If you meet a college professor, you might assume they have a well-paying job and are financially secure.
With the rising costs of higher education, it makes sense that instructors would be making a decent wage. Unfortunately, in many cases you’d be wrong. Colleges and universities have historically used a tenure system in which faculty are offered tenure-track jobs, appointments with a great salary and benefits that allow them to teach and produce research and ultimately become permanent faculty once they’ve demonstrated their scholarship.
More and more, institutions of higher learning are moving toward hiring adjunct or contingent faculty members. Teaching just one or two classes per semester, these temporary faculty rely on incredibly small stipends and have no job security at all. Some are even homeless.
Michelle Mitchell is an adjunct professor at Florida’s Broward College, and she lives in her van. Adjunct instructors can be paid as little as $2,500 per semester-long class, and they often must teach six or more classes at several different campuses in order to survive.
Mitchell uses the bathrooms on campus to clean herself, and seeks out the cafeteria to heat up microwaveable meals. Adjunct instructors (also called contingent faculty) are just as educated as their tenure-track counterparts, and many have multiple Master’s degrees. Some even have PhDs.
Ellen James-Penney (left) joined Mitchell (right) in talking to Inside Edition about the plight of homelessness among college professors. James-Penny grades papers in the back seat of her car using a headlamp. Both say they love their profession and don’t want to leave it.