Some College Professors Among the Working Poor

Dare We Say - Finlay and Vercher

It was horrifying to learn some college professors among the working poor — approximately 25% of part-time college faculty receives one or more types of public assistance (Medicaid/CHIP, TANF, EITC, and/or SNAP) programs.

Low wage occupations
From “The High Public Cost of Low Wages” by Ken Jacobs, Ian Perry, and Jenifer MacGillvary, 2015 UC Berkeley.

I have long had a stereotyped view of affluent college professors living in relative comfort, but in a trend reflective of America’s new economic model, many colleges are dealing with drastic budget cuts by relying more heavily on part-time contractors without job security or benefits.   The result is that a substantial number of college professors are living below the poverty line.

A recent piece by The Atlantic takes a hard look at the realities facing adjunct professors in today’s university system and the revelations are shocking.  Basically the adjunct professor goes in, teaches whatever the class is and – if the student wants office hours – they have to pull their documents or books out of the trunk of their car.  No office space is afforded them.  How sad is it that you have a Doctorate or a Master’s degree and you can barely afford to feed your family?

This “new normal” for higher education is not only negatively impacting the lives of the teachers, but the education of the students may be suffering as well.  Shawna Vercher, author and media strategist, says that this will have long-term affects on those seeking an education and the people that are paying for it. “I definitely don’t think that the parents are aware of what is going on, nor do I think that the students will understand what they are missing out on until they look back on it.”

Listen as Anita Finlay and Shawna Vercher discuss the state of today’s university faculty – and a theory on how we got here – on this episode of Dare We Say.


Original version published at Anita Finlay’s blog on June 3, 2015. Reposted, in full, with permission of the author.





  1. I was an adjunct professor, although I was made a full professor after 6 months. I quit after a year.
    Administrations treat adjunct professors really badly.
    Although adjuncts classes may be spaced hours apart they don’t even have a lounge or access to offices. I wound up sleeping in my car at the far corner of the parking lot. Because their wages are lower they have to teach at several schools driving many hours between them. Do not blame any government agency for this, it is strictly the doing of the schools and tenured professors and their caste system where adjuncts are the lowest of the low. Ironically, because adjuncts often come from the real world the students value them more than the tenured professors which increases the resentment of the tenured to the adjuncts.
    I had many tenured tell me they are just treading water waiting to retire. The ones to suffer are the students.


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