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Some trustees worry that new pay plan for adjuncts could lead to teaching shortages

After spending a considerable portion of their nearly three-hour meeting wrestling with a proposed shift in Alamance Community College’s pay plan for adjunct instructors, ACC’s trustees voted unanimously, 9-0, during their latest meeting to adjust hourly pay rates to line up with statewide minimum hourly rates, plus 2 percent, for those positions.

ACC’s trustees generally agreed last week that the additional 2 percent is needed to better compete with other nearby community colleges, though several worried that an unintended reduction in pay for some adjuncts – who previously had been paid for office hours and class preparation time – could prompt some to leave ACC in search of better-paying jobs.

ACC previously paid its adjunct (i.e., part-time and/or temporary) instructors based on “a complex, individualized model,” which for nearly a decade had produced wide discrepancies in compensation, ACC’s director of human resources Valerie Fearrington told the trustees.

ACC typically employs between 146 and 153 adjuncts, depending on the semester, said Dr. Lisa Johnson, the college’s vice president of instruction. “There are slightly more adjuncts than full-time faculty,” she told the trustees. “There are slightly more in sheer number, but not as a percentage of classes at ACC.”

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The old hourly pay rates had ranged between $21.79 and $49.63 per hour, based on factors such as the highest degree attained, years of experience, and the type of course taught. ACC’s adjuncts also had been paid by the hour for the total number of contact hours (i.e., the actual time that a student is in a class or lab), as well as for their office hours and class preparation time.

Combined with the additional 2 percent differential that ACC will pay its adjuncts, the new hourly pay rates will range between $30.26 (for instructors with a high school diploma and/or professional certification) and $36.48 for adjunct instructors who have a doctoral degree. The newly-adopted pay ranges for ACC’s adjuncts eliminates the additional hourly wages they had received for office hours and class prep time.

Fearrington said that the time-consuming, individualized method of calculating the hourly pay rates for each adjunct instructor had produced inconsistencies in pay that ultimately meant ACC paid more for adjunct instructors than some other N.C. community colleges.

By comparison, the minimum hourly rates for adjuncts, set by the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) office, are based strictly on the highest degree attained and actual instructional time per class, with no additional pay for office hours or class prep time, Fearrington said.

Fearrington described the NCCCS pay plan as less labor-intensive and more consistent among the N.C. community colleges that use it to determine pay for adjunct instructors.

Johnson elaborated, “Further complicating it is that they [the adjuncts] never knew what they were going to make, anyway.” She explained that, previously, some adjuncts were paid for office hours and prep time, while others were not. Under the old pay plan, some instructors might only teach a “one or two contact hour” class but actually got paid for 16 hours. “It really is a complex situation,” Johnson emphasized.

ACC attempted to survey all 58 N.C. Community Colleges earlier this year and heard back from 52, all of which reported using the state’s hourly minimum pay rates for adjunct instructors.

Fayetteville Technical Community College pays its adjuncts between $37.50 and $47.53 per hour; and Wake Tech pays adjuncts between $37.50 and $43.50 per hour, well above the NCCCS minimum hourly ranges. Fearrington also pointed out that those two community colleges receive state funding allotments that are 10 to 15 percent higher than what ACC typically receives from the state.

Fearrington told the trustees that, while the change they subsequently adopted represents, overall, the first increase in nine years in hourly pay rates for adjuncts, the move will save ACC approximately $193,440 per year.

ACC interim president Dr. Larry Keen, who retired as president of Fayetteville Tech earlier this year, said that the NCCCS minimum hourly ranges were implemented in 2005-06 under then-system president Martin Lancaster, who Keen said had mandated all community colleges to increase hourly pay for adjuncts to the system minimums.

“Fayetteville Tech couldn’t compete, so when they [adjuncts] were jumping to the colleges next door, we had to make modifications, and we did it,” Keen recalled. “When I tried to read and understand what had been used for decades here, it was hard…Overall, you’ll have more predictability.”

ACC trustee Bill Gomory objected to that concept, saying, “Everybody’s painted with the same brush; I think it’s a terrible policy…I would want reported back what impact this has on our adjunct faculty.”

“There’s been a lot of study done about this,” Keen told the trustees. “This is not just a knee jerk…This is codified in law, by the way, these minimums. All [we’re] trying to do is get more consistency across the process. If we do have people exodus en masse, we’re going to have to figure that out.”

Dr. Connie Wolfe, who is ACC’s executive vice president, told the trustees that the adjunct instructors had been informed of the potential change in the pay plan earlier this year. “We have not seen a great exodus, and we have not seen any issues with staffing classes as a result,” she said.

ACC trustee Mark Gordon opined that, given ACC’s proximity to the Triangle region, “We need to have more than 2 percent,” particularly in highly-competitive areas of instruction such as cybersecurity. “In my opinion, we need to be really thoughtful about how we move this forward,” he added.

ACC trustee and retired state senator Tony Foriest urged his fellow trustees, “We can’t get so deep in the weeds that we’re picking out things that we would like to change.”

“This gives us a concrete plan so you don’t get challenged in the future because of the subjective nature [of pay rates that] we’ve been dealing with in the past,” said trustee Dr. Roslyn Crisp, who serves as chairman of the board’s personnel committee, which had recommended adopting the NCCCS minimum hourly rates, plus 2 percent.

Trustee chairman Blake Williams confirmed for his board colleagues that the new hourly pay ranges for adjunct instructors will take effect for the current academic year, which began last Monday. The vote to adopt the NCCCS minimum hourly rates, plus 2 percent, for adjunct instructors was 9-0, with trustees Jim Butler, Julie Emmons, and Sylvia Muñoz absent from the meeting.

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