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Adjunct Faculty a.k.a. 'Academic Sharecroppers'


Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych. Has 15 years experience.

Adjunct faculty members, the silent majority in higher education in the United States, must contend with unique issues. The purpose of this article is to discuss the current situation of adjunct professors, also known as 'academic sharecroppers.'

Adjunct Faculty  a.k.a. 'Academic Sharecroppers'

'Academic sharecropper' is a label that is usually applied to adjunct faculty members due to their status in the educational system and the backbreaking nature of their employment situations. Adjunct professors are also known as 'contingent faculty' in some settings, even though many never become full professors or associate professors.

Some people in academia presently feel that adjunct faculty are being exploited by the current system of higher education, just as many people firmly believed that the agrarian sharecroppers of more than one century ago had been exploited by wealthy landowners.

The workdays of adjunct professors are characterized by minimal support, no recognition, very low salaries, a lack of fringe benefits, perpetual part-time status, grueling workloads, and absolutely no assurance of a job during the next term. In other words, adjunct faculty members do not possess the same level of status or job security as their full-time counterparts.

Most brick-and-mortar college courses in the United States are taught by adjunct faculty. In fact, some estimates indicate that adjunct professors make up nearly two-thirds of all college faculty. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of online schools employ very few full-time professors and high numbers of adjunct professors.

What are some of the drawbacks faced by schools who heavily depend on 'academic sharecroppers'?

For starters, adjunct faculty have virtually no control over the textbooks being used or the layout of the courses that they teach. In fact, they are often handed a standard curriculum and basically told how to instruct it, when to teach it, and where to deliver it. According to Rooney (2012), many have also long believed that adjuncts routinely inflate grades in order to hold onto their jobs. These aspects do not bode very well for the students who pay staggering amounts of tuition for what they believe will be top notch college educations.

Moreover, the widespread use of these so-called 'academic sharecroppers' is all about business to the many colleges and universities that employ them. School systems save a great deal of money because they do not have to offer fringe benefits or the same amount of pay to adjunct faculty members. In fact, the average adjunct professor receives one-fourth to one-third the pay of his or her full-time counterpart per course.

'Academic sharecroppers' are unquestionably vital to colleges and universities across the US because, without the thankless labor of adjunct faculty, higher education in this country would come to a screeching halt. Therefore, adjunct professors should receive more recognition and higher salaries for all of the work that they accomplish. However, I do not pretend to offer any easy solutions to this complex problem.


TheCommuter, BSN, RN, CRRN is a longtime physical rehabilitation nurse who has varied experiences upon which to draw for her articles. She was an LPN/LVN for more than four years prior to becoming a Registered Nurse.

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28 Comment(s)

I am having a really hard time with term "academic sharecropper" How disrespectful can our society in this country get!! What kind of ghetto, street mentality is running this country.

Next we will have the drug dealer and the pimp elevated to a refined level of acceptable society


Specializes in A lil bit of this and a lil bit of that. Has 18 years experience.

One of the many reasons I decided against going into academia...I happen to like a roof over my head and food!

I couldn't agree more that adjunct faculty are given very little support, no orientation, and little respect.

CrufflerJJ, RN

Specializes in ICU. Has 5 years experience.

Great article! I hadn't given much thought in the past to the plight of adjunct faculty.

TheCommuter, BSN, RN

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych. Has 15 years experience.

I am having a really hard time with term "academic sharecropper" How disrespectful can our society in this country get!! What kind of ghetto, street mentality is running this country.

Next we will have the drug dealer and the pimp elevated to a refined level of acceptable society

Well, academia profits off the exploitative labor of the so-called 'academic sharecropper' just as wealthy landowners have profited off the exploitative labor of sharecroppers who toiled on land which they did not own. I believe this is how the term came into common use in the academic world.

Natkat, BSN, MSN, RN

Specializes in dialysis. Has 8 years experience.

I think the term is perfectly fitting for the situation. It's a slap in the face to our educators to be treated this way. This is yet another industry that it is making it increasingly difficult for its workers to make a decent living.

