Sen. Dick Durbin Introduces Adjunct Faculty Loan Fairness Act
With advanced degrees, adjunct faculty are well-prepared to teach. But with such degrees often comes significant debt, and few options for keeping the student debt burden manageable. A new bill introduced in the U.S. Senate reflects the momentum adjunct faculty have created in the past year toward making big changes in their workplaces while helping shape the future of higher education.
Yesterday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced legislation that will help adjunct faculty access the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). The Adjunct Faculty Loan Fairness Act would make a tremendous impact on the lives of thousands of adjunct and contingent faculty, who now make up a majority of America’s college instructors and more than half of whom work part-time.
“As their budgets have tightened, colleges and universities have become increasingly reliant upon part-time adjunct faculty who face low pay, few if any benefits, and minimal job security,” Durbin said in a statement. “The vast majority of these educators hold advanced degrees, and as a result, bear the heavy burden of student loan debt. It is only right that we expand their access to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, a benefit already available to many of their full-time colleagues.”
“As a part-time, temporary worker with a crushing amount of school debt, I know how important student debt reform is for ensuring education retains the promise of social mobility for both me and my fellow adjuncts and the students we teach,” said Marga Ryersbach, an adjunct who teaches in New York. “I’m pleased that Senator Durbin is working to make sure we have access to a program that helps correct the imbalances wrought by huge amounts of education debt.”
Student debt has become a national issue and it’s one that is critically important for part-time and non-tenure track faculty, as the average debt burden for borrowers with advanced degrees is now $61,000. Furthermore, the average pay per course reported by adjunct faculty is approximately $3,000, which means that an adjunctwho teaches eight courses per year will make just $24,000 annually. Adjunct faculty often have trouble making ends meet, let alone, paying down their student debt.
Congress created the PSLF program in 2007 to offer student loan forgiveness to people with careers in the public or nonprofit sectors. But as the program is currently structured, many adjunct faculty are not eligible to participate. The current law states that in order to be eligible for PSLF a person must work an average of 30 hours a week over the course of a year. Since adjunct faculty do not have control over their course load (most times school administrators decide how many classes an instructor can teach), whether they meet the 30 hour requirement is out of their hands. As a result, just one semester or year with a low course load can prevent adjunct faculty from obtaining PSLF credit for their public service for that year.
The Adjunct Faculty Loan Fairness Act will allow adjunct faculty to access PSLF even if they have a low course load that does not meet the 30 hour eligibility requirement. Those who teach at least one course in a given year will qualify for PSLF. However, contingent faculty who have a separate, full-time, private sector job will not have access to this program. This means that the program will only be open to those adjunct faculty who really need the benefits of PSLF—those who make a living from teaching.
“While we are joining together for a voice at Hamline, we are also focused on the big challenges facing higher education,” Hamline University adjunct faculty member David Weiss said. “It’s great to know that adjunct and contingent faculty have allies in Congress like Senator Durbin who are working to ensure that adjunct faculty are included in the PSLF program. While thousands of contingent faculty are joining together, this bill is a huge opportunity to take our movement to the next level and change the lives of adjunct faculty members by improving the PSLF.”