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 Ice, eruption 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|
(* 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.