Most of my professors I've had @ the community college and university have been adjunct professors. I've enjoyed everyone of them. They have to work extra hard and go above and beyond to accommodate their students. One nice thing my old college did was recognize their adjuncts with awards like they would do for our professors of the year. So that was nice but I kmow a lot of colleges don't really acknowledge their adjuncts. This past semester I had a young adjunct Bioethics professor with her Ph.D. who was was an adjunct @ 3 other universities and she commuted there and also had a small child. I don't know how she does it but it's obvious she loves to teach and cares for her students. She taught fall, spring, and is finishing a summer class now. She hasn't been able to have a real break because each university she teaches @ are on slightly different schedules. I admire them for what they do and continue to do. Hopefully they can get more recognition, support, a full time position.

It's like there is no respect for any of the professions anymore- this is just disgraceful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Who does our society look up to and respect- the jiggle show of Kim Kardashian and her bump and grind sisters!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

brandy1017, ASN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care.

It's a sad state of affairs in America today! People thought education was the key and being a professional, looking down on ordinary workers and unions. Without unions, the professional fairs no better than their blue collar and pink ghetto counterparts!

What is especially sickening is that colleges get away with charging such outrageous tuition that leaves so many students in debt for the rest of their life, while they don't pay their own faculty a living wage! It will be almost 25 years after graduation that my student loans will finally be paid off! They've been sold from lender to lender, currently Sallie Mae which I've heard nothing good about and I would rather not do business with them, but I have no say in the matter. None of us with student loans have any say, your at the mercy of the current servicer!

Edited by brandy1017

Fantastic article, and timely based on a conversation I just had recently with a good friend. I agree wholeheartedly that adjunct faculty members are by and large wonderful instructors making the most with what they have to work with, but how sad that a respected position such as this is paid so little. I doubt the VAST majority of students realize just how little adjunct faculty make, esp. at the community college level. The friend I am referring to received her PhD. from U. of Texas in Austin in communications a few years ago after many years of hard work. Granted, she could have majored in something more salary-focused than communications, but she was following her heart and what truly interested her (as just about every commencement speaker in the history of the world recommends students do), and figured that with a PhD. she would be able to make something out of it.

She currently teaches a full time schedule for part-time pay and no benefits at my local community college and yes, she scours the trade journals for more desirable teaching positions on a continual basis with no luck. The school carefully assigns classes to her so that she is not full-time, and then supplements her hours with tutoring, which is another pay track and scale, and thus, not counted towards her teaching hours. So she does work full-time, which is a blessing and for which she is grateful, but with zero benefits. She has been teaching for three years. Granted, she enjoys the job immensely and puts in all kinds of extra effort. She is "Miss Above & Beyond" -- pouring her heart and soul into her lectures, grading papers meticulously, writing detailed lesson plans, and even insisting on dressing up for every lecture though it is not required. She is also happy to be back in her home town, because her mom is not well and she can keep an eye on her. Basically, she is making the most out of her current situation.

I originally typed what she made last year here, but it is so shocking and pathetic and SAD that I decided not to include it. I just couldn't. I was embarrassed for her. Yes, it is THAT LOW!! It is totally and truly unacceptable what she makes. I did not believe her when she told me. A person could easily make more at a certain coffee chain -- easily, and I don't mean as a manager, either. Yes, the cost of living in our area is low, but still, this is unacceptable! There is no way anyone can convince me that in a society that claims to value education, it is okay that a college-level instructor with a PhD. teaching in her subject area should be making the kind of salary she makes. And again, no benefits -- no retirement, no 401k, no health insurance, no life insurance, nada.

The dean of students really likes her, and so was kind enough to inform her at the end of the Spring semester that they will NEVER hire her full-time -- no chance of it no matter how long she stays. He wanted her to know this, fearing she might be sticking around in the hopes that this might eventually happen. The college knows they can find adjunct communications instructions to fill their roster, so they have zero incentive to hire anyone full-time.

So kudos to the OP for the article. It is high time more people are made away of this situation. And to the person who was offended by the article's use of the term "academic sharecroppers," I believe you should be much more offended and incensed by the state of affairs in our college system as it relates to adjunct professors. I believe it is a wonderful thing to feel one has been called to a profession, and the selfless dedication many teachers exhibit is admirable. But we live and function in a society that operates as part of a mixed capitalist economy.

