University of Adjuncts

by Honolulu Mother

Gawker recently ran a series on the plight of the growing class of full-time-adjunct professors who, more and more, are doing the actual teaching in U.S. colleges and universities. You can see the whole series here:

Your Professors Are in the Struggle and They’re Not Winning Yet

Executive summary: it’s a terrible career path, and adjuncts don’t have the time or institutional support to be available to students outside of class the same way tenure-track professors are.

One obvious takeaway is that getting a PhD with plans to become a professor is highly inadvisable in this academic environment. But this trend may be concerning to Totebaggers for other reasons. For instance, as a parent of kids coming up on college age, I find it striking that the amount an individual college student pays per credit is similar to the amount the adjunct teaching the entire class is being paid per credit. That math seems wrong. And college students are going to find it more difficult to come up with references for first employment or grad school applications if the people teaching their classes are as likely as not to be gone the next year or the year after.

Is this a trend you’ve been following, and what are your thoughts on it?


123 thoughts on “University of Adjuncts

  1. For the past few years, my Mom’s pre-retirement job that she does for fun and intellectual stimulation has been teaching as an adjunct professor. Last year she was promoted to associate adjunct professor. I sympathize with the people in the article who are trying to use this gig to support themselves and their children. It’s hard to make much money when you’re doing something that others, who are equally qualified and talented, are willing to do for fun.

    My Mom teaches a few nights a week mostly non-traditional undergraduate students. She is definitely available to them outside of class–I’ve been there on weekends when she’ll get an unscheduled call from a student and spend an hour going over a paper re-write. She really likes them, and often talks in amazement about the lives many are juggling outside of school while still managing to work through their degrees.

  2. Interesting. This has not been on my radar screen in terms of a basis on which to evaluate a college.

    Las week our kids did a summer camp on a college campus and were living in the dorms. I hear so much about the dorms arms race among colleges these days that I was expecting something super fancy. Instead, it was a total dump. Am pretty sure I had the exact same furniture when I was an undergrad. But they were delighted to be where college kids live.

  3. Alas, this is the unintended offshoot of idealistic parenting and poor career advice. “Do what you love” and “find your passion” can be awesome and fulfilling, but it usually pays crap.

    “an entry level enrollment specialist job at my institution pays about 10k more per year with benefits than I earn with my advanced degree.” Umm, yes. That would be the law of supply and demand. If you consider your “love of teaching” to be worth making $10K less than at an entry-level data punching, universities will be happy to hire you at that discount. If the tradeoff is not worth it to you, then the logical answer is to quit and take the entry level enrollment specialist job and get a big fat raise for a lot less work.

    OTOH, I do think there are significant problems with the quality of the educational experience you get. But that’s the tradeoff when you cut educational funding at the same time as we’re telling everyone they need a college degree. The money has to come from somewhere — and it usually doesn’t come from those who set and implement the budgets, given their own vested interest.

    I suspect over time we are going to end up with more and more of a two-tiered system, with the “top” (a/k/a well-funded and expensive) private schools being able to offer the “quality” educational experience from awesome tenured professors, and the state schools and lower-ranked privates relying almost exclusively on adjuncts, MOOCs, and other alternatives. IOW, the old “tenure track” concept will be reserved for the educational 1%, on both the teacher and student side.

  4. Milo’s comment makes me think about some career wisdom I once heard from a friend, “never pursue as a career any work that someone wants to do for free”. This includes karate instructor, EMS provider, winemaker, and apparently adjunct professor.

  5. “This includes karate instructor, EMS provider, winemaker, and apparently adjunct professor.”

    Cupcake baker, interior designer…

    You want to own a business that makes money, buy a septic-pumping truck. You can expand into Porta Potti leasing.

  6. We use adjuncts because we can’t hire!! It is darn near impossible to snag a person with a PhD in CS right now. Even famous schools are having serious trouble hiring.

  7. Alas, this is the unintended offshoot of idealistic parenting and poor career advice. “Do what you love” and “find your passion” can be awesome and fulfilling, but it usually pays crap.

    I’m not so sure about that. It could also be an offshoot of totebaggery taken too far. There is certainly an amusingly inconsistent strain of anti-materialism among totebaggers. And, education for it’s own sake is also a strongly held value. Add to that kids who grow up financially secure not really being able to grasp what being financially insecure means, and it seems like a totebag kid could easily end up on the adjunct career track.

  8. I will say this was on the radar 20 years ago when I was looking at colleges and when I was giving tours and selling my small liberal arts college to prospective students. We talked about the percentage of faculty which were part time, and why that was a significant statistic. It seems like the situation is gotten much worse since then, but these issues around adjuncts have been around for a long time.

    I think there are separate issues of fairness here. First is the issue of the first generation college student, and does not understand what an adjunct professor is and why that is relevant to their educational experience. Second is the issue of the overworked and under paid adjunct. That is a situation I have less sympathy for – anyone with the intelligence and drive to get to repeat the program should not be surprised with their career prospects at the end. This problem maybe worse than it used to be, but it’s been a problem for decades.

    In defense of adjuncts, my university use them in the art department. For practical, art production classes ( as opposed to heavily theory-based classes )a practicing artist was a good and appropriate instructor. An intro ceramics course was 8 hours per week, and I imagine the instructor spent about 9 hours per week on that course.

