Adjunct teaching at community colleges

This post continues our series Confessions of a Full-Time Adjunct. Read Lauren’s previous post about interviewing for a full-time job at a community college.

This post is all about tips for those of you who might be thinking of adjunct work as a long-term career. It can totally be a career; I’ve been doing it full-time for almost eleven years now. Here are my top four recommendations  for objectives to keep in mind if you’re considering adjunct work for the long haul.

Objective #1: Stabilize local employment (To the extent possible, of course)

If you’re committed to teaching at the college level, and the downsides of adjunct life don’t deter you, your first objective is to find local employment. You should think strategically about the locations of community colleges and 4-year schools in your area, and focus on two that will make your commute(s) reasonable.  Then, use the advice in my Adjuncting 101 post to get yourself started working there—focus on getting a fall class, when there is usually the most need. 

Once you’ve been hired, make sure to pay attention to adjunct orientations and any union workshops that will educate you on how unit entitlement works at that college.  Unit entitlement is basically an employment protection for adjuncts: if you’ve taught a certain number of units in the previous academic year, the college is obligated to offer you the same number of units if the work is available.   

The policies on entitlement vary from college to college.  Once you understand how it works, your goal is to maximize your entitlement at two schools and then stay. The longer you’re there, the more seniority you have, and the less likely you are to lose classes when enrollment drops or funding becomes an issue. Some colleges will eventually give you a three-year contract.  This three-year contract has some limitations, but does give you better employment stability.

Objective #2: Make a health benefits game-plan

I advise that you investigate how benefits work for adjuncts at your target  schools before seeking employment. I’ve found that benefits vary widely—at one of my current schools (a California State University), I have free medical coverage for my family if I teach at least 6 units per semester. That’s the best-case scenario. At most community colleges, you will not be eligible for health benefits for a couple of years, and even then the monthly payments can be very high. For example, at one of my current schools, it would cost me around $800 a month to get coverage for my family.  

Do your research on the front-end so you can have a plan. The benefits issue can be a major barrier to working as an adjunct, but if you can get work with a school with solid health-care coverage, that can free you up to do other things in addition to teaching part-time. 

Objective #3: Consider finding paid opportunities for college service

Service to the college is part of the job for full-time professors. It’s not for adjuncts. And some adjuncts really enjoy the fact that they walk on campus, teach their classes, hold office hours, and leave. They have zero stress around the campus politics. However, if you intend to stick around for a while, it might make more sense to get involved. If that’s the case, you can seek out paid opportunities for college service. In my experience there are frequent opportunities for committee-work of various types, and often those committees welcome and are actively looking to add an adjunct perspective. I’ve also found that these committee experiences help me feel more connected to the campus in a job that can feel quite isolating.  And an extra few hundred dollars a month never hurts!

Objective #4: Diversify your courses

Early on in my adjunct career, I jumped at the chance to teach a new class. I knew that down the road that would enable me to say to the chair at a new school I was looking to teach at, “Yes, I’ve taught that; I’m ready; I’ve got a syllabus right here; put me in.” That’s a pretty valuable thing to be able to say when those chairs are looking to staff a specific class quickly.  

So, I advise that from the beginning you take opportunities to teach new classes. (Even though that’s an enormous amount of work. Let’s be real here.)

These are the key things you should be thinking about if you’re going to adjunct long-term. But I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts as well. Tweet Interfolio to continue the conversation with me!

Author bio: Dr. Lauren Nahas has a PhD in English from the University of Texas at Austin.  She is a full-time adjunct in the San Francisco Bay Area.