Adjunct Project Reveals Wide Range in Pay

January 04, 2013

Five years ago, Margaret Hanzimanolis was fed up with working as an adjunct professor in Vermont, teaching six courses for about $24,000 a year, without health insurance. So she moved across the country to Northern California, where at least 20 colleges were within a 90-minute drive, to begin her life as an adjunct anew.

Within days of her arrival, Ms. Hanzimanolis was hired to teach basic writing courses at De Anza College. Then she landed adjunct positions at Cañada College, City College of San Francisco, and Evergreen Valley College. She taught 13 classes year-round and earned $88,000 a year, she says. More important, after 18 months of teaching she was eligible for health benefits. The California wages are higher in part because the cost of living is greater there than in Vermont, but her new income still goes much further now.

"Here I was toiling away in Vermont for almost nothing for 17 years," she says. "When I moved here, I thought, 'This is another world.' How come I didn't know this?"

It's not uncommon for adjuncts to make decisions on where to work just as Ms. Hanzimanolis did: with little concrete information about key factors such as pay, benefits, and what the climate on the job is like for those who work off the tenure track. For adjuncts, reliable information about potential workplaces has always been hard to come by. Many colleges don't collect the data, and higher-education groups, such as the American Association of University Professors, haven't been able to find a way to systematically track the pay that adjuncts earn.

Over the past year, however, adjuncts across the nation have been turning to the Adjunct Project, a crowdsourcing effort that started last February when Joshua A. Boldt, a writing instructor in Georgia, put online a publicly editable spreadsheet. Nearly 2,000 entries have already been made on adjuncts' pay and working conditions, and a clearer national picture is emerging.

Now, to increase participation and collect ever-more-comprehensive information, Mr. Boldt and The Chronicle are expanding the project.

The new Web site, http://adjunct.chronicle.com, started this month, allows data to be sorted and compared by department, college, and region of the country. It displays information that adjuncts have reported about working conditions, such as whether they participate in shared governance, are part of a union, and receive health insurance and retirement benefits.

The site is designed to make it easy for many more adjuncts to add information.

The nature of the project makes it a work in progress, but a snapshot of what about 1,800 adjuncts at 1,050 colleges had reported about their institutions as of late last month shows pay disparities across types of colleges and disciplines and a dearth of health and retirement benefits available to adjuncts in general. Many adjuncts have also indicated that they are essentially shut out of participating in most forms of governance.

The overall average pay reported by adjuncts is $2,987 per three-credit course. Adjuncts at 16 colleges reported earning less than $1,000. The highest pay reported is $12,575, in the anthropology department at Harvard University.

The data document how it pays, literally, for adjuncts to teach at top research universities, where they report receiving an average of $4,750 per three-credit course. Yet even within that category, pay differs widely. The average per-course pay reported for adjuncts at Ohio State University is $4,853, compared with an average of $6,500 reported at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Harvard pays adjuncts $11,037, on average, according to the data that adjuncts have submitted so far.

Meanwhile, adjuncts at rural, medium-sized, two-year institutions—where pay is the lowest, according to the data submitted so far—average $1,808 per three-credit course.

Location, too, makes a difference. In California, where faculty at two- and four-year public institutions are unionized, the average pay is $3,888 per course, according to data reported to the Adjunct Project as of last month. In Texas, by contrast, a state where unions are rare, the reported pay is lower: $2,805 per course.

Another factor that determines how much money adjuncts earn is their field. The overabundance of adjuncts in the humanities has, for the most part, meant that their reported pay is lower than in other disciplines. Adjuncts who teach English, for example, reported earning an average of $2,727 per course. That compares with an average of $4,789 per course reported by adjuncts who teach engineering.

But reported pay varied widely within disciplines, too. At Brown University, adjuncts teaching English reported earning $8,500 per course, while at Emory University the figure reported was less than half that, at $4,000.

Not surprisingly, at community colleges, adjuncts said they are paid much less. At Houston Community College, adjuncts reported earning between $1,200 and $2,200 for a three-credit English course.

In some departments, adjuncts said anecdotally that pay depends on the degree held. One adjunct professor in history, for example, reported that where he or she works, instructors with Ph.D.'s earned about $800 more than those with master's degrees. Differences are also found among universities within the same systems. At the University of Nebraska at Omaha, adjuncts in the English department reported getting $1,000 less per course than the amount their colleagues on the flagship campus, at Lincoln, said they earned.

Ms. Hanzimanolis, who holds a Ph.D. in English, says the ability to see the "big-picture terrain" about pay on the Adjunct Project site will make it easier for adjuncts to maximize their own pay.

"The prospect that people will flood to California and to other higher-paying adjunct environments, if they can, is quite likely," says Ms. Hanzimanolis, who is now teaching at three institutions: De Anza, City College of San Francisco, and Cañada.

The project's data about unionized adjuncts show that unions have more organizing work to do. About 22 percent of adjuncts reported that they were union members. Seventy percent of adjuncts said they didn't participate in faculty governance. One reason for that could be that, in many cases, adjuncts aren't sure that taking on such a responsibility is worth the time.

"We're not compensated when we do that," Peter Feiden, an adjunct economics professor at Montgomery College, in Maryland, says of part-time faculty members there. He earns about $3,000 per course at Montgomery and about $6,000 per course at Catholic University of America, where he is also an adjunct. "It becomes difficult for somebody like me to agree to sit on a governance committee when I'm paid by the course."

Another well-known shortcoming of adjunct work is the lack of health-care and retirement benefits at many institutions. Seventy-nine percent of adjuncts reported that they didn't get health insurance at their college. Only 14 percent of adjuncts said they had retirement benefits or the opportunity to buy into a group retirement plan.

"I really think the only way that these issues are going to be tackled is by unionization," says Mr. Feiden, who is active in the part-time-faculty union at Montgomery.

As more adjuncts share their experiences on the site, the project's data set becomes richer. And adjuncts say they become more empowered.

"When I first made the spreadsheet, I had one intention: that people who were thinking about getting a job somewhere could look and see what the job paid," the Adjunct Project's Mr. Boldt says. The ability to compare institutions allows adjuncts to make choices about where to work based on pay and others' reviews.

"In the past adjuncts essentially had no power to do something like that," Mr. Boldt says, "but now they do."