  9. There are really two kinds of adjuncts, plus a couple of other ways schools keep down teaching costs. There are the adjuncts who are working in the field, or retired, who are doing it for love. There are the adjuncts who can’t figure out why they can’t get a permanent teaching job with a MFA in creative writing or PhD in art history. They are the really sad ones because they need the money and can’t figure out what else to do. But it could be worse – I know someone who got his MS in English, and now works on weekends only setting up instructional IT at a for profit college. He can’t even get an adjunct teaching gig.
    Schools also use grad students as a way to hold down costs. That has gone on for a long time, in fact. That allows the R1’s to advertise that they don’t have too many adjuncts. Instead, you have a lecture of 300 students, with TAs running the discussion sections where the real learning happens. Or you use your TAs who have gotten through the MS portion of their degree to teach as instructors.
    And the the new big trend: teaching-only faculty who are full time, but renewed yearly, who are there to teach the undergrads. They usually make less money and don’t do research. In STEM fields, I think it is an OK model for the introductory courses, but I would want to see students taught by faculty doing research for upper division courses, just so you can avoid some of the more appalling things I have seen out there, like faculty who refuse to learn or teach topics like concurrency because they never learned it back in their day.

  10. With a number of universities within an hour of our city center and a large community college system, it is not unusual to run into adjuncts in my community. I have found that many fit into these categories:
    (1) working on their own graduate degree (mainly phd candidates) and take an adjunct position because it is on campus and some schools will discount the tuition and/or fees. (These are different from the TA positions that are offered.)
    (2) like Milo’s mom who teach either to keep them engaged intellectually or just to have something to do as the money isn’t really the issue.
    (3) using it as a second job, as until recently most taught at night which fit well into their schedule and paid more than retail. I know three people who did this especially when their current work was outside their “major” and/or teaching would satisfy continuing education for their professional license.
    (4) the “following” spouse that moves often so a semester-by-semester job works well and they aren’t the bread winner.

    I think its people like those listed above that make it harder for people who are using adjunct positions as their primary jobs to gain traction for the issue. I am thankful that my DD1 has already figured out that not all jobs pay the same and that the lifestyle she wants requires a certain salary level. Picking jobs that start below there is one thing, no one starts at the top, but picking jobs that top out at that level or below will likely not get her what she wants.

  11. Touring colleges nearly 20 years ago, my parents made sure to ask about adjuncts. They didn’t want their hard-earned money going to a teacher who may be unavailable, or not there the following semester. I went to a small school that didn’t employ adjuncts. Now they do, but I think they’ve grown faster than their ability to hire.

    I know two people (probably more if I think about it) who have made adjuncting their lives. I just don’t see it. One does it for a love a teaching science and has found a niche at a private U in RI and makes up with online courses. She has a DH who makes decent money, and her life affords her the ability to be a WAHM. The other is in communications. Her education path set her up to be a teacher with few other skills. I’ve encouraged her to look around as she stresses each semester and over the summer how they will make ends meet. I just don’t know enough about her field to be of real help. If she makes $24k a year, that’s a lot.

    I never understood the desire to be an adjunct. I think some people just needed a bridge to better things but are still on the bridge.

    Universities need to do a better job caring for adjuncts. And students need to be aware of the teachers they have. Some adjuncts are fantastic educators, but have no time for students because of their schedules. And with no guarantee of being around the following semester, may not give everything they can.

    Adjuncts and grad students are cheap labor – they are mechanisms for U’s to get done what they need to and spend little money doing it. There are arguments about grad students not being cheap anymore, but on the whole, they are.

  12. LFB: I agree with your 2 tier system comment. I see that in the college tours we’re currently taking for DS1. However, given that 90%+ of us want to send out kids to flagship state-u, the situation sucks and we should all be concerned.

  13. “Some adjuncts are fantastic educators, but have no time for students because of their schedules.”

    It isn’t just their schedules. They aren’t PAID to have time for students. Seriously, They are paid by the credit hour. They are expected to show up on time and finish on time. That is it. They don’t even have a place to hold office hours in most cases. We pay $1000 per credit hour, which is pretty typical.

    Also, adjuncts often don’t know what they will be teaching until a week before classes start. Which is not enough time, I can assure you. There isn’t enough time to order textbooks, to figure out what software you want to use, to develop a reasonable syllabus. I am in a tizzy today because my chair is asking me to teach a course I have never taught before, and have little interest in, 6 weeks in advance. We don’t usually have the curriclum guides and lesson plans that K12 people have, so it is a lot of work to put together a course.

    And one final problem which I think is a big problem. Adjuncts are under pressure to grade easily, because student evaluations can determine whether they get rehired. Many observers of higher ed think that the rise in percentages of adjuncts teaching is a major reason behind the grade inflation of the last 20 years. Adjuncts also, in my observation, don’t ask students to do as much, both because of the student evaluations, and also because asking students to do things is WORK – you have to design the assignments and projects, and then you have to grade them. If you set up your course to require hours of grading, that is coming out of that paltry $1000 per credit.

  14. Mooshi,

    Wouldn’t the typical R1/HSS prof be far more concerned about his/her grad students, getting grants, getting published than in teaching undergrads?

  15. “Wouldn’t the typical R1/HSS prof be far more concerned about his/her grad students, getting grants, getting published than in teaching undergrads?”

    In my experience – yes. But technically I did not graduate from an R1 (though they wish they were, and sometimes act like their are). And the priority is usually getting grants, getting published, grad students, and then undergrads.

    The profs of my grad school (which is its own department) are being asked to teach more undergrad classes. Some whining from the old guard, and enthusiasm from the new guard. It’s fun going back to visit as an alum and talk candidly with the profs.

    I’m also glad I’m not in that rat race. I don’t have the constitution for that much competition and stress.

  16. Not all professors at research oriented schools fit your description. And there are many professors at schools that stress both teaching and research.

    R1s: yes, you will find many professors who are strictly oriented towards research and grants. But there are always some who like teaching undergrads, especially upper level undergrads. And once they get out of the tenure track rat race, and are at their mid career and a little more relaxed, they are likely to pick up some upper level undergrad courses. Especially since the alternative at that level is to do more service – ick! I have had many friends at R1s who enjoy teaching a 20 student artificial intelligence course, for example. And those courses have to get taught by someone – who better than someone who actually knows the topic deeply?

