A Matter of Degrees
8:50 am
Wed May 7, 2014

High Numbers Of Adjuncts Raise Questions Of Fairness, Quality

Kathleen Hoben teaches at Manchester Community College
Credit Sheryl Rich-Kern for NHPR

At New Hampshire colleges and universities, about 70 percent of faculty members are off the tenure track. And a good percentage of those non-tenured professors are part-time.

That’s particularly true at community colleges where schedules fluctuate and strapped state budgets limit the number of full-timers on the payroll. Many four-year institutions are also seeing a growing number of part-time adjuncts. And while some say a high proportion of adjuncts on campus lowers the quality of a college education, others point out that adjuncts expose students to real world experience they wouldn’t receive otherwise.

The spring semester is winding down at Manchester Community College.

Listen to the radio version of this story.

Professor Kathleen Hoben writes in cursive on a white board, much as she has for the last 43 years.

I love the classroom. I’ve taught probably 28 different courses during my tenure of teaching.

Hoben’s been a high school teacher, an FBI agent, and after retiring as a full time faculty member at MCC three years ago, she’s now an adjunct.

I just wanted to teach a course here and there. But if feel very bad for any adjuncts relying on the income because -  no benefits, for one. You cannot do this job for the money.

Instructional staff at 46 New Hampshire colleges and universities.
Credit NHPR Staff

Community college teachers, who at minimum need a master’s degree, make between 1800 and 3000 dollars per course. And at these community colleges, they’re not allowed to teach more than nine credit hours.

What the credit cap does essentially is make it impossible for a person to make a living wage teaching as an adjunct.

That's Janice Dunnington, who teaches math at NHTI, Concord’s Community College, and is a member of the recently formed adjunct union.

Percentages of instructional staff categories at 46 N.H. colleges and universities.
Credit NHPR Staff

Dunnington hopes the union will give adjuncts a voice to take up grievances like the credit cap, which don’t allow adjuncts to earn more than sixty-eight hundred dollars a semester:

We are planning to meet with the Chancellor in a couple of weeks. We can fight this; we can get it negotiated; individually, of course, our hands would be tied.

  So far, the union has negotiated an almost twelve percent wage increase since the fall of 2013.

Kathleen Hoben says many adjuncts travel to different schools to boost their salaries:

For teachers that are trying to break into the profession and land a full time job, I think it’s difficult because the ratio of full time to part time is so skewed towards the adjunct.

Why does she think it's so skewed?

 Finances. Period. End of story. Not only at the two-year colleges, but at the four-year colleges as well. 

What the credit cap does essentially is make it impossible for a person to make a living wage teaching as an adjunct.

  But although part-time faculty members teach up to 68 percent of the courses at MCC, President Susan Huard says not to equate part-time with less quality. And she adds that part-time staff gives students more scheduling options:

We operate from 7:30 in the morning until 10:30 at night Monday through Thursday, a little less on Fridays, and on Saturdays until 5 PM, and to have full-time faculty to staff that period of time would be very expensive and we would have to pass that expense on to students, which we wouldn’t want to do.

But colleges are spending money to compete for students.

Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers:

And ironically, colleges and universities are putting more and more money into things like dormitories and athletic facilities and amenities as opposed to instruction. You’re seeing this perversion of priorities in terms of what kids actually need and what their instructors really need. So the adjunct instructional force has become the backbone of college instruction for students.

But not all colleges, particularly the highly selective, or small private ones, are relying as heavily on part-time adjuncts.

The campus at St. Anselm College
Credit Sheryl Rich-Kern for NHPR

  A warm spring afternoon kicks up the mood on the grassy St. Anselm’s College campus in Manchester as a couple of students ride scooters from their dorms to the cafeteria.

Aliyah Smith is an Engineering major from New York. I asked if she knew whether any of her professors were full or part-time.

I think all of mine are full.

Is that a question she asked when she decided which college to attend? 

Yes, part of the reason why I came here is the professors are very hands on and they care about…

Mark Cronin is the interim dean at St. Anselm’s, an undergraduate-only school of under two thousand.

Most schools would say the more full-time faculty you have, the better it is for the student’s educational experience.

Mark Cronin, Interim Dean at St. Anselm College
Credit Sheryl Rich-Kern for NHPR

  Cronin says he uses adjuncts like retired principals, state senators, and criminal justice experts who can share their on-the-job insights.

They’ve got more experience than virtually anyone else on the staff, and we consider them an asset to our program, not certainly an exploitation of adjunct labor.

But Cronin says he keeps the adjunct staff low. They teach about 11 percent of the courses and make a flat rate of 3500 dollars a class.

But at schools like Southern New Hampshire University, adjuncts make a range from 2400 to 3500 dollars. And the roster of part-timers has swollen to 300, compared to 125 full-time non-tenured professors.

Jane Fallon, SNHU adjunct and aspiring folk singer.
Credit Sheryl Rich-Kern for NHPR

  Jane Fallon is one of them. She teaches English at SNHU and Nashua Community College. She’s also an aspiring folk singer.

Fallon says she’s resigned to a low hourly wage, but likes the flexibility to pursue a music career.

When I look at what I hear about what colleges make, I feel worse for the kids paying that than for me. I don’t know how so much money goes in and kids come out with so much debt and they pay adjuncts so little. I have no clue. But it’s not my bailiwick. If it doesn’t work, the system will collapse under its own weight eventually.

Patricia Lynott is the University Provost on the traditional SNHU campus in Manchester.

We are going to get ahead of the concern and the rightful complaints of many adjuncts. 

We’re currently involved in surveying all of our adjuncts.

Lynott says the shift towards higher proportions of part-time adjuncts is likely to continue. And that means colleges will need to ask:

What is it that would make your job satisfaction increase?

The challenge ahead lies in improving working conditions for adjuncts and the quality of education — without hurting the bottom line.

This story was updated to correct adjunct earning limits at the community colleges.