The Great Recession has sparked a national debate on income inequality, with many seeing a college education as a path to higher wages. Studies show more education leads to improved annual salaries.
Politicians have focused on curbing tuition, which has risen much faster than inflation. President Obama proposed spending $80 billion over 10 years to make community college tuition free.
Our state politicians want to keep college affordable and both parties are in uncharacteristic agreement that college tuition should not rise in the next two years. Though low tuition may be popular, someone ends up paying the hidden costs.
In “The High Public Cost of Low Wages” ( http://laborcenter. berkeley.edu/pdf/2015/ the-high-public-cost-of-low- wages.pdf), the Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education documented how low wage companies shift their employee costs to taxpayers, who must pay $153 billion each year in public assistance for working families.
The Berkeley study noted that one-fourth of part-time (or adjunct) college professors, numbering over 750,000 nationwide, are receiving public aid. Indeed, income inequality is a stark reality on our nation’s campuses, where the miserable pay mirrors Wal-Mart and McDonald’s so much that many adjuncts have joined the campaign for a $15 an hour minimum wage.
In the Community Colleges of Spokane (CCS), the 500 adjunct professors average only $14,804 a year for teaching a half-time load. That’s less than half of an annual salary of $15 an hour ($31,200). And it’s only 27 percent of the average CCS full-timers salary of $54,678, with about 100 exceeding $80,000.
It might make sense to cap tuition, if our colleges had no outstanding bills. But statewide community colleges owe a huge debt ($132 million each biennium) to our state’s 8,000 adjunct college professors.
Why do Spokane’s adjunct professors average only 54 cents on the dollar for teaching the same number of courses as their full-time counterparts?
Adjunct faculty are generally paid only for their class contact hours, while full-time faculty are paid an annual salary for all the hours they work in and out of class.
Spokane adjuncts don’t have a separate scale for incremental pay raises, while the full-timers are eligible for step raises. Some senior adjuncts, however, do receive some “longevity” pay.
Adjuncts can’t increase their pay with more hours because their union contracts cap their workload at 90 percent of full-time, and won’t allow them to teach overtime. Yet, full-time faculty can double their salaries by teaching overtime with no limits.
Adjunct income varies from quarter to quarter, depending on enrollment, with classes sometimes being canceled at the last minute. Yet full-timers are guaranteed a full-time load and can take courses away from adjuncts if their courses don’t fill.
How can the colleges treat the adjuncts in a separate but unequal way to the full-timers?
At present, Washington law forces part-time faculty, who have no job security, into unions (the Washington Education Association at CCS) with their full-time counterparts, who are protected by lifetime tenure, and who serve as their de facto supervisors. Consequently, the tenured faculty control the unions and bargain contracts that shortchange their adjunct members, who form the majority of the bargaining unit. This arrangement is illegal at private colleges and in other areas of public employment in our state.
Adjunct faculty must have their own union separate from the interference of their supervisors. Sen. Tim Sheldon’s SB 5844 mandates separate adjunct unions. The bill was passed by Sen. Michael Baumgartner’s Commerce and Labor Committee this session, but did not receive a hearing in Ways and Means.
Both parties want to give equal percentage cost-of-living (COLA) raises to the adjunct and full-time faculty. This would mean more money for the full-timers, since their salaries are higher, and would increase the salary disparity. Part-timers should receive at least double the percentage COLA of full-timers so they can begin to catch up.
With state revenues $3 billion higher this year, the Legislature must resume its longstanding practice of earmarking pay increases solely for the adjunct faculty so as to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, the disparity. The plates of the full-timers and administrators should not be full while our adjunct professors are denied a living wage.