    SLACs: at these schools, faculty are expected to be stellar researchers, get grants, AND be awesomely good undergraduate teachers. People who take those jobs know it going in. They also get perks like third year sabbaticals to help them get their research going. But those professors will spend the rest of their lives teaching undergrads, so yes, they are pretty interested

    Midtier schools: R2s, regional comprehensives, etc – at these schools, faculty usually do research and teach undergraduates. Research expectations are smaller, you don’t have to pull in huge grants, and you are going to spend more time teaching undergrads. Again, faculty know this. The biggest problem at these schools is the faculty left from the days when no research was expected. They have to teach something. We usually try to put them on courses where little damage is done.

    And then there are the fifth tier tiny undergrad colleges, where the CS department might be staffed by one or two people who have math degrees rather than CS degrees and who are trying to teach a huge range of topcis about which they know nothing. This is less likely to happen with engineering or allied health majors since those are fields that must get accreditation, but I have seen some real offenders in certain areas of health sciences too. If your kid wants a technical degree, avoid these sorts of schools. Actually, avoid them in general since these are the schools that are most likely to go under in the next 10 years or so

  17. I’ve taught as an adjunct at my Alma mater as well as at the community college here. It was mainly for fun and to see if I liked it. I enjoyed working with the students, but learned that teaching isn’t my calling (I used to think it was because of how much I enjoy being a student)

  18. “It could also be an offshoot of totebaggery taken too far. There is certainly an amusingly inconsistent strain of anti-materialism among totebaggers. And, education for it’s own sake is also a strongly held value.”

    Yeah, I agree with that. It’s the higher-social-tier version of the private-school graduate with a degree in early childhood education who discovers to her shock that daycare workers make $20K/yr.

    I like the comment above about the different types of adjuncts. Several of our attorneys have taught law school classes in our geek field, largely out of personal idealistic motives. They’re not exactly direct competition for the “professional” adjuncts — it’s more like Ada’s example of using the practicing artist to teach the art production class, you really need that specialized level of knowledge to teach it effectively.

  19. “This kid certainly won’t be an adjunct prof for a career…”

    I wouldn’t be so sure:

    Athen is actually selling them at below cost. …
    Athen’s parents helped him start a GoFundMe campaign so he can buy materials in bulk, which will make his low costs sustainable so he isn’t losing money on every badge sold.

  20. “Wouldn’t the typical R1/HSS prof be far more concerned about his/her grad students, getting grants, getting published than in teaching undergrads?”

    DH and his colleagues are very focused on undergrads. The major has a student club, and they help the leaders plan good activities centered on getting to know the faculty, encouraging the best students to consider getting a PhD, and helping the rest of them to connect with internships and alums in the field. It helps to have really smart undergrads. DH would much rather work with them than serve on university-wide committees filled with Faculty With Too Much Time On Their Hands who would be a parody of themselves if they weren’t themselves.

    There are some adjuncts in his department, but none of them in the “can’t get a real job so settling for this one.” One is an empty nester who moved across the country from another university in a very expensive city; another is a recent PhD who wanted to focus on teaching undergrads and not on research or graduate students. He is paid very well, especially for this low-cost community, and is on a three-year renewable contract. These faculty meet specific needs of the department, and IMO this trend will continue as universities and academic departments realize that the seven year up-or-out track doesn’t work in every situation.

    And I would love to cut and paste LfB’s excellent explanation for the plight of the adjunct art history or medieval philosophy adjunct. Yes, education for its own sake is very important, but after you graduate from college, the focus should be on supporting yourself and whatever family you plan to have. These PhDs in unmarketable disciplines are consumption, not investment, items. I cannot understand what motivates students to set out on the 7-year road to nowhere, and think it’s unconscionable for academic departments to continue to lure them in with generous stipends and vague promise of glory. Though I do put most of the blame on the students who fail to do their research before they sign up. The dismal numbers are out there, if they are willing to look.

  21. Athen is actually selling them at below cost. …
    Athen’s parents helped him start a GoFundMe campaign so he can buy materials in bulk, which will make his low costs sustainable so he isn’t losing money on every badge sold.

    It reminds me of the story about Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak when they started selling the Apple 1. The question of price came up and Woz thought they should just add up the cost to make one and sell it for that. Jobs was like, “No.”

  22. winemama,

    I would consider that tax program, but this part of the application process gave me pause:

    “All applicants must provide credible
    evidence (e.g. a bank statement, letter on bank stationary
    attesting to the availability of funds, etc.)”

    Not the place for a comma queen.

  23. Milo – the kid’s no more than 10. Give him a few years, and with more ingenious ideas, he’ll realize he needs to up his profit. I have no worry about that kid. Plus with the GoFundMe doing so well, he’ll have a decent profit margin to invest in his next idea. He has 3x his supply cost pledged, and 25k orders.

  24. I cannot understand what motivates students to set out on the 7-year road to nowhere,

    I think you answered your own question: encouraging the best students to consider getting a PhD

    Though I do put most of the blame on the students who fail to do their research before they sign up.

    I think you’re expecting a lot of the good little totebag kid who has faithfully jumped though every hoop presented to him (as he has been pressured to do since birth) to suddenly realize that when Prof. Smith says they should get a PhD, he’s full of shit.

  25. “to suddenly realize that when Prof. Smith says they should get a PhD, he’s full of shit.”

    And these students most likely don’t know what’s outside of academia and what’s required. Prof. Smith says they are a perfect candidate for a PhD, yet the student doesn’t realize that (a) they could have a very good career without the PhD and (b) having the degree limits the number of doors open. It’s also quite possible that Prof. Smith doesn’t know what’s outside of academia.

  26. I have to say I’m totally charmed by Pokemon go. I’ve been playing it with the kids, and we’ve seen all kind of neighborhood details that we might of missed.

  27. “I have to say I’m totally charmed by Pokemon Go.”

    +1. Dh is doing this with the kids. The kids suddenly want to go outside. And walk. And ride bikes. Outside.

    Love this game!

