Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Do colleges exploit their professors?

(MoneyWatch) While teenagers and parents who visit college campuses understandably ask many of the same questions, there is one that schools never get asked: How well are you treating your professors? 
It's an excellent question because in fact many college teacher are treated shabbily. Some make such paltry salaries that they qualify for food stamps. The Des Moines Register recently examined pay of state employees and discovered thatadjunct professors represented two of the five lowest paid jobs in Iowa. The other lowest-paid occupations were laborers, parking lot attendants and food workers.
Unlike full-time staff professors, many adjunct professors are part-timers and typically do not enjoy job security or workplace benefits. Their job situation is starkly different than tenured professors, who enjoy lifetime job security, health care, pensions and often light teaching loads with plenty of time for research.  
The number of adjunct professors in the U.S. has been climbing. Today roughly 70 percent of college professors are not "tenure track." Their presence is more common at regional state schools and at mid-tier private universities. (You can learn more about their plight at the website of New Faculty Majority, which aims to improve conditions for these professors.)
Why should students care if a highly educated teacher is working for peanuts? The grim working conditions can impact the quality of education that students receive. For instance, adjuncts often lack offices where they can meet with students, and they may be difficult to see outside of class because many often also teach at a different campus or school.
Adjuncts also can be tempted to make classes easier because poor student evaluations can jeopardize their chances of getting another teaching contract. These vulnerable teachers may also censor themselves in class for fear of saying anything that might offend students. This can limit students' chances of engaging in meaningful discussions. 
Students should look for schools that do a better job of hiring professors who are on the tenure track. You can find the breakdown of tenure-tenure track versus adjunct professors at any institution by using an extremely helpful search tool at the Modern Language Association
© 2012 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Affordable Care Act/Community College

So Close Yet So Far
November 20, 2012 - 3:00am
The Affordable Care Act was designed to get more people access to health insurance. But one community college has decided to prevent some adjuncts from being covered by the law by cutting their hours.
Effective Dec. 31, Community College of Allegheny County will cut course loads and hours for some 200 adjunct faculty members and 200 additional employees to avoid paying $6 million in Affordable Care Act-related fees in January 2014.
College President Alex Johnson announced the plan in an e-mail to faculty and staff members last week. “As you probably know, the Affordable Care Act has redefined full-time employees as those working 30 hours or more per week,” Johnson wrote. “As a result, the college must adjust hours of some temporary part-time employees and adjuncts to comply with the new legislation’s conception of part-time employment.”
The college is capping adjuncts’ work load at 10 credits per semester, formerly 12. Temporary part-time employees will be limited to 25 hours per week (permanent part-time employees, already eligible for coverage under the college’s health care plan, remain unaffected).
For adjunct faculty, the blow is twofold. It quashes hopes of employer-assisted health insurance while cutting income for those who previously taught a larger course load.
Adjunct English professor Clint Benjamin, who has been teaching at the college for six years, pays out-of-pocket for catastrophic health care coverage only and had vague hopes of improved insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Not only is he now ineligible for such help, but the course load reduction will translate to up to $600 less in pay each month.
But Benjamin still will be working full-time. Between the college and nearby Duquesne University, he currently teaches seven courses per semester. He estimated he works up to 70 hours per week, but doesn't qualify for health insurance at either institution.
“There’s frustration and anger and sadness and resentment, you know, but you don’t have a voice,” Benjamin said of adjunct faculty’s reaction to the news. “But it’s going to be a silent type of thing, because we’re the most vulnerable part of campus life. It’s not like we can dial up our [American Federation of Teachers] rep and say, ‘Hey, we’re getting the short end of the stick here.’ ”
Although other college faculty are unionized at Allegheny County, adjunct faculty members are not.
Benjamin said he also worried about the decision’s impact on the college’s mission. If enrollment holds steady or increases, he said, the college will have to hire more adjuncts with smaller course loads but perhaps less of an investment in campus life than those who teach more courses.
Major elements of the Affordable Care Act, including the employer mandate, take effect in a little more than a year. The timing of CCAC’s announcement didn’t surprise Matt Williams, vice president of the New Faculty Majority – a national coalition for adjunct faculty – as employers across industries had been holding out on making major policy changes until after the presidential election (Republican candidate Mitt Romney had campaigned on repealing the act).
Still, Williams said, it comes as a disappointment.
“This so-called Affordable Care Act could have pushed colleges and universities in a couple different directions, but we’d hope they’d be good, responsible actors,” he said. “We’d hoped they’d recognize the need to provide health benefits and a living wage – or at least not a poverty wage – to highly skilled, highly educated workers.”
Johnson was not available for comment Monday. But college spokesman David Hoovler said in an email that the change is necessary, if not ideal.
“Our preference certainly would be to extend health coverage to all of these individuals,” he said. “However, we are simply unable to afford the significant cost at this time.”
College records show funding from Allegheny County was $25.7 million in fiscal year 2012, compared to a proposed $23.2 million in 2013.  The college’s operating budget is $109.5 million this year, of which salaries and benefits make up about 80 percent, Hoovler said. The college employs some 1,200 adjunct instructors, who have taught an average of 56 percent of all credit hours during the past several years. Those adjuncts who work full-time or otherwise qualify for health insurance are not affected by the change.
While the Community College of Allegheny County may be the first institution to preemptively avoid Affordable Care Act-associated costs, discussion as to what colleges and universities now owe their adjunct faculty isn’t unique to its campus.
Earlier this month, the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources announced it was seeking clarification from the Internal Revenue Service on postsecondary institutions’ obligations to their adjunct faculty in light of the new law (which applies to all employers with 50 or more employees). The move was prompted by inquiries from several institutions seeking additional clarification and interpretation of the requirements.
Association President and Chief Executive Andy Brantley said in an e-mail: “As colleges and universities have struggled due to drastically reduced funding from state and other sources, many higher education institutions have had to add adjunct faculty and/or increase the course load of adjunct faculty. This has caused some adjunct appointments to meet or exceed the equivalent of 30 hours per week [on an ongoing basis]. For purposes of the Affordable Care Act, a 30-hour employee will need to be given the opportunity to receive health insurance coverage. We know that course load can vary based on academic departments and disciplines and hope to receive additional guidance from the IRS regarding adjunct appointments and the 30-hour rule.”
Currently, institutional policies on health care coverage vary, according to information from the association.
Williams said the college’s move is the first of its kind he’s heard of, but he didn’t rule out other institutions doing the same. While he wasn’t sure what, if any, legal recourse adjuncts had against such moves, he said he hoped their situation would at least cast light on a long-simmering issue.
“What’s more likely to happen is that this will help to raise awareness of the fact that you’ve got these folks who are educating predominantly our young people,” he said, “but who are so marginalized many of them qualify for food stamps and other forms of public assistance while being denied other examples of a safety net.”

