Senators Again Seek Loan Relief for Adjunct Faculty - Higher Education
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Senators Again Seek Loan Relief for Adjunct Faculty

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Adjunct faculty members will get another chance to gain eligibility for a federal student loan relief program under proposed legislation by two U.S. senators.

In early October, Senators Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Al Franken (D-Minnesota) introduced the Adjunct Faculty Loan Fairness Act of 2017 that would allow part-time faculty at colleges and universities to be eligible to participate in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

Sen. Al Franken

The legislation’s relevance hints at a growing trend at higher education institutions in their use of part-time, adjunct faculty, many of whom are often paid low wages with few benefits, the senators’ press release said.

“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 2014 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 recognize their public service by allowing them to participate in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, a benefit already available to many of their full-time colleagues.”

Currently, adjunct faculty are ineligible for the program because of their part-time status despite sometimes working comparable amounts of time to their full-time colleagues.

Research conducted by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) shows that “contingent faculty,” as they are called, account for 70 percent of all instructional staff appointments in American higher education. These faculty members “often commute between institutions and prepare courses on a grueling timetable, making enormous sacrifices to maintain interaction with their students,” AAUP’s website states.

Further, adjunct faculty members can roughly earn between $20,000 and $25,000 in annual income if they do not have other full-time work opportunities. A report at UC Berkeley and a 2014 Salon article found that many adjunct professors earn less than the federal minimum wage, and a quarter of all part-time college faculty receive public assistance such as Medicaid or food stamps.

This is not the first time senators Durbin and Franken have introduced the bill in Congress. In 2014, Durbin proposed a bill hoping that an expansion to include part-time faculty under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program would alleviate some of the financial pressures on this group.

Adjunct faculty members and their advocates welcomed the initial 2014 legislation. Now, educators await further action on the status of this year’s bill.

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at tpennamon@diverseeducation.com. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.

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