Adjuncts are paid much less than full-time faculty, and by law must have the same minimum qualifications. The salary gap varies from campus to campus; some adjuncts make half the salary of full-time instructors.
Some adjuncts can’t afford health insurance. When Holland was injured in a motorcycle accident, she used the settlement from insurance to pay her hospital bills because she doesn’t have health insurance. Neither does Seddighzadeh; she and her children use the emergency room when ill. Perales has an extremely high deductible and pays for all her prescriptions out of pocket.
Dana DeMercurio, an adjunct professor who teaches communication studies at four campuses — Folsom Lake, Sierra and San Joaquin Delta colleges plus a school in Michigan — says the amount she pays for health care is based on her workload. When her courses are cut and her income goes down, the amount increases.
When DeMercurio shares that she works at four colleges and teaches 27 units, people assume that she makes a good living. They are surprised to learn that despite the prestige of being a college professor, she barely makes ends meet.
“It’s a real burnout,” says DeMercurio, who has a master’s degree and is a member of San Joaquin Delta College Teachers Association (SJDCTA). “We have to work many more hours than a full-time employee to make enough money just to have a normal life.”
“There’s a lot of poverty among part-time faculty. We have yard sales. One professor I know sold her mattress to pay the rent.”
The situation is an issue of fairness and compassion, says CTA President E. Toby Boyd. “CTA works on behalf of all educators to ensure they are supported professionally and treated with dignity,” he says. “Adjunct professors should not be living in poverty or barely scraping by because of unfair pay systems. That’s why CTA and CCA are co-sponsoring Assembly Bill 1269.”
Why Are Adjunct Faculty Underpaid?
Community colleges made a conscious choice to hire more part-time than full-time employees to deliver high-quality, low-cost instruction. Hiring lots of part-time educators saves money, because colleges can pay them less in salary and benefits.
“Prior to Prop. 13, almost all of the community college faculty was full-time,” recalls CCA President Eric Kaljumägi, a mathematics professor at Mt. San Antonio College. “At that time, funding for colleges was cut. Now you have tens of thousands of part-time instructors. At my school, our part-time English faculty peaked at 100, which could probably be filled by 45 full-time positions.”
As at-will employees, adjuncts can be let go without cause. When enrollment drops, their classes may be reassigned to other faculty, leaving them scrambling. Some adjuncts say they feel like second-class citizens and their full-time colleagues are unaware of the challenges they face. While some individuals teach part-time as a second job or for supplemental family income, most rely on part-time teaching as their primary income and career.
Many adjuncts have their eye on tenure, desperately hoping one of their schools will hire from within when there’s an opening. But there’s no guarantee; by law, colleges must conduct a broad search when full-time positions open.
For Seddighzadeh, a member of the South Orange CCD Faculty Association, it’s a painful reality that after 12 years of being an adjunct professor, she has no seniority at any of the campuses where she teaches.
“I apply and apply at colleges, but it’s very tough to get a full-time position,” she says. “But to pay the bills, I need a real job.”
Recently, her course load was cut drastically, and classes that she expected to teach were suddenly reassigned. To make ends meet, she gave up her apartment and now rents a room where she stays with her children.
“There’s a lot of poverty among part-time faculty,” shares Perales, an SJDCTA member. “We have yard sales. One professor I know sold her mattress to pay the rent.”
Why Adjuncts Stay in The Game
Ask adjuncts why they stay in a job where they are so underpaid and most will say it’s for the love of teaching and being able to help students achieve their dreams.
“Oh my gosh, I love my job,” says Krista Warren Yagubyan, president of MiraCosta College Academic Associate Faculty in Oceanside. “I love my students and love teaching them important skills.”
Warren Yagubyan teaches life skills and employment readiness to students with disabilities, which is considered adult education. She was named Part-Time Faculty of the Year in 2018 by the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges. It’s ironic, she notes, that she received her award the same year her teaching load was cut.
“The dean of my department asked me to hire new people to teach adults with disabilities and then cut my hours and told me to go find other work. The department chair offered me block scheduling so I could work at other colleges on different days.”
During the pandemic, she says, adjuncts at her campus were the first to lose their jobs when enrollment dropped by 8 percent.
Holland, a Kern CCD/CCA member who teaches public speaking and debate, says her love of teaching keeps her going.
“I’m very passionate about education. Education has opened doors for me and my students. I love hearing students formulate arguments they will use in the outside world. But it’s frustrating that I can’t devote more energy to teaching, because I have to spend time working other jobs, like Instacart, to supplement my income.
“I tell myself this is temporary. But I have been teaching here 10 years waiting for a full-time position. I deserve to get paid at the same rate as my full-time colleagues. We have the same training. And we are union members who have a voice at the bargaining table. But sometimes, we are afraid to speak up, because we are at-will employees. We don’t want our classes taken away.”
A Matter of Equity
There’s hope with Assembly Bill 1269, which is sponsored by CCA and addresses the pay inequities adjunct faculty face.
For Warren Yagubyan, it’s about respect. She notes that on MiraCosta College’s salary schedule, a 20-year adjunct faculty member makes less than a first-year, full-time employee.
“Why are people getting paid such different amounts for doing the same work?” she asks. “We are being held to the same professional standards as our full-time colleagues, but we don’t have health benefits or retirement.”
She prefers to be called an associate professor instead of an adjunct, noting that the dictionary defines “adjunct” as “a thing added to something else as a supplementary rather than an essential part.” Part-time professors are very essential to providing students with a good education and should be considered necessary and valued, she asserts.
She finds it ironic that community colleges host weighty discussions about equity issues, but such discussions only apply to students.
“I want to remind everyone that inequities exist within the community college system for those who teach,” she says. “It’s time to address the inequities within our own ranks, too.”
Support AB 1269
Assembly Bill 1269, by Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), seek parity for adjunct faculty in the state’s community college system and would require that community colleges close the parity gap by 2027.
Sponsored by the Community College Association and CTA, the bill would require the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office to conduct a comprehensive study of part-time faculty by July 1, 2022. The study would identify policies and offer fiscal recommendations for achieving a pathway to parity for adjunct faculty by 2027. As part of the study, the Chancellor’s Office would convene a workgroup that would include community college union representatives.
CCA President Eric Kaljumägi observes that creating a “compensation schedule” to achieve parity between part-time and full-time faculty within six years is nothing new; it revamps 1999 legislation that was approved but never implemented. He says the goal is having 75% of community college classes taught by full-time instructors.
“Our problem is that we have an underclass of faculty that are the primary employees of the community college system,” he says. “I have no idea how we can maintain a diverse and high-quality workforce if we treat people this badly.”
Go to cta.org/TakeAction to ask your lawmaker to support AB 1269 for a pathway to parity for adjunct faculty.