Part-time faculty members are just that — they’re at PCC part time, and because of that, students and teachers struggle every day to make up for the missing hours.
Teaching part-time suits some professors, but it can be a stressful way to make a living for those seeking a career in education.
Finding full-time work is difficult and obtaining tenure is akin to winning the lottery. Part-time teachers do a good job, and colleges save money by hiring them. Unfortunately, both the educators and their students may be paying the price.
Sixty-eight percent or 787 of the 1,150 faculty members at PCC teach part time, according to Alex Boekelheide, a college spokesperson.
Nationwide, part-time faculty teach 58 percent of classes and more than half of the students at community colleges, according to a 2014 report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE). Seventy percent of new hires are part time. Yet they are not involved in important faculty functions, and their efforts are not being supported by schools, the report states. Since community colleges enroll 45 percent of U.S. undergraduates, the impact of part-time faculty is widespread and significant.
The plight of these adjunct or contingent teachers has been reflected in nationwide coverage of the subject: “There is No Excuse for How Universities Treat Adjuncts,” and “9 Reasons Why Being an Adjunct Faculty Member is Terrible” (Huffington Post, November 11, 2013).
Some writers refer to the “adjunctification” of community colleges as if it were a swear word.
Compensation is the biggest issue for part-timers. The CCCSE report found that these instructors have lower pay levels than full-time faculty and receive minimal, if any, benefits, such as health insurance.
“In order for me to make the same pay as a first-year teacher [at PCC], I have to teach 64 units,” Janet Mitchell-Wagner, a part-time PCC English teacher who has been teaching for 15 years said. “This is equivalent to two full-time jobs.”
She tries to achieve this by teaching at PCC, Citrus College in Glendora, and Fullerton College.
PayScale, an online career position pay calculator, predicts that a 40-year-old female adjunct professor of English at Pasadena City College with 15 years of experience and a master’s degree from California State University, Los Angeles could earn $40,660 (median salary).
To pay the bills, philosophy teacher Sanja Morris shuttles between PCC, College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita and Glendale Community College. She generally teaches eight classes, two online. She is paid $3,000 per semester course at PCC, she said. Pay differs from school to school, even within the state community college system.
Each week, part-timer Morris spends 18 hours in class, and a minimum of nine hours doing homework, grading papers, working on exams, and holding office hours. Another four hours are spent in online discussions. Driving alone takes up five hours. This semester, due to a teacher’s unexpected medical leave at another college, she is teaching 10 classes.
The biggest challenge is not receiving pay for out-of-class work,” Nikoo Berenji, a former PCC business law teacher who was hired full time at Los Angeles Valley College, said. She said part timers were paid for only five hours of office hours per semester when they spent much more time meeting with students.
An issue related to compensation is job insecurity. Part-timers are unable to plan from semester to semester. They cannot be guaranteed even one course at any particular college.
Morris said it is challenging not knowing for sure if she will be offered classes. “I have always been offered classes during the regular semester, but in summer 2015 I had no classes at all.” She said often this is due to low enrollment, which she has found cannot be predicted.
At PCC, a re-employment agreement adopted in 2015 states that adjuncts who have worked at PCC for six semesters and who had good evaluations would be guaranteed an offer of at least one class. However, an article on the PCC Faculty Association website noted that the association “is already hearing that some adjuncts have been warned that they will not be offered classes in the fifth or sixth semester of their employment, in order to undermine the intention of the Reemployment provision.”
In spite of challenges, it’s apparent that many part-time instructors are highly committed, working many hours without pay and attending professional development programs on their own dime.
“I love teaching,” Mitchell-Wagner said. “I want to dedicate more of my time to students from a single campus.” She said that student pathway programs are extremely important for student success. “I could better participate fully in those programs if I am full time as my schedule would be centered on my participation.” Other part timers expressed strong desire to spend more time being involved with students and on campus.
When the instructor teaches and then leaves the campus for another job,“the students suffer,” sociology teacher Anthony Francoso said. Full time since 2015, Francoso spent six years teaching at four colleges.
“I’d be at one school in the morning, another in the afternoon, and another in the evening,” he said. He might have 115 students on any one day.
“Students don’t get the teacher’s full attention. I would go to class, see students’ faces a few times a week, and then leave,” Francoso said. “[Students] don’t come by during office hours, and at most places, there is no office for part timers. Students don’t get to know the teacher.”
Francoso said having a relationship with a professor is crucial. “The more connected students are, the more invested they will be in the class,” he said.
“It means a lot when the students see me at Starbucks and we can talk informally,” he said.
This is especially important with students who are at risk of not completing the course. More than half of the nation’s most vulnerable college students are in courses taught by part-time faculty members who are less prepared than full-time faculty, a 2014 “Inside Higher Ed” report stated.
Francoso said that PCC is a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI). This means it participates in a federal program aimed at retaining first-generation, low-income Hispanic students and bridging this population’s recognized “achievement gap.”
Hispanic students at PCC represent 45 percent of the population, an increase from 34 percent in 2009, according to a 2014 PCC report of educational quality and institutional effectiveness.
“The students look at me and say to themselves, ‘Hey, this guy looks like me, he talks like me, and he has a Ph.D. If this knucklehead can do it, I can do it.’”
Francoso said that when he was teaching part time, students dropped out.
“I might lose up to half of my students in any one class,” he said. “Now that I am full time and am highly visible and involved in campus, I might lose one to two out of 50 students.”
Full-time faculty members have more time to advise students and give feedback. They also spend more hours per week preparing for class than part-time instructors, according to the same “Inside Higher Ed” report.
Some students agreed that availability of part-timers outside of class is an issue.
“With part timers, you have to make an appointment,” Michael Cabrera, a history major, said.
“You might set up an appointment and it might not work out. And there is no privacy,”
Francoso said that as a full-time faculty member, he has a real office. He spends more time advising students — in private for the first time.
Antonina Alvala, a child education major, said that when she has questions for a part-time instructor, she sends an email.
“It takes 1-2 days to receive an answer,” she added.