Blog, 289 words

A Poor Educational System

A majority of U.S. professors are now adjuncts working on a contingent basis.

Jim Hightower

There’s a growing army of the working poor in our nation, and big contingents of these folks are now on the march. They’re strategizing, organizing, and mobilizing against the immoral economics of inequality being hung around America’s neck by the likes of Walmart, McDonald’s, and colleges.

Wait a minute. Colleges? You get advanced degrees to get ahead in life. More education makes you better off, right? Well, ask a college professor about that — you know, the ones who earned PhDs and are now teaching America’s next generation.

The sorry secret of higher education — from community colleges to brand-name universities — is that they’ve embraced the corporate culture of a contingent workforce. They’re turning lots of professors into part-time, low-paid, no-benefit, no-tenure, temporary teachers.


Overall, three-quarters of America’s higher-ed faculty members today are adjunct professors or off the tenure track. That means they’re attached to a particular school, but not essentially a part of it.

It also means that these highly educated, fully credentialed professors have become part of America’s army of the working poor. They never know until a semester starts whether they’ll teach one class, three, or none — typically, this leaves them with take-home pay somewhere between zero and maybe $1,000 a month. Poverty.

Adjuncts usually get no benefits, no real chance of earning fulltime positions, no due process or severance pay if dismissed, no say in curriculum or school policies…sometimes not even office space. Like their counterparts at Walmart and McDonald’s, adjunct college professors aren’t treated as valuable resources to be nurtured, but as cheap, exploitable, and disposable labor.

Unsurprisingly, this contingent of the low-wage army is organizing, too. For information, check out the New Faculty Majority:

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.

  • Gerald Scorse

    I was curious about the statement in the 4th graph and used the link you provided. Unless I’m missing something, the facts don’t quite match up with the piece. (I’m an adjunct sympathizer, used to be one myself, but I’d never heard a number as high as 75%).

    • ESGreco

      Thanks, Gerald. This did need some clarification. Three-quarters of faculty members are contingent employees, but not all of them are adjuncts.

      • Gerald Scorse

        Emily: I thought that’s what the link was saying; glad to know my faculties are all intact, at least for the moment. Thanks for the other sources too, and happy holidays. Gerald

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  • Wchuck

    Soooooo… where is all that money for higher education going? Athletics? Observatories? Or food for the dorm students, I feel sure!

    • ESGreco

      Good question. Most liberal arts colleges now cost more than $50k per year for tuition, room, board, and fees.

  • PamDS

    You did not mention those who are adjuncts in the for-profit proprietary colleges. Many of them offer 4-6 week classes. This means that we do not know month to month if we have 1, 2, or no classes! Also, none of us are paid during breaks. Many of us have no desk or even a place to hang our coats.

    • ESGreco

      Thanks, Pam. Jim Hightower’s OtherWords columns are all around 300 words so they can’t cover every relevant detail. But he does sometimes, as he does here, urge readers to learn more online.