Profs Seek Audit of Community Colleges, Citing Low Pay, Soaring Revenue

Update below: A national organization of higher-ed faculty is pressing Colorado lawmakers to investigate hiring and salary practices in the state's community college system, claiming that the system is teeming with cash — and highly compensated administrators — while the bulk of the courses are taught by part-time professors who are paid "poverty-level wages." 

The letter to the Colorado General Assembly's Legislative Audit Committee from Caprice Lawless, a vice-president on the American Association of University Professors' national board, is part of an ongoing AAUP campaign to focus attention on the pay inequities faced by adjunct faculty — including Lawless, a part-timer at Front Range Community College. More than 4,600 adjuncts teach 80 percent of the courses offered at Colorado's thirteen community colleges at an average of $1,900 per semester course, less than a third of what full-time faculty are paid per class.

The part-timers' course load is typically kept to under thirty hours a week in order to skirt federal requirements for health-care coverage. And if they complain, they can expect to see their course loads cut further; the disgruntled can always be replaced from a surplus pool of educated, aspiring adjuncts. In 2015, a task force on adjunct pay recommended a 28 percent pay increase. Officials balked, saying the "current political environment" made such a hike unfeasible.

But in her letter to the audit committee, Lawless challenges many of the claims used to justify the current arrangement. The Colorado Community College System, she writes, "has approximately 500 fewer full-time faculty than it did in 2010, and has hired more than 1,000 more adjunct professors. Throughout all this time, it has increased tuition and has spent hundreds of millions on building projects, all the while promulgating the misinformation that enrollment is down."

In fact, total CCCS enrollment has increased significantly in recent years, from 107,000 in 2008 to 127,000 in 2015. The system has shown a strong balance sheet over the past decade and has expanded to a total of 39 campuses across the state. Presidents of the community colleges draw down annual salaries ranging from $135,000 (Trinidad State Junior College) to $209,000 (Pikes Peak Community College); the system also has four dozen vice-presidents, whose salaries range from $72,000 to $181,000 a year. Nancy McCallin, the president for the entire system, receives a salary of $375,000 a year, far more than Governor John Hickenlooper or Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nancy Rice. 

Lawless notes that local activists have tried twice in recent years to introduce legislation that would mandate meaningful pay increases for adjunct faculty: "Both bills were defeated, largely because CCCS administration used more than $132K from the CCCS budget to pay lobbyists to make sure the bills were defeated. As  a result, morale within the faculty is at an all-time low, and we are losing highly qualified and devoted faculty who can hang on no longer."

A CCCS spokesman could not be reached for comment on the letter. 

Update 1:27 p.m.:  Angie Binder, public information officer for CCCS, responded to our post: "We have seen the letter and will be reviewing the contents to determine the accuracy of those statements." 
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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast