How To Get An Adjunct Position At A Community College

Well-heeled asked me to post some tips and information on teaching at a Community College. I’ve taught at 4 different Colleges or Universities as an adjunct faculty. Three in southern California and one here in the midwest. So here is the general information that I have for you. I’m not an expert by any means, this is just information I’ve picked up along the way.

1) What exactly is an adjunct?

An adjunct faculty member is someone who is hired under contract by the College to teach a specific class. You don’t get benefits, retirement or anything else like you would from a normal full time job – however, it is quite possible that as an adjunct you could end up teaching “full time” – i.e. 12-15 units a semester if you wanted.

Each college is different and for some they may offer Adjunct benefits who teach a certain number of classes or have adjuncted for a certain period of time the option to buy into benefits, however, since I have only taught adjunct as a side-gig I don’t have any experience with these types of plans.

Since Community Colleges have fairly small budgets they only work because of Adjunct faculty. Generally there may be only 1 permanent faculty member per major – or sometimes only 1 permanent faculty member per discipline (ie science and math – or for all of English and Foreign languages). So community colleges NEED adjunct faculty in order to be able to offer classes to their students. Many people will become “permanent” adjunct, in that every semester they teach the same class at the same time and have been doing so for many, many years.

2) How much does an adjunct position pay?

Well, the short answer is “it depends”. =)

The long answer is that it depends on your education and how long you’ve worked at that particular school – there are typically pay scales for Masters vs PhD level instructors – also there are pay-scales based on how many classes you’ve taught as an adjunct.

I’ve been paid between $33-40/hour for each hour I’ve been in class OR I’ve been paid $1000-1200 per credit hour of class I teach. So for a 3 unit class you could expect to make between $2,200-$3,500 per semester. The lower end is what I’m getting in the mid-west, the higher end what I got paid in San Diego.

You don’t get paid for prep time – which can be substantial if it is the first time you’ve taught the class. You don’t get paid to grade. You don’t (usually) get paid to hold office hours. You don’t get paid to answer student emails. While these things may be expected of you, you’ll only get paid for the time you’re physically in class. So while you may be getting $35/hour – you may spend 2 hours outside of class getting done everything you need for 1 hour of class – so in the end you may only be “earning” $10-15/hour for each hour you spend on the class.

3. How do I get an adjunct position?

This is probably the hardest question to answer. The main thing to remember is that if you’re at a Community College they may not have a full-time faculty member in the area that you’re looking to teach. For instance, at the college I’m at now there is one full time faculty member who is in charge of Chemistry, Physics, Earth Science, and Mathematics. He is listed as a chemist, so if you’re looking to teach an Algebra class it may not be obvious on the College’s website that he is the person to contact. If it is obvious who the full-time faculty member in the department is (there is likely only one), then you should email them about a position.

If it isn’t obvious who to contact here are some hints:

  1. Find the current schedule of classes for the College. Look at the classes that are being taught and who the instructors are. Do a Google search for the faculty members that are listed. I was able to exclude a lot of the faculty members listed by seeing that they had full time positions somewhere. I was able to identify the full time faculty member this way because I saw that he was the only one who had other responsibilities at the college – like being on advisory boards and things of that nature.
  2. If you still can’t figure it out, email one of the instructors who is teaching a class similar to what you want to be teaching and ask them who you should contact. Most likely they were hired by whomever is going to hire you.
  3. If those two routes fail you can email Human Resources at the college. They will definitely know who you should contact. Or you could just skip 1 and 2 and just do this. 😉

Other hints:

  • Make sure that people know you are looking for a position. I was able to get my first adjunct position because I let someone that I work with know I wanted to teach an adjunct class before I finished my Ph.D. They previously had taught as an adjunct and when he got an email from one of the local colleges looking for an adjunct, he forwarded it to me because he knew I was looking.
  • Email the chair at the right time. This is critically important. The schedule for the next semester is usually put together 8-10 weeks before-hand. You should let the chair know that you are looking for a position when they are putting together the schedule so they can include you. For instance, NOW is the perfect time to email about a position for Spring. This may seem obvious, but most people look for positions at the beginning of semesters or the end, when the schedule is already full and the chair won’t be worrying about next semester for a good month and a half. By that point your email will be forgotten about.
  • Include a CV – EVERY time you email. I had to email the chair of the college I’m working out over the course of 3 different semesters before I finally got a position. Each time I emailed him I included my CV (a detailed resume) – so that he didn’t forget who I was.
  • Always be polite. Don’t demand a teaching position. My emails usually go something like this: “Dear XXX, My name is XXX XXXXX. I currently work full time as a post-doctoral scientist at XXXXX XXXXX. I’m interested in doing some part time adjunct teaching at XXXX Community College and was hoping that you would consider me for a position. I have a (insert your highest degree here) in XXXXX from XXX University. I’ve taught previously at XXXX and XXX teaching This Class and That Class. I really enjoyed teaching these classes and hope that there would be a class that would be available for me to teach next semester. I’ve attached my CV for your perusal and if necessary I can provide you with references who would be able to comment on my teaching skills. I look forward to hearing from you soon, SS4BC” (Obviously I fill in the details) – If I’m not sure they are the correct person I will also add an intro paragraph explaining that I couldn’t fine who to email, so I hope they are who I am seeking, but if not if they will direct me towards the correct person.

Any other questions that I forgot to mention?


9 Responses to How To Get An Adjunct Position At A Community College

  1. WellHeeled says:

    This is fantastic. Thanks!

  2. Indeed I’m not sure we have adjucts here but I this is just pretty good advice for getting any job in a field your interested in.

  3. findingserenity2010 says:

    As somebody who relies on adjunct teaching for my main source of income while I finish my degree, I have to say this is the the best breakdown of the facts I’ve seen on a blog. It’s somewhat sobering when you look at how poorly paid teachers are, too. But, yes, there is a HUGE demand for good teachers who are willing to work part-time on the community college level right now, and it’s a worthwhile endeavor for those who can!

    I’ll link this on my blog to help my readers understand what I do and how it all works 🙂

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  5. Sensation says:

    This was a great read and wonderful advice! Thanks! Definetly wonderful breakdown.

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  8. disenchanted says:

    As a current adjunct in 2013, I wish I was getting anything close to 1000/credit hour. The other thing that you must realize as an adjunct is you may not get office space and you will likely get little to no orientation to college policies. Also the administration is often more concerned about getting students in the door than actually giving them a quality education, this is given that they even competent enough to be that crooked. This result in nonsensical course schedules and non-existant pre-requisites in courses that clearly need them. In short be prepared to get close to zero support unless kick, bite, and scream for it. Adjunct teaching is only worthwhile if you need to fill time while looking for something else.

  9. Chris M says:

    I just wanted to thank you for posting this. I came across your article last year, followed your steps and was hired as an adjunct. In fact, the chair responded to my email the same day. We set up an interview and from there, I was hired. Saw this post again and I had to let you know how you helped me. Thanks!

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