Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Deducing adjunct salaries

Last week I got an e-mail from a regular reader (thanks Endora!) who asked a seemingly simple question (slightly edited to anonymize it):
I'm an adjunct instructor at a 4-year university in the southeastern US and an adjunct instructor at a 2 year community college. Since we might be moving to Bakersfield, California, I need to start looking around. Do you know a website I can look at to see the payscale for adjunct faculty?
While community college pay scales are almost always public information, that information is rarely easy to obtain. For instance, if you go to Bakersfield College's website in search of pay scales for adjunct faculty, you'll finds lots of information about when timecards are due, and might even find that they're looking for adjunct faculty (on this page), but I couldn't find anything on how much adjunct instructors are actually paid.

Bakersfield College is one of three colleges in the Kern Community College District, and as with many colleges, the district website is often the best place to look for information on faculty contracts, pay schedules, and other human resources information. Unfortunately, the district website doesn't have a handy little "How much will I get paid if I'm an adjunct instructor" page. Instead, I had to read through three documents on their website to figure out the pay rate:
  • Adjunct faculty salary schedule (PDF) - This document sounds like it should have all the information we need in it. The document does indeed provide information on pay rates: they pay $787.50 per weekly faculty contact hour (WFCH). Unfortunately, they don't specify what a WFCH is, how many WFCH's there are per course, or how many WFCH's an adjunct can teach.
  • Adjunct faculty contract (PDF) - When in doubt, read the contract. This document does indeed have lots of details on adjunct faculty loads, including the limitation that adjunct loads are limited to 60% of what full-time loads are. This, of course, begs the question of what a full-time faculty load is. The adjunct faculty contract does not answer that question.
  • Full-time faculty contract (PDF) - This has a whole lot of not terribly useful (for adjuncts) information, but the contract does specify that normal faculty loads are 15 LHE per semester. A LHE is approximately equivalent to one unit (or hour) of lecture, though labs often (but not always; it depends on the district) count for less (e.g., 1 hour of lab often gets paid as less than 1 LHE).
The documents never specify if WFCHs and LHEs are the same thing, but we'll assume that they are. Thus, combining all those documents we get $787.50 x 0.6 x 15 = $7,087.50 per semester, assuming the adjunct was able to teach the maximum allowable (9 LHE / WFCH, or 3 3-unit classes). I may be misunderstanding WFCH, but I think that value is probably in the ballpark (and it's not out of the range of what I've seen in other areas of California).

Thus we see the reality of adjunct salaries: adjuncts must have a master's degree to even quality for the job, yet get paid less than $15,000 per year (assuming they teach a full adjunct load for two semesters a year). This is why adjuncts often become "freeway fliers" - they must travel from district to district (note that the limitation on LHEs is a district limit, not a college limit) in order make enough to pay the rent.

For comparison, the full-time faculty salary schedule of the Kern district is clearly posted (PDF), and a minimally qualified and minimally experienced full-time instructor in the Kern district gets paid $45,920 per year (two semesters); the vast majority of full-time faculty earn well over $50,000 per year. We can now hypothesize why it's so difficult to find adjunct faculty pay rates on college websites: the administrators are (or at least should be) embarrassed by how low the pay is.

Of course, if you're an adjunct trying to figure out how much you'd get paid, you probably don't want to go digging through the negotiated contracts of each community college district you're pondering working in. Thus, an easier way to figure this out is to contact someone at the college; I'd suggest e-mailing either someone in the human resources department, or the department chair of the department you may be teaching in.

In fact, if you'd like to start adjunct teaching somewhere, the best way to start is to e-mail a CV to the department chair of the department you want to work in. While you may not get a reply (and thus you should e-mail the chairs of many departments), the chair will probably put your CV in a file so they can call you when they're scheduling classes, or when an instructor backs out at the last minute (at which time they'll give you the classic "Can you teach a class that starts tomorrow at 7:30am for me?" call).

And, if you're an adjunct looking for that elusive full-time faculty position, you might be interested in a series of posts I wrote on applying for a full-time community college job (links to all the posts can be found here).

If any other readers have questions, please feel free to e-mail me. I'd be happy to start up a little "Radagast Responds" series.

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