November 4, 2014 | By Kate Bullard |
Adjunct Action Network member Krista Eliot submitted the following testimony to the Department of Education (DOE) on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Read her story and submit your comments on adjunct hours and working conditions to the DOE.
Testimony by Krista Eliot, Adjunct Anthropology Instructor
I am a contingent faulty member–one of the new faculty majority who teach half of the courses offered on college campuses in the United States today. Although I love my job as an adjunct community college instructor in the San Diego area, it is very difficult to make ends meet. Community colleges in San Diego County typically pay their adjunct faculty $3,000-$4,000 per course, which means that I can expect to make approximately $35,000 per year, teaching the equivalent of a full-time course load at three different colleges. My husband is also an adjunct, and neither of us has employment that provides us with health insurance. We pay out-of-pocket for insurance for ourselves and our three-year-old son.
In addition, we have a combined student loan debt of $140,000 – twice our anticipated annual income for the foreseeable future. We are in the process of applying for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, but we do not know if our applications will be approved, due to the difficulty of demonstrating that we are, in fact, employed “full-time” in public service.
Although each of our combined workloads (teaching at three colleges each) equals or exceeds the workload of a full-time faculty member, we aren’t hourly workers, so it is difficult to prove that we actually work far more than the minimum average of 30 hours per week that the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program requires. The matter is further complicated by the fact that most of the colleges where we teach pay us per instructional hour. This means that on paper, it appears that we only work an average of about 15 hours per week (the number of hours we spend in the classroom). But this is only a fraction of the actual work that we do – it does not include the many hours that we spend preparing lessons, evaluating student work, reading and answering emails, and meeting with students.
In light of the issues raised by our story, which illustrates problems faced by thousands of other adjunct faculty with high student loan debt, I ask the Department of Education to do the following:
1. Preserve all existing loan forgiveness programs, and provide a reasonable method for determining full-time employment for adjunct faculty for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
The standard in the proposed Adjunct Faculty Loan Fairness Act, which would extend public service loan forgiveness to all adjunct faculty for whom teaching is their main income, provides the fairest measure for determining eligibility, and this is the standard I recommend that the Department of Education adopt. Most adjunct faculty who make their living by teaching put in far more than the minimum average of 30 hours per week, whether or not these hours are documented on paper.
Another possibility would be to adopt guidelines similar to those issued by the IRS for employers to determine health insurance eligibility under the Affordable Care Act. These guidelines credit adjunct faculty with 1.25 hours of work outside the classroom for every hour in the classroom. However, it needs to be recognized that the IRS number is a very low estimate. Two or more hours of work outside the classroom for every hour in the classroom is a much more realistic estimate of the real work that we do.
2. Extend PAYE to ALL Borrowers Not Previously Eligible.
All people with financial need and eligible loans should be included in the expansion of loan repayment programs like Pay As You Earn. Responsible borrowers who make payments on their loans for twenty years should have the remainder of their debt forgiven.
3. Make sure that all borrowers are informed of their student loan repayment options, including any loan forgiveness programs for which they may be eligible.
It has been my experience that most of my coworkers don’t know about their loan repayment options, or about the possibility that they may be eligible for loan forgiveness. The Department of Education needs to make enrollment accessible and easy.