TRAVERSE CITY-- In January, Northwestern Michigan College teachers role-played a penniless existence to give them a glimpse of what some students endure.
"In the debriefing afterward, a faculty member pointed out that some of us are living at poverty level and facing the very same issues," said Teresa Scollon, 50, who teaches half-time at NMC.
Scollon is an adjunct, defined as a part-time instructor who works on contract. The college's 212 adjuncts have no real job security, no health benefits and no way to buy into them. They earn about $10,000 a year for teaching a half-time load of classes.
The campus is buzzing about the efforts of a Faculty Compensation Review Committee, which will announce its findings next spring.
The committee began its job by first defining a set of value statements, including: "We believe in a fair wage."
Fairness is key
Adjuncts say fairness is the key issue. Full-time instructors earn $40,772 to $81,546 with health benefits, sick pay, tuition benefits, and vacation.
Adjuncts interviewed for this article calculate they earn about $10 to $13 an hour. They receive tuition benefits and may participate in a retirement plan.
Jim Press, a full-time NMC instructor who sits on the compensation committee, said the analysis is daunting. It's not a strictly apples-to-apples comparison, he said.
Full-time staffers also serve on committees, mentor and manage adjuncts, develop class materials, shape policy, meet with students, attend meetings, and set learning goals, Press said.
NMC now relies on 209 part-time contractors, in step with community colleges and universities across the country, said Mark Howell, a full-time communications instructor.
"It's easier and cheaper for schools to hire part-time help. You've got part-time instructors who are very qualified, very skilled and doing almost full-time work. It's not fair, and it's not right, but it's also very difficult to change," he said.
NMC ranks sixth among 28 Michigan community colleges in the ratio of adjuncts to full-time staff.
NMC President Tim Nelson said he's aware the trend can go too far.
"The percentage of part-time and full-time is something we have to watch very carefully," Nelson said. "If you go too far, you will change forever the culture of the institution and not be able to do the things you need to do."
Adjuncts sought and received a greater voice. For the first time in NMC history, an adjunct was allowed to sit on the Faculty Council. Susan Odgers was elected to the position, and also sits on the compensation review committee.
"These are huge steps," Howell said. "It would be irresponsible not to take their needs into consideration."