Thursday, October 10, 2013

Where does that money go?


Where Goes the Money?



Answer: “Two seconds, two seconds, and depending on the last paycheck, up to two weeks.”

Question: “How long can this campus function without electricity, faculty, or administrators, respectively.”

--Campus joke


     Higher education has experienced incredible growth in the customer base, but where does all that extra money from student loans go? The first and natural guess would be the money goes into faculty pay. After all, it’s impossible to have a class without a teacher, and the faculty must work harder to accommodate all the extra students, so it seems reasonable that the extra work would show up in the paycheck. As a faculty member, I assure you I’m paid well considering the ease of my work (this is coming from a person who has worked in sheet metal roofing in Florida for the princely sum of $5 an hour). That said, the pay isn’t much. I have 20 years of experience and that gets me $40,000 a year. Giving my own pay is misleading, since I work in a relatively impoverished part of the county. Nationwide, it has fallen behind the rate of inflation, earning as much as any blue-collar worker with far less of my vaunted education, even if the work isn’t particularly strenuous or dirty in a literal sense.


Adjunct No Longer, Jill Biden Earned $82,022 as a Community-College Professor in 2011. Chronicle of Higher Education, April 16, 20121.

--The wife of the vice-president has an amazing, stunningly successful career of late, skyrocketing through the ranks at a pace I just can’t match, even though she teaches mostly remedial courses. In any event, it’s clear faculty could be paid more, if administration felt like doing so.


     The salary numbers given in reports on faculty pay are rather distorted; full professors at top tier universities do make over $100,000 quite consistently2, but these represent a small minority of faculty (the “super earners”, if you will); I don’t believe I’ve actually spoken with a person like this, any more than most people have never spoken to a Bill Gates or Donald Trump, although I’m sure they exist. It should be noted that often these super-high paid “faculty” are really just administrators, enjoying a bonus faculty position.


“Celebrate! Our department of 30 is expanding. We’re opening up two more permanent positions.”

--pre-announcement of positions opening up in a mathematics department, in honor of doubling the number of students we were servicing in our classes. Students double, faculty increases less than institution was typical in this regard.


     Most institutions, rather than pay for full time faculty, simply hire a great number of adjuncts to support the additional students (who nevertheless are charged as though taught by actual faculty). Adjuncts are paid a very small fraction of faculty pay, so it’s no small wonder that nearly half of college faculty are part-time adjuncts, and well over 70% of courses in this country are taught by non-tenure track/non-full-time faculty3.

     Tenure is often blamed for the ills of higher education, but nationwide, less than a third of faculty are on any sort of tenure track, and far less than that have a serious hope of ever getting tenure. Because adjuncts don’t count as full time employees, they don’t show up in studies of faculty pay; getting a median pay of a faculty member across the range of full professor to adjunct (much less graduate students, which often teach courses) is difficult, but would be below $40,000, probably around $20,000. The average teacher of a college course qualifies for food stamps.  If that sounds low, consider that my college could hire an adjunct to do the education part of my job (teach 8 courses) for $12,000 a year--$1,500 a course is typical adjunct pay. With the majority of courses being taught by adjuncts at about 1/10 the pay, the top salary of $130,000 by the tiny minority of full professors in top schools isn’t even remotely representative of the money being spent hiring someone to educate students.

     It’s also worth noting that the heavy reliance on adjunct faculty does little for education, as they don’t have offices or have any other reason to spend time on campus beyond teaching the course. Their interaction with students is minimal at best: show up, present the class, then go home and try to think of a way to use an advanced degree to get a living wage. These “gypsy faculty” represent the most common sort of college teacher.

     Hmm, money pouring into higher education through the double whammy of skyrocketing tuition and rapidly expanding student base, but faculty pay hasn’t even kept up with inflation…and most courses aren’t even taught by faculty. So, where could all that money be going?


Think about it.



1)      June, Audrey Williams. “Adjunct No Longer, Jill Biden Earned $82,022 as a Community-College Professor in 2011.” Chronicle of Higher Education. April 16, 2012.

2); site visited September 9, 2012.

3)      McArdle, Elaine. “The Adjunct Explosion.” University Business.

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