The pay is low and the benefits are usually zero. Some work three jobs, and at least one, with a master's degree from Middlebury, ended up homeless.
It's a hard life for adjunct professors.
If you don't equate professors with poverty, consider that adjuncts are paid $2,700 per three-credit course, according to the American Association of University Professors. That comes to just $16,200 a year for a full course load.
Adjuncts now teach the majority of college courses, according to the American Association of University Professors. That's a switch from two decades ago, and a fact that might surprise parents and students writing out big tuition checks.
These instructors often take on second jobs and do summer work. But even teaching eight courses a year — far more than most tenured professors teach — they will only bring in about $21,000 a year. According to a study by Adjunct Action and SEIU in Boston, an adjunct would have to teach between 17 and 24 classes a year — an impossible task — to afford a home and utilities in Boston.
A new bill might give these instructors — often highly educated and thrown into the now-crowded academic job market — a big break. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois introduced a bill last Thursday that would wipe out student loans for struggling non-tenured professors.
More than half of the faculty at public colleges in Illinois work on a part-time basis, according to Durbin, and many are not eligible for federal student loan forgiveness because they aren't considered full-time employees.
"As their budgets have tightened, colleges and universities have become increasingly reliant upon part-time adjunct faculty who face low pay, few if any benefits, and minimal job security," Durbin said in a statement.
"The vast majority of these educators hold advanced degrees, and as a result, bear the heavy burden of student loan debt. It is only right that we expand their access to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, a benefit already available to many of their full-time colleagues."
Durbin's proposal would open up the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to adjuncts, a program open to borrowers who make 120 payments, or 10 years of on-time loan checks, while working for governments or nonprofits, like a university. After that, they could have some or all of their federal student debt wiped out.
Adjuncts are hailing the change as potentially life changing. Marga Ryersbach, an adjunct who teaches in New York, said in a statement released by Adjunct Action, "As a part-time, temporary worker with a crushing amount of school debt, I know how important student debt reform is for ensuring education retains the promise of social mobility for both me and my fellow adjuncts and the students we teach.
"We [would] have access to a program that helps correct the imbalances wrought by huge amounts of education debt."