuncts.
Jason Gonzales is a reporter covering higher education and the Colorado legislature. Chalkbeat Colorado partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage. Contact Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org.