Adjunct Professors Are Free Agents: It’s Time to Start Acting Like It

Adjunct Professors

Adjunct professors work hard, but don’t always get paid well for it. A 2012 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau found that 22% of part-time faculty nationwide live below the poverty line. Other studies estimate that the percentage of adjuncts earning poverty-level wages might be even higher than this. The salary for an adjunct is typically $20,000 to $25,000 annually, while the average salary for full-time professors and instructors is over $80,000 per year.

We’ve all heard the horror stories. Some adjunct professors have resorted to collecting food stamps and even sleeping in their cars just to get by. While these are the most extreme cases that make headlines, it’s not uncommon for adjuncts to have to hold down more than one job and teach at the same time. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) reports that 60% of part-time professors have at least one or more other jobs besides teaching.

Embracing The Changes In Higher Ed

If you’re an adjunct, or just completed your master’s or Ph.D, you’re probably already concerned about securing the teaching job you want. As an adjunct, it’s not always easy to navigate a successful teaching career and earn the salary you deserve. While it’s true that not all adjuncts bemoan the state of their profession — and some prefer to only teach part-time — many are seeking higher pay, better working conditions and a healthier teaching/work/life balance.

Many adjuncts actually do teach full-time by “moonlighting” at more than one university. However, they don’t always get paid the same or have the same job protection as a full-time instructor. As adjuncts across the nation fight for higher wages and attempt to unionize, we might be seeing a positive shift in the teaching landscape of higher education. However, there’s still a lot of evidence that the adjunct and non-tenured faculty trend will continue for many years — possibly even decades — to come.

Adjuncts Have Options — They Just Aren’t Aware Of Them

Here’s the reality for most adjunct professors: you’re not going to get a full-time teaching job anytime soon. The number of graduates with advanced degrees far outweighs the number of full-time teaching positions currently open at colleges and universities in the U.S. Competition is tough for even the most qualified of applicants.

So, if you’re an adjunct with a passion for teaching — what do you do? You could spend your time commiserating with your fellow teachers about the lack of full-time teaching jobs, or waste your days sharing posts on social media as a way to find humor in a dour situation. But there’s a better way for adjunct professors to get ahead in their careers: it starts with seeing yourself as an entrepreneur, not an adjunct.

Teaching Is A Job That You CAN Get Paid Well For

The term adjunct entrepreneur is fairly new, but it actually describes what successful and highly-paid instructors who only teach part-time have been doing for a long time. Many smart professors have figured out that when you poke your head out of the academic bubble and start to seeing teaching as the job it really is — just like any position in any field — opportunities for growth, increased income and career satisfaction abound.

Adjuncts who understand the valuable skills and experience they bring to the table in the business world fare far better than those who focus solely on acquiring another teaching position. Former associate professor Jonathan Herzog, who got his Ph.D at MIT, explains the pathway of a successful adjunct entrepreneur perfectly:

“[My] academic job allowed me to consult, and that’s where the real money is to be found,” Herzog writes on this blog. “Not only was consulting a valuable source of real-world experience and interesting-and-important problems, but it was extremely lucrative. I quoted a rate of $120/hour to nonprofits and government agencies and $240/hour to commercial clients– and I got it. Being able to say ‘I’m a professor’ was a huge credential that allowed me to charge these rates.”

Most Professors Have Untapped Skills And Potential

Adjuncts and associate professors are starting to catch on to the idea of teaching as a business. When you really think about it, teachers and entrepreneurs already have many of the same skill sets. For every course, teachers must write a detailed syllabus, much like an entrepreneur creates a business plan. To acquire funding for research, professors must apply for grants, which is similar to an entrepreneur “pitching” their idea to investors. Professors have to encourage their students to work hard in their studies, whereas entrepreneurs must motivate their employees to succeed and do their best work.

The more a professor entertains the idea of seeing themselves as an adjunct entrepreneur, the move from teaching to consulting, from doing academic research to conducting research and development (R&D) for a company, from inspiring students to pushing businesses to consider more than their bottom line, becomes a much easier task.

An adjunct professor doesn’t have to be a poorly-paid, desperate career academic searching hopelessly for a full-time teaching position. Instead, adjuncts can leverage their knowledge and teaching abilities to become professors and entrepreneurs  — or professors and consultants —  to utilize all the tools available to them in academia and the business world. You don’t have to give up teaching just to earn a living wage. You’re not just an adjunct professor: you’re a free agent. It’s time to start acting like one.

Making The Move From Adjunct Professor To Free Agent

In any industry, free agents are in high demand. Everyone wants to work with an experienced, talented expert who’s not only great at what they do, but can also teach others how to do the same thing — and do it exceptionally well. Professors are experts in their field of study. They have a body of knowledge that many in the business world simply don’t have, or haven’t had the time to acquire because they’re too busy with their own jobs. This puts professors at a major advantage, which they can leverage in a variety of ways if they just understand how valuable they really are.

It all starts with a shift in mindset. Adjunct professors who begin seeing themselves as free agents are now in a position to explore all the opportunities available to them beyond academia — and finally get paid what they should be making.

A Guide For The New Adjunct Entrepreneur

As a resource that seeks to bridge the gap between higher ed and the corporate world, Inside Scholar aims to connect professors with the tools and resources they need to find opportunities in and outside of academia. Inside Scholar also helps companies, businesses, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and colleges and universities find the best professors to hire as teachers, researchers, or consultants.

Once you change your mindset from broke adjunct professor to successful adjunct entrepreneur, you’re already ahead of the game. Inside Scholar will provide you with the information and insights you need to become either an Entrepreneurial Educator, or an Educated Entrepreneur. The choice is yours. Keep reading Inside Scholar, we’ll show you exactly how to do it.

  • Todd Wallis
  • Dustin Kelley

Todd Wallis

An entrepreneur & veteran adjunct professor of 10 years, Todd holds multiple degrees including a Master’s in Information Systems from the University of San Francisco, a Master’s in Telecommunications Management from Golden Gate University, an MBA from the University of Phoenix, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona.

Dustin Kelley

Dustin holds a Ph.D. in Global Organizational Leadership with a concentration in Entrepreneurial Leadership from Regent University, an MBA from Regis University, and a bachelor’s degree with focus on Marketing and Economics from Colorado State University. Dustin is also a researcher within the field of disruptive innovations.