  28. “College and universities are elitists. They are the first to criticize government and business for mistreating people but they do it to us. They are Walmart.”

    I found this comment profound and correct. Simple forces of supply and demand enable universities to treat adjuncts like crap. However, the same people look down on Walmart for its treatment of its workers.

  29. Rhett,

    DH’s department places all of its own PhD students, and new hires start out at $120K or so. The undergrads currently at Harvard and Michigan also place well. If students don’t have what it takes to get into a good program, they are steered in another direction. It’s the humanities departments that are churning out future adjuncts.

  30. “And these students most likely don’t know what’s outside of academia and what’s required”

    That was true back in the day. But Google tells all now. This took me three seconds to find.

  31. ” But Google tells all now.”

    That’s assuming that these students know how to Google and how to vet the information they receive. That was a big assumption when I taught undergrads ~ 3 years ago.

    “DH’s department places all of its own PhD students”

    Does this means your DH’s department finds post-graduation jobs for all it’s PhD students?

  32. ” It may have you wondering, especially if you were born before 1984, just what the hell is going on.”


  33. “College and universities are elitists. They are the first to criticize government and business for mistreating people but they do it to us. They are Walmart.”

    Walmart hast o make a profit for its shareholders; colleges don’t. Also, don’t most colleges have endowments that they could tap into to provide a decent wage to their workers?

  34. I concur with LfB’s comment about education for the 1%, but that’s not new. I also concur with the comment about Walmart and universities both being subject to the laws of supply and demand. Most of us aren’t part of the 1% and are OK with that.

    I don’t understand the fuss over proper English (why should future nurses and police officers struggle over research papers?) or why supplying more people with college degrees is a Good Thing. There are already plenty of people with college degrees, most jobs don’t really require them, and most jobs that require college degrees now don’t require proper English. Grammatical errors in nursing charts and police reports are rarely problematic. The fact that Baby WCE’s teacher fails to distinguish between there and their has no bearing on her skill with infants, though I must bite my tongue when talking to her preschool colleague, who uses “seen” as the past tense of “see”.

    Public schools, including public universities, will never be able to operate like the private schools serving the 1%. I made a suggestion to accommodate students half-day for kindergarten, based on my own experience with twin boys and documented increases in behavior problems associated with full day kindergarten, but it was rejected for equity (not logistical) reasons, on the basis that middle class kids are the ones most likely to have parents to facilitate a half day and facilitating half day would thus be inequitable.

    We’d much rather have more children throw chairs than reduce equity.

    Getting back to the original topic, the quality of the students is usually a much bigger factor than the quality of the faculty. Aren’t most adjuncts teaching low level intro courses?

    I suspect the working conditions, student quality and cost of living are the issues that make hiring difficult at Mooshi’s school. There doesn’t seem to be any shortage of decent com sci professors here.

  35. I don’t know what Scarlett;s DH teaches, but in my field, people graduating with PhDs have pretty much 100% placement, into good jobs. As I said before, this year has been a disaster because no one can hire. There just are not enough PhDs to satisfy both academic and industrial demands. And yes, industry loves PhDs in CS.

  36. WCE, you have no idea what is going on in CS right now. It is a hiring frenzy. It is so bad that one of the faculty at Stanford, of all places. sent out a missive on a CS education discussing the problem. I know of R1 departments that had 5 or 6 openings in CS last year, and could only fill a couple. WHen I was at the big CS education conference, it was a big topic of discussion.

    Historically, we have had a relatively easy time hiring compare to similar schools because we are in NYC. The tech industry here, and proximity to major research groups, really helps us get people who are better than we should be getting. This year was bad, though.

  37. ” But Google tells all now.”

    That assumes the kids have been taught to question authority and the received wisdom when it comes to things like the value of education. I don’t get the impression that the typical totebag kids is taught to question things like that.

  38. Academia could pay more than industry and draw people, and/or they could improve the working conditions. Having to pay for half of your expenses to attend conferences and sit through interminable meetings with your department chair wouldn’t appeal to me.

    The SWE people I know in EECS could earn more in industry, and probably do less work, but they still find academia appealing. I suspect $120k is easier to live on here than it is there.

  39. Mooshi, you’re right that I wasn’t viewing the problem as “Who can we hire this year?” One of the risks of pursuing a technical PhD is that you don’t know what the hiring market will be like when you get out, as my pharmaceutical and petrochemical friends can attest.

  40. Rhett – among Totebaggers there is range of mindsets. Some would emphasize the passion, some emphasize a dose of passion + money, some would say “what passion, show me the money”. I remember the movie Jerry Maguire came out when I was in my early career. “Show me the money” was quoted widely among my coworkers as they jumped ship.

  41. Scarlett’s DH and Mooshi’s PhD fields are not the norm across other disciplines, even in STEM. There is no guarantee that after a PhD you will have a job, and immediate placement rates (i.e. job within 6 months of graduation) are probably not 100%. And I know a lot of STEM PhDs who struggled for a few years to land. Even if they were able to land immediately, they are post-doc style jobs or term employment making $45-65k. Sure, double a grad student stipend, but far less than their friends not in grad school make.

    Should a prof prepare his/her grad students for employment? Yes. The faster the students land, the better the prof looks. But that doesn’t happen across the board.

  42. Well, as a CS PhD holder, I would say it has never been a barrier. There have been ups and downs, but industry is always happy to hire PhDs and so has academia. My DH has a PhD in CS too, and has had no trouble getting hired. In fact, it was very much his entree into the financial industry.
    I think some of the recent upsurge in hiring PhDs has been driven by industry in fact, for the same reasons that outsourcing of software development has declined. During the 00’s, algorithms for doing computational work improved so much in key areas that companies started realizing that software, advanced software, is a key part of their business intelligence You don’t want to outsource the algorithms that are providing your company with competitive advantage, and you need people who really understand advanced computational methods to develop those algorithms. Even the most mundane industries are using cutting edge machine intelligence algorithms. Walmart is hiring PhDs who can do automated recommender systems, advanced security analytics, and so on. It is different from the 90’s boom, where a lot of the software being developed to drive fly by night web startups was pretty routine stuff.

