This afternoon I chatted with one of our adjunct faculty, and was reminded how grateful I am that I'm no longer an adjunct. At my campus we're in an odd position with respect to adjuncts currently: our budget for the fall has been cut, and thus we'll be cutting the number of class sections offered. Normally this would mean we'd lay off adjuncts, but a state retirement incentive program (if offered) may lead to a large number of faculty retirements. If those faculty retire we probably won't lay off anyone, and may even hire a few extra adjuncts. While this uncertainty is frustrating for the professors who want to retire, it's worse for our adjuncts as they have no idea whether they'll be employed here in the fall.
The California State Universities, who also hire a large number of adjuncts, aren't doing any better. The adjunct I talked to this afternoon said there is a good possibility that no adjuncts will be rehired this fall at the Cal State department he or she also adjuncts for, even though some adjuncts have been there as long as fifteen years. Even though this adjunct works at multiple campuses, there's a possibility that he or she will either not have a job at all next fall, or will have only one position.
Considering that our district limits the number of classes any individual adjunct can teach, living on the adjunct salary from just our district isn't easy. A faculty member at the highest pay scale for adjuncts (5+ years service), teaching the maximum load allowable (9 contact hours), earns almost exactly $10,000 a semester in our district. Adjunct faculty at the lowest pay scale earn approximately $7,500 a semester for the same load. Adjuncts can teach summer classes as well, but those are highly sought after by full time faculty, who have priority for assignments. In this summer's schedule there is only one adjunct employed across all my campus's science departments (including biology, chemistry, physics, geology, and astronomy). So, assuming an adjunct can't get a summer assignment and only teaches in our district, the maximum they can earn in a year ranges from $15,200 in their first year to $20,000 if they have 5 or more years of experience. Not exactly what you hope for after getting a masters degree or Ph.D.
Let's put this in perspective. If I, a non-tenured full time faculty member, hired two first year adjuncts to teach my full load of classes for me, paying their contract salaries out of my pocket, I would have more than $30,000 left after paying their salaries. If my most experienced colleagues did the same thing they'd have more than $56,000 left after paying the adjuncts. Even if my most experienced colleagues hired the most experienced adjuncts, they'd still have more than $48,000 left. Any way you look at it, adjunct faculty pay is paltry compared to full time pay.