I’m almost worth a burrito!

It appears that the typical position of the adjunct instructor is starting to get a little more attention. There is a recently-released documentary on the subject, a congressional report, there have been numerous op-eds, and of course the well publicized case of Margaret Mary Votjko. Like many, I spent time as an adjunct, and still supplement my income with part-time teaching gigs (I don’t call them adjunct, because as an employee I have access to higher, yet still tiny, salaries and a benefits package).

This is the time of year when many universities start releasing the new tuition rates for the coming years. Since the 1980 Miracle on Iceeruption of Mt. St. Helens, and release of Damn the Torpedos, tuition at 4-year schools has more than doubled (adjusted for inflation). During that same time period, the use of cheap, disposable adjuncts has skyrocketed.

I often include a lecture about adjunct labor when I teach. I tend to get very good reviews as a teacher, and I want students to know the disadvantage they have because of me. I am a good teacher, but try to find me in a year for advice or for a letter of recommendation? Try to sign up for an advanced class with me.

Anyways, that is for another day. What I want to discuss today is how much the students pay me. They pay tuition, and some part of that goes to me. So what percent of tuition goes to an adjunct? How much do they each pay me to teach? Of course tuition money pays for more than just the instructor, but students are often shocked at how little of their tuition bill actually goes towards the instructor. Using numbers from some of my previous teaching gigs, I’ve come up with a handy table that explains some of this.

School # of students per course tuition my salary $ per student % of tuition for instruction $ per student per class
Private R1 300 $5,048.00 $10,000 $33.33 0.7 $0.74
Liberal Arts 20 $4,488.00 $4,300 $215.00 4.8 $4.78
Public R1* 100 $1,316.00 $6,200 $62.00 4.7 $1.38
Comm. Col 24 $522.00 $3,300 $137.50 26.4 $3.06

(* indicates that I calculated this assuming in-state tuition, something I know wasn’t true but made calculations easier. This is therefore a minimum).

So first off, I am luckier than many, some of my positions have paid much more than the typical adjunct. But I’ve also taught at schools where tuition is approaching $50,000 a year (and this is just tuition, these numbers do not include room and board or books and supplies, or fees, just tuition). You should also remember that these positions came with no benefits, no chance for renewal, and no time to prep, and despite excellent reviews absolutely no chance for a permanent position.

Some things to notice, at the 4-year schools I taught at, it is standard for <5% of the total tuition bill to go towards instruction. The private R1 school I taught at has tuition of about $50K a year, meaning that the 300 student class generated somewhere north of 1.5 Million dollars in tuition money. You’ll notice though, that at both of the large schools, the students will spend 2-3 times more on their textbooks than they will on me. In fact, a student who refills their mug with coffee before class everyday at the student-run coffee shop will spend more at the end of the semester on coffee than they did on me. My time is worth less than a can of soda at the private R1 school, and less than a burrito at the liberal arts school. Even the useless and idiotic clickers the students are supposed to buy cost more than the instructor at many of these schools.

I don’t want to pretend that there aren’t other costs, but it is important to acknowledge that the vast majority of tuition money goes towards something besides the teachers. When tuition is raised, I wish more students asked why. What will they get out of it. Will they pay 250 or 300% more than their parent’s generation so they can sit in a movie theater with 299 of their friends and listen to an underpaid guy on a microphone and no chalkboard try to think of ways to interact with students?

I won’t go into college sports now, which I have a love-hate relationship with, but I was inspired to finally publish this table after reading about the Athletic Director at Ohio State, who already makes close to a million dollars a year, and who got an $18,000 bonus because wrestler Logan Stieber won the 141-pound NCAA championship (nice work Logan, btw). That bonus is roughly equivalent to a yearly salary for many adjuncts, if they were lucky enough to get 5 to 7 classes to teach.

So when they announce your tuition increase, try to get someone to explain what you are going to get out of it. And when your adjunct shows up and teaches your favorite class of the year, remember that they are worth less than your coffee.

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3 Responses to I’m almost worth a burrito!

  1. Ms. B says:

    Recently my students complained to me that I was not on Blackboard. There is no shell for my course. When they asked me why there isn’t, much to my horror, I lied to them and told them it was because the IT dept was having problems setting it up. The reason my class does not have a Blackboard shell is because the dept does not want to give me one–I am an adjunct. I am ONLY paid for the time I spend in the walls of my classroom. I am not paid one single dime for prep/grading papers/answering student emails/calls–NOTHING. The Dept knew very very well that IF they created this “shell” the time I spend posting to my class would be completely and entirely UNPAID time and it is. The students continued to complain about this or that missing from Blackboard so I told them–the truth. That because of CA State Law, I am forced to teach at more than one college. That my income is so low that I also work and try to run a small business. That I get no health benefits and that ANY time, even a second I spend on the class outside of the walls of the classroom are completely unpaid and it’s tough to post study materials for my class at midnight or 5 a.m. I am too tired.

    Besides the fact that we are being exploited, we are doing the greatest injustice to our students. We are LYING or more apt, well-paid administrators of colleges are forcing us into–lying to our students. I will no longer lie to them. I have told them everything. I have turned them on to these and other websites because if we care about our students, we have to care about this issue. We make a mockery of ourselves, our profession, but also of these mostly young people who are starting out their young lives…and being taught by institutions that deceive them. Talk to your students.

    One thing they all say to me over and over is: “aren’t there labor laws?” “Why is this even legal under labor laws?” They get it folks. Why don’t we?

  2. Most of my students are shocked at how little is spent on their instructors. Even those who know something of adjuncts don’t know how little the university cares about who is teaching their classes. This is why I’ve stopped pretending when I teach. I believe firmly in earth science (and most) education, and I want to keep being involved, but I am convinced more and more that the only way the situation will change is if the people paying the bills (students and their parents) start getting angry.

  3. Ms. B says:

    You are so right. As so many others have said, we need national walk-out/strike and by the way, unions, at least in CA, have been around for decades now and nothing much has changed. I do know they take dues out of paycheck every month…for what? Plus, I’m an adjunct! I may be a member of THAT union on a temporary basis only…until there is a national walk-out and the (what is it now) 75% of adjuncts that teach our students across this nation walk off the “job”, media, parents, students, etc. will not get it. ( And what will they do to us? Fire us? HA HA HA. We’re ADJUNCTS! Go ahead! I make more money on unemployment anyway!).

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