  43. WCE,

    A while back you mentioned that your company had hired a PhD with 20 years experience but they had to let him go as he just wasn’t getting it. Were you surprised by this or did you expect it? I get the sense they you were surprised. As for me, it seemed to be a pretty classic case of hiring someone who was overqualified.

  44. “Does this means your DH’s department finds post-graduation jobs for all it’s PhD students?”

    Yes. Some are with consulting firms and government agencies, but the students who want academic jobs can generally find them. DH puts in a lot of effort to place his advisees. Some years are better than others, but they are strategic about taking postdocs when the market isn’t great and then going on the following season.

    The problem is that too many PhD candidates are simply not strategic.

  45. STEM tends to be bifurcated. Physics PhDs have trouble getting jobs in physics (although an awful lot of them end up as quants in the financial industry). Petroleum engineering is very cyclical. But my friends with PhDs in systems engineering and electrical engineering have no trouble getting industry jobs.

    Also, is there any field that is immune to the ups and downs of the economy? Look at the difficulties in the legal field right now.

  46. Rhett, our location means that people want to neither come nor leave. He didn’t really want to be here, I think. Pretty much all the contractors here have PhD’s so I don’t think he was overqualified. He was Indian and didn’t want to interact with technicians to get information, so he had trouble getting information, given that almost nothing is documented.

    My employer, like many other tech employers, thinks PhD = very bright person. They don’t think PhD = very bright person who likes to work alone, in a narrow field, for years on end. Some (not all) PhD’s want to work hard at the wrong things.

    As y’all know, I am strategically lazy and easily bored so I never work for long periods of time on the wrong thing. Academically, this meant my coursework was broad rather than deep, the opposite of what a PhD requires. But in terms of doing a job where they want an engineer who is plug-and-play, my attitude of “I’ll skip all the prereqs and figure it out from the book” serves me well.

  47. Mooshi,

    Take two seniors at UNC majoring in CS. One decides to go to work at SAS and the other decides to get a PhD. In 7/14/21 years how would their incomes, employablity, ease of finding a job etc. compare?

  48. Also, don’t most colleges have endowments that they could tap into to provide a decent wage to their workers?

    So here’s how endowments work, I will say at many schools, because there are always exceptions:
    1. there is not one “Endowment” at a school. On their published financials, usually in the footnotes” it will say something like “endowment assets”, which actually is the total of many (hundreds, even thousands) individual endowments.
    2. Each of these individual endowments was created when a person, estate, corporation, donated money to the school.
    3. You can bet that close to 100% of each of these endowments has conditions for their use (e.g. for needy undergraduate students studying ____________; for needy upper division undergraduates from ___________ county; for interior maintenance of the campus chapel — if the place needs a new roof, forget about using this endowment). If you can think of it, there’s probably an endowment that has it as a condition for use.
    4. Some endowments are for support of faculty; most often these endowments create “endowed professorships” and tenured professors hold these positions.
    5. Finally, both donors (sometimes) and the colleges (always) themselves have endowment spending policies which limit the amount that can be spent in any given fiscal year. This is because endowments are to exist in perpetuity. So a school might have a spending policy of 5% of the balance in an individual endowment as of a specific date (like March 31 preceding the fiscal year beginning on July 1). But only if the endowment value exceeds 120% of the original contribution (corpus). Endowments below that threshold, or new endowments which may have lost value since they were created may not be available to spend down for several years.
    6. The best gifts, from a school president’s and the financial aid office’s points of view are Annual Unrestricted Gifts and these come in at small $ amounts from myriad alumni/friends/patients grateful to the medical center for getting (their grandma) a new kidney. This is money that can be used now for whatever the president/board of trustees thinks is best, including adjunct salaries. But trust me, that is highly unlikely to make the list. If the development office could get large unrestricted gifts (vs strings-attached endowment gifts), colleges would think that’s great, but large donors are typically “active” donors and want a say in how their money is used.

    Those in higher ed…did I get it right for your employer?

  49. Mooshi, can you also weigh in on the personality of the ideal Com Sci PhD in industry vs. academia? Lots of computer scientists I know would find the prospect of helping your undergrads with their programming projects “not their type of people interaction”.

  50. On the bigger question of adjuncts, why don’t universities charge differential tuition rates for adjuncts/grad students, tenure-track, and tenured faculty? Let students and their parents decide how much “quality” they are willing to pay for. If we were paying tuition at our university, I would be more upset at the number of courses taught by grad students and adjuncts.

  51. Fred, that is largely true at our university. But we do have a lot of endowed chairs. It seems that nearly every faculty member with tenure has a chair. Many donors are really keen on buying faculty instead of buildings.

  52. Scarlett, that’s because chairs are cheaper than buildings and the recognition is still there.

    Re differentiated tuition: not gonna happen because then the secret is really out. And it might expose some professors as really lousy instructors and some adjuncts as really great instructors. Also, let’s assume that all students opt for the tenured faculty delivered material…how to do it? Can’t have all classes be huge; can’t suddenly hire more tenured faculty, really. Last, how’s that mesh with (need based) aid? Do those students get only adjuncts because that costs the school less in in financial aid, so they can give more to more students?

  53. We have a structure in some ways similar to Scarlett’s suggestion. Dual enrollment between the community college and land grant university is seamless and most people take courses at the community college freshman/sophomore year. My engineering professor acquaintance definitely recommends it. The community college instructors are better teachers than the grad students teaching those classes at the university, and tuition is far cheaper at the community college.

    Also, the university charges by the course even for more than 12 semester hours.

