Eighty Dollars an Hour!!!

As a member of the select board in my small town (and the board clerk), I receive a stipend of $700 per year. I’ve never actually done the arithmetic, but as close as I can tell, that comes to about a buck or buck and a half an hour. The $700 sounds pretty good (and frankly, coming as one lump check, it’s handy at Christmas), but the hourly rate is much less appealing.

I have a friend who, because she had more than 30 hours of college teaching experience, was hired to teach one course at a unionized school for about $80 an hour. Wow!!! $80 an hour! I’ve had some pretty good jobs in my life, but I’ve never ever gotten close to $80 an hour.

Let’s check that euphoria, though. That’s $80 per contact hour, as a convenient way of figuring out a pay rate. A three-credit course (a 15-week class that meets three hours per week) is 45 contact hours, which means that the stipend for that course is $3,600. But the accreditation expectation for a credit hour is an hour a week in class and two hours of student work outside class. And every teacher I’ve ever known has worked WAY more hours than any one student. Between writing the next session’s notes and grading papers or tests and writing e-mails of encouragement or praise or threat of failure, I’ve personally never had fewer than five hours outside class per one in. But let’s be conservative, and say that the 45 contact hours per semester comes to 180 actual hours of labor (one in-class per three out-of-class).

All of the course prep—the creation of the syllabus, the selection of the readings, the coordination with the department chair over learning goals, the coordination with the IT department over getting materials onto the course management system—lies outside the 15-week window, and is work provided for free. Let’s be conservative there as well and say another 80 hours. Then there’s the end of the semester—the grading of final papers or final exams, the agonizing over assigning final grades, the collection and archiving of student work for the accreditation visit. That also is outside the window, more free work. Let’s say another 80 hours for that. Plus the generic e-mail crap that happens in every organization, more or less non-stop: another 40 during the semester? (That’s two or three hours a week, which seems pretty low.)

So the fact is that those 45 contact hours are a fiction that conceals about 350 to 400 hours of work. And a $3,600 pre-tax stipend, which doesn’t carry any benefits like health care or retirement contributions, spread over 400 hours of work comes to $9 per hour. Where I live, in Vermont, that’s just shy of the minimum wage.

Now, of course, if I teach that course a second time, and I’m a sloppy teacher who doesn’t care about my work, then I’ve already got the syllabus in the bag and just change the dates; I’ve already got the reading list, regardless of which readings were helpful last semester and which ones weren’t; I’ve jettisoned almost all of my serious homework for quizzes; and I’m reading my lectures off the same notes I made for last year, because I don’t really care if they’re listening to me or not. So now, at that least-effort scenario (which probably wouldn’t get me re-hired, by the way), I might get my workload down to maybe 250 hours for the course. Whoa, baby! I’m all the way up to $14.40 an hour!

And this is for the most educated workforce in the nation, the adjunct teaching population who’ve amassed PhDs and EdDs and MFAs galore and had it come to naught. People stick with it because they love teaching, or because they don’t want to let the dream die, or because it’s just humiliating to know that you can actually make more money at Dunkin Donuts.

Oh, and that $3,600 for the course is actually pretty good nationwide. The AAUP reports that the median for a three-credit course nationally is $2,700. So take everything I’ve said and figure three-quarters of that.