Low Wages, No Respect: New AFT Report Highlights the Struggles of Adjunct Professors

A new national adjunct faculty survey from the American Federation of Teachers underscores the continuing crisis faced by millions of contingent workers at the nation’s colleges and universities—with little improvement to poverty wages and untenable conditions in the wake of the pandemic.

AFT’s latest Army of Temps report, the third in a series, documents the troubling reality faced by millions of professional educators and illustrates how adjuncts struggle with low pay, inadequate access to benefits, little or no job security, and a lack of professional respect.

How Adjunct Professors Keep Universities Running

Adjunct professors (also referred to as “temps”) are university faculty members who instruct classes, grade papers, and essentially perform all of the duties and responsibilities of a regular professor with one catch: they aren’t paid like one. Adjunct professors don’t work full time, but they are often the main instructors in college courses and take on the bulk of the responsibilities. In fact, in the Army of Temps report, a survey of over 1,000 adjunct professors found that almost all were forced to take on three or four classes in order to make ends meet financially.

What’s the Issue?

To keep it simple, universities are reliant on adjunct professors to keep their academic programs running smoothly, yet they refuse to pay them adequate wages and have allowed their working conditions to take a toll on adjunct professors’ mental and physical health. This is an important issue because, as AFT President Randi Weingarten has said, “Educators’ teaching conditions are students’ learning conditions—but it’s difficult to focus on the educational and social needs of your students when you don’t even know if you will have a paycheck coming next semester or whether that check will help you make ends meet.” 

Without a guarantee of a job for next semester, many adjunct professors are forced to either find somewhere to work outside of academia or struggle to scrape by. 

Report Findings 

  • More than one-quarter of respondents earn less than $26,500 annually. The percentage of faculty respondents earning below the federal poverty line has remained unchanged through all three annual reports, which is not surprising with real wages falling behind inflation throughout academia.
  • Only 22.5%of respondents report having a contract that provides them with continuing employment, even assuming adequate enrollment and satisfactory job performance.
  • Two-thirds of part-time respondents want to work full time but are offered only part-time work.
  • Twenty-two percent of those responding report having anxiety about accessing adequate food, with another 6% reporting reduced food intake due to lack of resources.

To hear more about the struggle of adjunct professors, and to see more of the data, read the full report online, as well as AFT’s press release.