Food Stamps and a Ph.d, Too: Adjuncts Find That Compensation, Like Scholarship, Is Undervalued

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Among higher education’s dirty little secrets are the working conditions of its classroom labor force. The majority of non-tenured adjunct professors work for the rough equivalent of what they'd make in the fast-food industry.

According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), non-tenure track positions of all types now account for 76% of all instructional staff appointments in American higher ed. Roughly half teach part time. Between 1991 and 2011, the number of part-time faculty more than doubled.

To make matters worse, rank-and-file adjuncts are struggling to pay off student loans with their low-wage jobs. A Senate bill introduced by Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) would make part-timers eligible to participate in the Federal student loan forgiveness program available to public servants.

“Part-time faculty like adjunct professors, who typically receive fewer benefits and lower pay than other educators, often carry a large amount of burdensome student loan debt,” Franken said in a statement last week. “By expanding a key loan forgiveness program, our bill will help these professors cut down on their debt load.”

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is designed to encourage graduates to enter public service careers by offering student loan forgiveness for eligible federal loans. Graduates with jobs in fields like public health, the non-profit sector and the military qualify for the program. Although many educators may also qualify – including full-time faculty at public universities and some part-time faculty at community colleges – faculty members who only work part-time are not eligible. The Franken-Durbin bill is designed to change that.

Alyssa Picard, spokesperson for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) said, "We are on the record as supporting this bill," as are the National Education Association, the Service Employees International Union, the U.S. Student Association and other groups.

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