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed 

Does Class Size Matter?

[The IDEA Center Blog] Does Class Size Matter?

Link to The IDEA Center Blog

Posted: 19 Nov 2012 08:08 PM PST
By Steve Benton
During the third and final 2012 presidential debate the topic of class size came up within the context of global competitiveness. Putting aside political views, the question of how class size affects teaching and learning is worth considering. So, I decided to do some quick analyses of IDEA student ratings collected in 490,196 classes from 2002 to 2011 to see whether differences exist by class size on some key items.

Instructors in large (35-49) and very large classes (50+) were more likely to emphasize gaining factual knowledge, whereas those in small (10-14) and medium-sized (15-34) classes put more emphasis on developing communication skills (both oral and written). Instructors in small classes also reported better student preparation, student enthusiasm, and effort than those in large and very large classes. Finally, instructors in small and medium classes required more writing, oral communication, and creative/artistic design.

With respect to students, the smaller the class the higher was students’ achievement and overall impressions of the course. There was a consistent class-size pattern of small > medium > large > very large for student progress on relevant objectives (i.e., those the instructor identified as either essential or important for the course). Smaller classes were especially well suited for developing students’ creative capacities and oral and written communication skills. The same pattern existed for the three overall summary measures of attitudes toward the field of study, excellence of the teacher, and excellence of the course.

Next, I looked at course and student characteristics. A case can be made that students in smaller classes perceive their course as more rigorous. Across all 10 years of data, students in small and medium classes reported a greater amount of reading and non-reading assignments in their classes than those in large and very large classes. Moreover, the pattern of small > medium > large > very large was repeated for ratings of the instructor’s achievement standards and expectations that students take their share of responsibility for learning. In spite of that greater rigor, students in small classes consistently reported a stronger desire to take the course and stronger work habits than those in larger classes.

These results are not surprising. The IDEA Center has known for years that class size makes a difference, which is why course enrollment has long been one of the items used in the adjusted scores. Moreover, recommended actions presented on Page 3 of the Diagnostic report are made based on comparisons between the class’ average rating for a teaching method and other classes of similar size. The effectiveness of a teaching method depends not only on which objective is being emphasized but also on how many students are enrolled in the course.

Therefore, with respect to student ratings of learning, teaching, and the course, class size matters.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Keep Up-to-Date and Respond to Issues...

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