To expect people to perform a vital service in our economy out of a sense of service or dedication or calling, or whatever one wants to name it, really almost kind of borders on communism if one thinks about it. So the line of thinking goes: "I'll do this job because it is good for the communal whole...but I won't expect much pay in return. I realize I should make more for the work I do, but I'll take my pay in part through the satisfaction of knowing I have helped others and performed a beneficial service that will help all of society in the long run." Noble to be sure, and admirable, but certainly not very capitalistic. And yes, as long as people are willing to accept this pay, benefits, and scheduling situation out of a sense of calling and service to one's community and society, the salaries will remain stagnant. That's just supply and demand.

However, you cannot convince me that many highly qualified and capable people don't pass up the profession of teaching as a career choice all of the time because of salary and benefit issues, and that, with higher pay and benefits, colleges and universities (k-12, too, of course) would not be able to attract and retain even better quality adjunct teachers. Speaking of retention, my friend is researching a variety of professional programs (including nursing) to explore outside of teaching, because, especially as a single invidual, she realizes she cannot make a career out of being an adjunct professor when the prospects of finding full-time work are as dim as they currently appear.

Edited by norlns24

classicdame, MSN, EdD

Specializes in Hospital Education Coordinator.

I have worked adjunct while maintaining a full time position elsewhere. I liked the freedom it offered. But I would not consider a full time position anyway since I earn far more outside academia.

llg, PhD, RN

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development. Has 44 years experience.

I have worked adjunct while maintaining a full time position elsewhere. I liked the freedom it offered. But I would not consider a full time position anyway since I earn far more outside academia.

I do the same -- work full time for a hospital and adjunct 1 course per year for some extra cash and because I like teaching the subject I teach. As I near retirement and am not totally satisfied with my full time job, I might consider a full time faculty job if a really great opportunity came up. But it would have to be something pretty special to tempt me. I'd take quite a pay cut ... but I can afford it now that my house is almost paid off.

In a few years, though, I would be interested in something part time that would give me a part time income and access to group health insurance. Then I would quit my full time job and ease gradually into retirement. That's my fantasy.

Edited by llg

The Ph.D. Now Comes With Food Stamps, The Chroincle of Higher Education, 6 May 2012

A few years ago an adjunct English instructor wrote a great essay on how hard it is to survive financially on the pay colleges offered, even given the large number of classes he taught. I'll try to find the article.

Chisca, RN

Specializes in Dialysis. Has 37 years experience.

Which really begs the question why is higher education so expensive? An undergraduate microbiology course I took 5 years ago at University of Memphis was 1300 dollars in tuition. There were 100 students in the class. The University raked in over 100 thousand dollars for this one course and it sure didn't go to the adjunct professor who taught the class. It didn't go for the buildings, which are over 50 years old or the crappy wooden desks we had to sit in.

brandy1017, ASN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care.

It's too bad your friend can't get a job in the public school system say high school, as I'm sure the pay would be better than she's getting now plus the benefits are excellent. Wouldn't that be an easier path to take and quicker and still be able to teach vs changing careers entirely like going into nursing?


Specializes in Med/Surg, peds, mother-baby, ER, CCU. Has 1 years experience.

I am new faculty for a PN program and my job is too assist in teaching 4 basic nursing skills, and instead of handing me 4 pages of paper on how and what they expect to be taught, they handed me a fundamentals nursing book. That was a little rude since I have no intention of reading a entry level book again, and two, they know I go to school full-time AND work a regular job. So yes, it's true, the support is talked about, but there is little to really explain what the expectations are and how they expect things to be taught. In any respect, I apologize to students for confusion and just explain that since I'm new to the school, I am not aware of their ways in doing things. It's like saying toma-ta or tomato...same thing, but not to everyone.

JBudd, MSN

Specializes in Trauma, Teaching. Has 40 years experience.

I must be one of the fortunate ones. Yes, my parttime pay is extremely poor (fully a third less than I make at bedside with just the BSN). But I don't really want to do any more clinical hours than I do, and I really enjoy teaching. So, I teach one day a week, plus the grading stuff at home. But I do that in a comfy chair with a good movie running in the background.

My director and my level lead treat me very well; I have excellent support and feel valued.

Our community college has just lost a goodly amount of state funding (as have all the schools). Yes, I resent being paid at the same level as all adjunct faculty (who do not have to have masters degrees) but it is across the board; I am not being singled out. I get my bennies from my clinical job, which I also enjoy doing.