Part-time teaching becomes full-time issue

Cash-strapped colleges and universities in New Jersey are relying more on low-paid, part-time instructors, with more than a third of classes statewide taught by adjuncts.

The staff split is even higher at some community colleges, where as many as 50 percent of teachers are part-time


“No phone, no office, less pay, no benefits,” said Carol Shansky, describing her status as a part-time music instructor at Bergen Community College. She has been teaching at Bergen for 13 years and also works as a private music instructor, performs in a duo and is studying for her doctorate in music education.

At Bergen, Shansky says she makes about $600 per credit, or about $1,800 per course per semester. The rates are higher at state colleges – adjuncts at William Paterson University make about $1,000 a credit, and at Rutgers the average is just over $1,200 a credit.

The use of part-time teachers has been a growing trend for more than three decades.

On the upside, the system allows for professionals from business, industry and the arts to bring their real-world expertise to the classroom. But critics worry that the trend has led to a “Wal-Mart employment model” in higher education – a low-wage, transient workforce with little job security despite their advanced degrees.

Adjuncts receive no health benefits although at some schools, like Rutgers, they can buy into the state system at reasonable rates. The pay is a far cry from even a pro-rated version of that of their full-time counterparts.

At William Paterson, for instance, 36 percent of course hours are taught by adjuncts. Teaching a full load – four courses each semester – would bring a part-timer about $24,000 annually. By contrast, the pay for full-time professors, who often have other administrative duties, ranges from $68,000 to $120,000, said Steve Hahn, associate provost.

Shansky says she loves the work, but not the “kooky” system. “It’s a college teaching job. But obviously there’s a trade-off, which is good for the college, but maybe not so good for the adjunct,” she said.

She hopes for a full-time opening someday, but those slots can be elusive. Keith Hoeller, a national advocate for adjuncts, has written that nearly a half-million adjuncts serve as “apprentices to nowhere.”

The turnover – or churn – among adjuncts has Karen Thompson, a Rutgers adjunct for nearly 30 years and president of the school’s part-timers union, concerned about a loss of experienced instructors.

Thompson said that she thinks students and their parents would be taken aback by the prevalence of part-time instructors. Magazine rankings generally significantly underplay the numbers, she says, and many adjuncts don’t want to call attention to their “disrespected positions.”