Clinton, Sanders, And Adjuncts

Oh my? Anyway, during the Democratic Party primaries, one issue that has arisen intermittently are Clinton’s and Sanders’ college funding policies (as opposed to the Republican primaries where a major issue is MAH PENIS IZ BIGGER). But one part of their higher education policies has gone unremarked, even as there are regularly articles on the subject, which is the plight of adjunct professors–who are paid miserable salaries to teach college students.

Well, there’s a difference between Clinton and Sanders on this issue. Guess who’s better for the adjuncts? (boldface mine)

As I argued in Why Public Higher Education Should Be Free, we can substantially reduce tuition costs and improve educational quality if colleges and universities are given an incentive to reduce administrative spending and other nonessential activities. The plan Sanders proposed in Congress calls for providing “an assurance that not later than five years after the date of enactment of this act, not less than 75 percent of instruction at public institutions of higher education in the state is provided by tenured or tenure-track faculty.” This use of federal funds to restore tenure represents one of the many policies that one does not find in Clinton’s proposal.

Sanders’s bill also calls for funding all expenses for low-income students and requiring states to maintain their support for public higher education by mandating “that public institutions of higher education in the state provide, for each student enrolled at the institution who receives for the maximum federal Pell Grant award … institutional student financial aid in an amount equal to 100 percent of the difference between (A) the cost of attendance at such institution … and (B) the sum of (i) the amount of the maximum federal Pell Grant award; and (ii) the student’s expected family contribution.” It also calls on states to “ensure that public institutions of higher education in the state not adopt policies to reduce enrollment.” The push here is to maintain state support for higher education while significantly increasing the federal contributions.

Sanders also wants to make sure that more money ends up in the classroom: “a state that receives a grant under this section shall use any remaining grant funds and matching funds required under this section to increase the quality of instruction and student support services by carrying out the following: A) Expanding academic course offerings to students. (B) Increasing the number and percentage of full-time instructional faculty. (C) Providing all faculty with professional supports to help students succeed, such as professional development opportunities, office space and shared governance in the institution. (D) Compensating part-time faculty for work done outside of the classroom relating to instruction, such as holding office hours….”

These policy proposals are far-reaching and focus on improving the quality of instruction and supporting the faculty members who work at colleges and universities. The plan not only aims to increase the number of tenured faculty but also looks to improve the pay and professional development of non-tenure-track faculty. It is a shame that most of the news media has not covered these aspects of Sanders’s plan.

In perhaps his most radical and needed proposal, Sanders pushes these institutions to return to their core missions: “A state that receives a grant under this section may not use grant funds or matching funds required under this section (A) for the construction of nonacademic facilities, such as student centers or stadiums; (B) for merit-based student financial aid; or (C) to pay the salaries or benefits of school administrators.” Sanders’s plan would thus decrease the cost of making public higher education free by decreasing the costs associated with administration, athletics and merit-based aid that goes mostly to the wealthiest students.

Sanders wants to pay for the increase in federal funding for higher education by a tax on financial transactions. At first glance, there appears to be little relationship between Wall Street and public colleges and universities. But if we look at the economic history of the last 30 years, we find that, each time a Wall Street crash occurs, tuition costs and student debt go up. The reason for that correlation is that market crashes cause decreases in state revenue, which in turn cause reductions in appropriations for higher education, which are then followed by increases in tuition and student debt. It is also important to stress that at the very moment the federal government was giving banks and financial institutions trillions of dollars of interest-free loans, it was making a profit off student debt.

Clinton says nothing about instruction or allocating funds to non-instructional purposes (there are, of course, tax breaks, which help the upper-middle class). As is usual with Clinton’s proposals, there are no dedicated revenue streams to pay for her plans* (Got Magic Asterisks?).

But Sanders isn’t a policy wonk. Or something.

Meanwhile, we wonder why recent college graduates, especially those from public schools, favor Sanders. A posum, it is.

*Not that I think deficit spending to accomplish either plan is a bad idea. But this is apparently the standard to which all of Sanders’ plans are held. What’s good for the gander is also good for the goose.

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5 Responses to Clinton, Sanders, And Adjuncts

  1. becca says:

    Don’t financial transactions also decrease when Wall Street is down, state revenues are declining and higher education tuition is increasing?

    If you were going to pay for it with a dedicated tax, you’d want to tax something where revenues go up during recessions. So… lottery tax? Maybe an alcohol tax?

    I think it’s lovely to fund education at higher levels through federal revenue, and cosmically just to require Wall Street (which drives inequality of opportunity like it was it’s job- or maybe it is?) to pay for a good chunk. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading Dean Dad it is that the need for education tends to be counter cyclical with economic Good Times. That means the feds have to pay for it, because they are the only ones capable of significant pushes of deficit spending.

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  3. David Taylor, MD says:

    I think it may be important to point out that the major problem of over-use of adjuncts is found at community colleges (and for-profits, which are not state colleges…), which have extremely high rates of adjunct faculty use, and where the issues are more complicated than merely abusing contingent faculty. As we have pushed for more and more people to attend college, community colleges absorb the vast majority of those who are minimally prepared — even to the point of offering GEDs as a form of remedial training for high school drop-outs so they can enroll as college students — and the entire economic infrastructure of community colleges is itself contingent and fraught. The use of adjunct faculty may be the only rational approach to such a system. If the rise of contingent faculty, especially in community colleges, is a symptom of an underlying structural problem, it will take more than merely improving adjunct wages or benefits to fix it.

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