Friday, January 9, 2015

The Workers Who Will Make Community College "Free"

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The reports about President Obama's planned "free" community college program I am sure sound good to those concerned about paying for higher education.  There is no doubt that higher education is getting more expensive.  There is also no doubt that college is still a good return for investment.  So I am sure that most will applaud when it is announced that the President is pushing for "free" community college for all Americans.

Yet I think it is worth looking at the statistics on community college before everyone applauds.  Prior to everyone associated with community college throwing daggers at me, please know that I love community colleges and think that they are great places for some young adults to start their college careers.  However, I urge everyone to think about the labor issues associated with community colleges.  According to this report, roughly 58% of community college courses are taught by part-time, low-paid community college instructors known as adjunct faculty or adjunct professors.  While many of these part time (adjunct faculty) workers are outstanding, the President's initiative is likely to expand the part-time workforce of community college instructors.

What this means is that there will be greater differentiation among colleges and universities in the long-haul.  Premier colleges and universities will continue to attract students willing to pay (or who can earn scholarships) for access to full-time, research active, quality faculty.  Students who cannot afford these private and premier state universities will turn to the community colleges where they will be met with many part-time faculty who do not have access to basic benefits like health care and retirement.

So while a "free" education sounds great, please think about the implications.  Elementary school teachers have benefits and retirement.  We pay tremendous property taxes to pay those teachers.  The only thing that allows community colleges to be "free" is because we do not compensate community college instructors as we do other teachers.

By offering "free" courses, we are taking advantage of a group of people.  We would never let this happen to firefighters, police officers, or kindergarten teachers who earn a living wage through our taxes.  Think how you would react if the business or service you provide were now "free" and valueless to the greater society.

Some statistics.  The average annual salary of an adjunct faculty member at a community college is $30,000 per year.  This works out to be about $10-$13/hour considering prep time and grading.   The average Wal-Mart salary is about $12.00 per hour.

So, yes, it is great that more people have access to higher education, but nothing is free in this world.  The free tuition is at the cost of instructors who do not make a livable wage.  You might call it a free education.  I call it exploitation.

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