  54. I had several adjuncts when I studied for my MBA. I received my MBA from a large university that offers a full time program, and but I went part time in the evening because my employer paid for it. Most of the tenured staff taught day and evening classes, but a lot of the upper level/elective courses were taught by adjuncts. I was fortunate, and I liked most of my adjuncts. If you are studying finance in NYC – it can be a great experience because when they discussed certain deal structures, it was current information. I didn’t know they were paid so little until much later in life, but some of my adjuncts in the upper level finance and real estate electives were excellent teachers.

    I do think they should be paid more because they are such a large part of the higher education system.

  55. Our university doesn’t and probably wouldn’t give an adjunct discount. Demand for seats in the freshman class far exceeds supply even as tuition surged past the $50K threshold. They could probably fill the class with qualified students prepared to pay the full freight.

  56. I had only one adjunct professor. He didn’t teach well at all. I had only one class with him at a satellite campus. Even though I was new to the education system, and didn’t quite know the term, I knew he was different in status from the full time professors. He was employed full time but taught at night to pay the private school fees for his kids (he told me that).

  57. The two female chemistry professors at my undergrad were adjuncts, relics of the days when spouses couldn’t be professors at the same university. They both had PhD’s in organic chemistry and were great teachers, probably better than their husbands. They probably would have been great researchers too, but I only cared that they were great teachers.

    For most lower division courses, I don’t think having an instructor who does research is helpful/necessary. The material to be learned is well-defined.

  58. I had a few adjuncts in undergrad, they were just OK. The ones I had in my MBA program were great. There was a mini uproar while I was there about how little they were getting paid with the grad students protesting in favor of a new “class” of adjuncts that were considered faculty by us. The ones that taught many sections of core classes year after year rather than the one-off elective crisis management class taught by a high profile SF public relations attorney.

    Fred – that is how I understand most university endowments/grants. The foundation I was associated with never gave money for general operating purposes – only specific projects/programs/scholarships. Although often there would be management fees included in the project budget that were supposed to cover administration time.

  59. Most schools do not have big endowments or even any endowment. Public institutions, for example. And the majority of private schools are what is called “tuition dependent private”, which means little or no endowment.

  60. Rhett, there are about 40,000 variables that go into career trajectories, so it is very hard to say.
    How about this one: CS major goes to SAS, gets put into the QA group, and ends up as a mid level QA manager in 10 years. Gets laid off, and does QA contractor work for another 10 years.


    Kid gets hired into software development group, gets MS paid for by employer (pretty common for software devs to get their MS degree), does lots of interesting open source work, runs a blog, gets noticed as a rockstar developer in technology XYZ, and goes freelance, making tons of money.


    Kid gets hired intpo product support group, gets MBA paid for by SAS, becomes a middle level manager, goes to another company, becomes head of product support.

    OK, I have to go , so I can’t get into the myriad PhD career paths. But that is just as variable.

  61. Some public universities have endowments, and certainly endowed professorships. Usually large state flagships with prominent alumni. My undergrad private is definitely regional and not highly rated and they have a pretty large endowment and quite large scholarship funds. In fact, it was less expensive for my roommate to go to our private university with significant school based financial aide rather than a state school with much lower tuition at the time.

  62. I haven’t read all the comments yet, but it seems that some of these adjuncts would be better off teaching junior high or high school in terms of pay and benefits. In some districts here, an advanced degree makes the credentialing process much shorter and easier, particularly if you have previous teaching experience.

  63. From this 2014 report on endowments
    “While public attention focuses primarily on the relatively small number of colleges and universities
    with large endowments, most colleges and universities have only modest endowments or
    none at all. Although some public universities’ endowments rank among the largest, most public
    institutions have only nominal endowments or none at all”

  64. GFM, you are exactly right. I have a friend who got her PhD in literature at age 50 (!) and is teaching two adjunct courses at a local private college for about 20% of what she could earn as a teacher at the private high school, many of whom have PhDs in their subject area. Perhaps she hopes that a tenure-track slot will open up, but it’s not going to open up for someone in her age cohort.

  65. Interesting statistics. I certainly wasn’t thinking about 2-year schools as most of those are state funded. I’m wondering how many students attend the 657 schools that have over $50 million in endowments, I would assume most of those are 4-year institutions, but could be wrong.

  66. “never pursue as a career any work that someone wants to do for free”
    “You want to own a business that makes money, buy a septic-pumping truck.”
    “Also, is there any field that is immune to the ups and downs of the economy?”
    …in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes! B Franklin, 1789

    I have always referred to my choice of work as a “dirty job” that pays well without haz mat gear, so Milo’s comment about septic systems is apropos. In earlier iterations of our online community it occasionally came up that tax is mind numbing, tax people are weird to boot, and IRL it was always a conversation stopper at cocktail parties. In other words, we seem to have sh-t on our shoes as we cash our checks and hang up on recruiters.

    Good tax people are never out of work and there is work, some of it boring but almost all of it well paid, in every region. I am not talking about the seasonal workers at H&R Block, who mostly have no professional training and are paid peanuts – with the exception of a few who quickly rise to supervisor or some retirees. The local CPA who churns out tax returns at 200 a pop has a job I couldn’t do, but a lot of them work like dogs for three months, have a couple of real estate and auto dealership clients who pay well, do some bookkeeping and audit work during the rest of the year, and get most of the summers and holidays off.

  67. “The local CPA who churns out tax returns at 200 a pop has a job I couldn’t do, but a lot of them work like dogs for three months, … and get most of the summers and holidays off.”


  68. IME, people with PhDs in engineering, CS, and matsci had an easier time getting hired than those with MS or BS in the same fields. In particular, they were much more likely to be hired directly into R&D.

  69. Finn, not all Sci PhDs. DH has a far easier time being hired with a BS than I do with a PhD. But he will always work for someone and I will always be hired into lab management. So there are plenty of tech style jobs and not as many management level. Or places like to train and promote from within. In many ways having a MS degree closes more doors because you are too experienced for one level and not experienced enough for the other.

