A bill calling for benefits and pay increases for part-time community college faculty passed the first legislative hurdle in Colorado. House Bill 1154 won favor among legislators on the House Senate Veterans Affairs Committee who heard stories of adjuncts who teach with broken limbs because they don’t have health insurance, receive food stamps and work several jobs to make ends meet.
Sponsor and Fort Collins Democrat Rep. Randy Fischer said he was “shocked” to learn that adjuncts make roughly a third of what full-time faculty do. While it varies from college to college, he told committee members the average salary for a regular faculty member is $47,900 a year, while adjuncts make about $18,340 annually. Adjuncts pay into Colorado’s PERA but don’t receive additional benefits.
Colorado’s 2011 self-sufficiency standard for an individual is $20,808.
Testimony prompted discussion about why some have made what was once considered a part-time pursuit — for example, professionals who teach one or two evening courses — into a full-time job. One community college president said he wishes he could hire every instructor into full-time positions but that “dollars and cents are scarce.”
Some adjuncts said they continue with their work despite living in poverty because they love teaching. Others, including former Front Range Community College instructor Ann Mitchell, have left the field to follow more lucrative pursuits.
Those who voted against the bill sympathized but were concerned by associated costs, noting specifically they wouldn’t want to see students suffer at the hands of tuition increases.
Front Range Community College President Andy Dorsey said he estimates the bill would cost FRCC at least $28 million per year, which is more than one-third of the entire operating budget and the $19.6 million the community college currently receives from the state. Dorsey believes passage of the bill “would force FRCC to scale back operations” and potentially cut classes.
Proponents said they don’t envision funding the bill on the backs of students. Wright State University economics professor Rudy Fichtenbaum, president of the American Association of University Professors, who said he analyzes college budgets for the AAUP, claimed the Colorado Community College System could reduce “administrative bloat” and grow reserves beyond current values to pay what he estimates to be an $86.4 million implementation price.
Fischer believes the bill would strengthen an already strong community college system — the umbrella over 14 Colorado community colleges — by improving working conditions and, by proxy, student success. He hopes the bill, if passed, could set a precedent for other states. Institutions nationwide are experiencing a similar phenomenon where more classes are being taught by adjunct, rather than full-time, faculty.
Legislators who voted Monday in favor of moving the bill forward said they’d like to see further discussion about how the bill could be funded and how it could impact Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposal to spend an additional $100 million on higher education.