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Three Ways to Prevent ‘Adjunct Hell’

As someone interested in economics and academia, sometimes the two mix and I begin to think about the economics of academia. For those unfamiliar with the state of employment in academia, there has become something known as “Adjunct Hell.” Adjunct Hell is the place where individuals (likely with Ph.D.s) get stuck teaching because schools seek to find cheap labor instead of hiring individuals at full-time pay and benefits.

You see, full-time professors make anywhere upwards of $45,000 a year plus benefits (for the starting position of ‘assistant professor’) to teach four college courses. In the past, the position of ‘adjunct professor’ was created to fill a course or two left over in the department that needed to be taught but was unable to be taught by the full-time faculty already teaching four courses each.

Schools quickly discovered, however, that they could get away with paying these adjunct professors a fraction of the cost of full-time profs and not include benefits. Adjuncts could make anywhere upwards of $2,500 a course, which at 4 courses a semester (often between different schools) comes out to $20,000 a year. Thus, Adjunct Hell was created: where professors teach full course loads at a fraction of the pay.

For some people, being an adjunct works well with their life situation: they perhaps have a primary source of income or they are the secondary income worker in their home. But for a growing number of professors, this is not the case: they are trying to survive off of adjunct pay alone. Here are three ideas that schools could adopt in order to find the finances to hire part-time professors instead of having a bloated pool of adjuncts.

1. Offer Alternative Healthcare Methods

I am part of a Christian medical-sharing ministry called Medi-Share. Because Medi-Share is unlike traditional insurance, they are able to keep costs down for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is that members of the organization tell their health care provider that they are paying in cash, and so are able to negotiate the cost of care down. Read here about a family that got a 46 percent discount on a surgery for their child. This method of health “insurance” has been featured in TIME magazine, among other places.

If institutions of higher education (I have Christian schools in mind here) were to offer employees this method, the schools could see savings on their own costs of providing health insurance to employees. That would free up some capital to pay adjuncts more or perhaps even offer health coverage to them.

2. Retire Tenure

This idea would surely be the least popular among full-time faculty members (but maybe quite popular among free-market economics professors!). Tenure is the guaranteed promise of employment—so long as one not do some heinous action. One of the big problems, however, is that it promises you won’t get fired for doing a bad job of teaching. I’ve written here on why tenure should retire.

How does this save money? Well, it allows schools to release bad teachers. That means two things. First, the school will have to rehire for a full-time position but likely at a cheaper rate for the likely now entry level professor (recall that associate professors make less than the experienced ones). That could lead to a difference of $20,000 or more depending upon the professor that was fired. Second, it will also lead to a smaller pool of adjuncts (because surely some of them would get that recently opened position), which means more demand by the schools—and more demand means higher wages (even if only slightly).

3. Cut Sports

This idea would be unpopular among many students but it is plain and simple: school is where you go to earn an education, not play sports. Playing sports is supposed to be an extra-curricular activity and yet we have made it into the main focus. People don’t talk about how great the academic programs are at public universities; they talk about how great the football or basketball team is.

By cutting sports programs not only do schools stop competing to recruit good athletes with lucrative scholarships (money which comes either from government funding, the backs of paying students, or donors—perhaps the only acceptable form of scholarship), they also free up capital by not hiring coaches and staff or paying for stadiums, equipment, etc. This money can be reallocated and distributed to the adjuncts.

 

These three ideas of offering alternative healthcare methods, retiring tenure, and cutting sports would allow adjuncts to be paid a better wage for their job. There are other, smaller ways schools can cut money, too.  You can read here about how some schools have made small changes yet discovered big savings. It is time for schools to start being innovative in their expenditures, not only for the sake of students and the rising costs of tuition, but also for better pay for their adjunct professors.

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