    Getting a PhD in any field is a decision one must make with their eyes wide open – have to know the options when finished and the money you’ll be paid.

  70. Finn, I went into R&D with a BS, partly because I’d already interned in R&D with two large companies. Did you go straight into R&D? I remember we both concluded that getting jobs and letting our companies fund our MS degrees was a rational engineering economics decision.

    Personality-wise, I’m definitely a D and not an R.

  71. I never really worked in R&D.

    At my previous employer, we had R&d, and r&D. I started in manufacturing, but was later reorganized into R&D.

  72. 9:55 was me.

    Stupid autocorrect changed my last sentence. I was reorganized into r&D, little r, big D.

  73. Fred, what schools did you visit? Did you visit CMU?

    I think that’s on DS’ naviance list, although not very high at this point.

  74. “In earlier iterations of our online community it occasionally came up that tax is mind numbing, tax people are weird to boot, and IRL it was always a conversation stopper at cocktail parties.”

    Indeed, and it is intriguing how many of us found our way to this group….

  75. When I was in school in the home country accounting (which included tax and audit) was considered terribly boring and so was economics. Many students moved to marketing or communications majors which were also under the business school label. These were flashy but suffered from a glut of job seekers.

  76. Finn,
    Duquesne and Robert Morris. And though I liked Duquesne, probably off the list as he wants something more suburban. He’s neither qualified nor interested in CMU (and knowing plenty of people from there, he’s not their typical personality). Probably could do Pitt, but again more urban than he wants.
    I am expecting him to end up at a SUNY school, maybe even a CC, unless there’s lots of surprise good news on the discounting front from one of the privates he’s interested in. Not demonstrating to me he’s all that motivated for college at this point.

  77. didn’t get the job I told you guys about

    they couldn’t match what I currently make (it is a small company)

  78. next year I’ll finally have 3 weeks vacation (never have had more than two), so going to stick it out unless someplace can match that as well

  79. Finn – if you could share your college visit impressions of the more tech type schools, I’d be interested.

  80. WM – You’re better off for now. More $ for you, and I can tell you that three weeks vacation is very nice. A week for skiing in the winter; and in the summer, week at the beach, and a week in the mountains. More or less.

    Fred – I wonder what happens to those very specific endowments that are to endure in perpetuity at a school like Sweetbriar when it closes. There must be some sort of

  81. I have a friend from grad school who teaches at Slippery Rock. I just looked him up and he’s the Interim Associate Provost for Transformational Experiences, and I swear I am not making that up, and when the academic revolution comes he will be the first one up against the pock-marked wall.

  82. Associate Provost for Transformational Experiences,

    He runs the study abroad program?

  83. Frolic and detour from the Frugalwoods’ most recent posting, about how to respond when someone suggests you are depriving your children by living frugally:

    “However, let’s be tactful here and respect this divergent, non-frugal viewpoint. What I like to say in response to the child-deprivation argument is thus: “Thank you for expressing your concern. However, we’ve chosen to raise our child(ren) with a certain set of values and those values do not include extravagant gifts/parties/vacations/ponies.” Through this phrasing, I’m focusing on the values frugality espouses and not the mechanics; because at its core, this argument addresses the notion that you need to spend a lot of money in order to raise your children right. And obviously, you don’t. Choosing not to throw cash at childhood is about a great deal more than saving money and I believe that argument resonates more soundly with the non-frugal.”

    So, in short, when someone insultingly suggests that your lifestyle is depriving your children, the best way to defuse the tension is to tell them their values suck. Hahahahahahaha.

  84. “Transformational Experiences” apparently covers Career Education and Development, Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, Distinguished Scholarships, Global Engagement, Honors Program, and Library.

    Because that’s not a random assortment at all.

  85. extravagant gifts/parties/vacations/ponies.

    Hell, I still want all those things.

  86. RMS, he is doing both and more
    Global Engagement=Study Abroad
    Student Involvement and Leadership=service learning
    Career Education=internship program

  87. the 3 weeks will definitely be great, one week at spring break, one week in the summer, and one week either fall or Christmas break

  88. and with 3, maybe I can finally take a big trip to Europe (would want at least 10 days)

  89. It’s still a stupid, pretentious title, and the subcategories have stupid, pretentious titles too.

  90. “Choosing not to throw cash at childhood is about a great deal more than saving money and I believe that argument resonates more soundly with the non-frugal.”

    While Frugalwood and this hypothetical critic may disagree on the values and mechanics, each is still claiming that her own method is ultimately a superior form of childrearing.

    In contrast, when I deprive my kids of something, I do it with images of my dream yacht and early retirement dancing in my head.

  91. While Frugalwood and this hypothetical critic may disagree on the values and mechanics, each is still claiming that her own method is ultimately a superior form of childrearing.

    I assume they are frugal first. The post hoc justification that it’s good for the kids is just that.

  92. “I’m sure he’s making decent Totebag money, though.”

    that’s why I don’t understand why they and their readers think they’re so remarkable. An educated, umc couple with a FT breadwinner who WAH and travels a lot, and a SAHM. They drove an old car for a while, got lucky on some real estate appreciation, and moved out to the country. There’s nothing to see here.

  93. “Hell, I still want all those things.”

    Well, Rocky, obviously your values suck. Come sit next to me — I have some lovely wine.

    @Milo: my favorite part is a couple of paras later when she goes into this big explanation of how what works for one person may not work for another, we need to be live-and-let-live, etc. Total disconnect.

    “I assume they are frugal first. The post hoc justification that it’s good for the kids is just that.”

