A bill that would raise pay and provide benefits for adjunct professors in Colorado’s community colleges failed in the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday, with nine voting against and four voting in favor.
Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, who testified on the bill’s behalf, said he was disappointed in the outcome. He has been an advocate of Colorado’s community college adjuncts for years, describing their situation as “Disparities that are too great to ignore.”
Currently, adjunct teachers at Colorado’s community colleges earn an average of $15,500 per year, and do not qualify for benefits, like healthcare. An adjunct professor teaches college courses, but their hours are limited. Some rely solely on their teaching load for income, while others are professionals in other fields and teach part-time. Adjuncts teach just over 70 percent of classes at Colorado community colleges.
Main opposition to the bill came from skepticism regarding where funds allocated to the pay increase would originate. Rep. Fischer sited an audit that claimed a rearranging of funds would be needed to raise pay. Community colleges in Colorado currently employ 8,600 people, 4,012 are adjunct faculty, and 2,860 are not teachers, but administrators and other various positions. Rep. Fischer argued that colleges have been growing other services without need and with a larger than the necessary operating margin. They would have to scale back dispensable services for college students, and provide more to adjuncts doing the “lion share of teaching”.
Opponents claimed that passing this bill would require a 24 percent increase in tuition for community college students. Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Jefferson County, argued that this could be one of the single most damaging bills passed this year. “This amendment is a slap in the face to the community college system,” Rep. Gerou said. Rep. Bob Gardner, R-El Paso and Fremont Counties, added that, “You cannot escape the market...Community colleges do this because they can.”
Since many students who attend community colleges have low incomes, the idea of such a large increase in tuition would make college even less affordable than it already is.
Rep. Fischer lamented that the lobbyists polluted the argument, and mislead the committee regarding the tuition increase. “Students succeed on the backs of instructors who live in poverty,” Rep. Fischer noted. He also acknowledged that the Colorado Community College System is financially healthy, with a reserve of $250 million and an operating surplus of $96 million.
Caprice Lawless, an adjunct faculty member at Front Range Community College and co-founder of Colorado Adjuncts, was disheartened by not only the outcome of the hearing, but of the tone. “It’s hard to watch people on the panel laugh at stories of poverty, of teachers visiting food banks, and not being able to afford a flu shot.” She was referring to Rep. Gerou laughing during testimony regarding the plight of adjuncts.
The bill can not be brought back up in the current legislative session, though the adjuncts in attendance remained hopeful. “We’re disappointed, of course, but we’re determined to rectify the injustice,” Lawless stated.