It is no secret that part-time teaching staff are shouldering a larger percentage of the postsecondary teaching load, and are not receiving fair compensation. Commonly dubbed “freeway fliers,” these contingent faculty are flexible, ready on a dime, and seemingly inexhaustible. But at what cost?
Recently, the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW) in a national survey of faculty, found that approximately half of all college-level instructors in the United States now teach in contingent positions, off the tenure track—not including full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members or graduate student teaching assistants.
Freeway fliers tend to be paid rock-bottom wages: the median pay per three-credit course ranges from a low of $2,235 at two-year colleges, to a high of $3,400 at four-year doctoral or research universities. (Unionized faculty adjuncts tend to fare a bit better.) Health and retirement benefits are scarce, and many experience little or no job security, even after years of teaching for the same academic employer.
Over 80 percent reported teaching part-time for more than three years, and over half for more than six years. These part-time faculty saw little, if any, wage premiums based on their credentials.
Approximately three quarters of respondents said that if a more permanent and secure position were offered, they would eagerly take it. Burdened by anxieties about course load uncertainty and often disconnected from other faculty and from general participation in campus life, theirs is a solitary business.
The enormous changes now taking place in higher education nationally have faculty of all ranks worried. Part-time faculty, the fastest growing sector of the academic labor force, are particularly vulnerable.