    ITA. I think we all naturally structure our lives around things that feel comfortable/good/come naturally to us, and then build a view of the universe that justifies those choices as the “right” ones. I know I’ve said it before, but I would be *miserable* living the MMM lifestyle, because I grew up the way he lives now, and dammit, I *like* being able to hire people to do crapwork that makes me miserable. It makes me happy — makes me feel free — when I see someone else with a lawnmower out in my yard, just because it’s Not Me Anymore. I am not a stoic, nor do I aspire to stoic sainthood — my aspirations are “never have to worry whether my groceries will exceed my food stamps” (low-end) and “travel the world in comfort” (high-end). And the tradeoffs I make in pursuit of those goals continue to be, at this point, worth it.

  94. A friend of mine who just moved permanently to Nicaragua (both she and her husband got laid off, they didn’t have enough money to retire in the U.S. but they do in Nicaragua) posted on Facebook that when you don’t have access to Amazon Prime, a lot of things that used to seem essential aren’t anymore.

  95. Milo – you have to go into court and the court will bless what they call a “cy pres” arrangement – means “as close as” more or less – so Sweetbriar’s funds would probably go to a similar institution. A bunch of colleges around here had to do that during the recession in order to un-restrict portions of their endowments.

  96. how to respond when someone suggests you are depriving your children by living frugally

    I guess she’s never heard of “That’s an interesting assumption”?

  97. But I mean, no one starts a blog dedicated to the proposition that “I’m comfortable with the life I’ve chosen, but it’s not inherently better than other ways of life and probably isn’t that fascinating to other people.”

  98. @HM: you have just put your finger on my internal block with writing anything substantive: it seems to be the height of egotism to assume that you have something to say that other people will find interesting.

  99. I am not sure it has to be egotism. People are making good money on some blogs with content a lot of people could write. Have you seen how much some of the YouTube guys make narrating the playing of video games? One was an acting major and clearly saw a better path than bartending with auditions during the day. Makes me rethink my “no” answer to my kids’ request to start a YouTube channel. Still kicking myself for not starting a personal finance blog in the late 90’s. I could have been a young Suze Orman!!

  100. Tech type college visits: Keep in mind that all our visits were during summers, when schools were not in regular session.

    CALTECH: We visited the summer after DS’ eighth grade year. It’s in suburban Pasadena and has a very small college feel, sort of what I imagine SLAC would be, but with engineering. I really liked that, as did DD, but DS prefers an urban setting. My impression was colored by our tour guide, a female student who was quite enthusiastic about sharing how much she was enjoying her experience there.
    The campus is quite nice and compact. The dorm we saw (our tour guide’s dorm) was decent but nothing special. Interestingly, it was nowhere near empty during the summer; our guide explained that many students got research assistant jobs during the summer, with the stipends being about enough to pay living expenses to stay in the dorms.
    The guide also mentioned that classes are on a credit/no-credit (IIRC; it could’ve been pass/fail) basis, to help create a collaborative, non-competitive environment.

    MIT: MIT is a much larger school than Caltech, and its campus is much larger and more spread out. It feels much older and more traditional. The number of labs they had was quite impressive. My impression was that the school really fosters hands on work.
    I didn’t get to see any dorms as part of the tour. It’s a fairly urban setting, much more so than CalTech, with easy access to Boston. BTW, there apparently is a back door into MIT; we were told that Harvard students have full access to MIT classes (and vice versa).

    Overall, my impression is that, at least at the undergrad level, MIT might appeal a bit more to engineers, and Caltech a bit more to scientists.

  101. His discussion is too far gone for me to read through the whole thing now, but I do hope someone corrected the notions that more expensive U = more tenure track profs teaching and better quality lower level instruction. Schools with more grad programs have more TAs and adjuncts who teach multiple sections of the same course repeatedly get really good at it. I haven’t checked it out, but I’m willing to bet that an undergrad education at Murray State is just as “high quality” as one at UT/Austin. Note that Murray State is not getting the cream of the crop students, so final results will also not be as stellar.

  102. Late to this party (just finished one of your recent topics– a lavish vaca [by our standards]: 2.5 weeks from SF to Glacier), but a few comments to throw in…

    -To me, S&M nails the punchline here.
    -All of these are generalizations: you can find exceptions to any of these rules.
    -My R1 grad experience included a number of grad students who were clearly better T’s than the profs. The grad students wanted to do R, but they also intended to emphasize T over R, so maybe that’s to be expected: once you have modest experience, passion and aptitude for T will trump greater experience.
    -My dissertation advisor was border-line in terms of R and won a T award, prompting a number of faculty to tell him that he was clearly spending too much time on T.
    -The tightness of the adjunct job market depends quite a bit on the field, esp. since universities may be reluctant to let wages vary by field.
    -People tend to forget that adjuncts rarely have any sort of workload in terms of R or service of various sorts. If one reduces my job to its teaching component, it looks like I’m paid extravagantly in comparison to adjuncts, but that’s comparing apples and rocks.

  103. Eric, if you’ve accepted that your career will be teaching only, then you might be able to put together enough adjuncts gigs to get by, but if you’re till hoping for TT down the road, then you’ve got to keep up the research & publishing, and probably some kind of service as well. That’s the horrendous slog people are talking about when they say it’s too much.

  104. I think many people teach a couple of semesters because they think there is some kind of prestige in teaching at a university, but the tweedy, reading lifestyle people think of is really that of a researcher.

  105. “if you’ve accepted that your career will be teaching only, ”

    Then I would think you might want to look at other teaching options, e.g., private HS, or becoming a CC instructor. I’m curious how the CC option stacks up– are those also very tight, with CCs also hiring a lot of adjuncts to avoid hiring teaching positions?

    Were my kids to decide they wanted to teach, I’d strongly encourage them to consider their current school, especially if they had kids and could thus benefit from the tuition waivers available to kids of faculty and staff.

  106. Finn, community college instructorships vary depending on the community and the field. An acquaintance married to a farmer went back and got her MS in chemistry so she could teach at the nearby community college part-time and qualify for benefits. She helps on the farm more in the summer and fall and homeschooled her kids. It’s worked out well for them.

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