The Colorado Community College System (CCCS) is our state’s most extensive higher education system. CCCS served roughly 113,000 students through 13 colleges in 2021, including 41% of all undergraduate Students of Color in higher education in Colorado. CCCS is also one of the last institutions students can rely on for a relatively affordable education: Colorado residents can expect to pay $4,600 in tuition annually as full-time students at a CCCS school.

I am proud to be an adjunct professor for CCCS because I see its incredible opportunities to Colorado students every day. Unfortunately, I also have firsthand experience with the increasingly untenable working conditions experienced by the educators on whom CCCS depends to function.

Adjuncts serve as the backbone of the CCCS system. In the CCCS system, considering all 13 community colleges, adjuncts generate 53% of credit hours, and colleges in the metro area generate as many as 70% of credit hours. We save the institution money, but we don’t see the benefit of those savings. Adjuncts teach the lion’s share of classes, but most must teach at several different institutions to survive financially. 

We carry a great responsibility and have no viable position, no voice, shared governance, or security in the system. Adjuncts are given little to no real regard as we are often given classes at the last minute (if we get courses at all) for the least desirable times. Most are developmental education courses, even though we are as qualified as the full-time faculty to teach the higher-level classes.  

Adjuncts teach, support, and connect with our students. The hours it takes to help students succeed, to give valuable feedback,  to prepare for class, and to complete administrative work surpasses any part-time standards. 1800 hours over 36 weeks calculates to 13 dollars an hour for me and most adjuncts. 

Adjuncts are forced to live the life of academic gypsies, moving from campus to campus to make a livable wage because the current pay rate is a poverty wage. And of course, we are not offered any benefits. I know colleagues who teach at three different institutions with 8-10 classes per semester to pay their bills, to survive. I ask you: What other choice do they have in a profession that does not value their skills? Leave the profession? That happens often. And it is the institution that loses out, as they will have to invest in training and rehiring of replacements. It is common sense that any individual who is unhappy, underpaid, underappreciated, and over-worked to the point of exhaustion is someone who cannot perform at an optimal level. And who ultimately suffers from these conditions? Students. Adjuncts lack office space instructional support and often must teach while sick. Meeting students for office hours is frequently impossible when adjuncts have over 100 students and commute from campus to campus. 

It is time for our state leaders and Governor to step in. We are burning out, and students and institutions are experiencing a revolving door of adjunct faculty. This is disruptive to the higher education system. Colorado needs to allow public sector workers, particularly adjunct professors, to organize. We need the power to organize without hiding. We need to have a voice at the table to fight for better wages so that we do not have to work at three different institutions or jobs, thus allowing adjuncts to serve their students equitably. If the CCCS system truly puts their students first, they cannot put adjuncts last. The students, the underserved next generation of Americans who enroll in the CCCS system, will ultimately benefit. 

JoAnn McCarthy is an adjunct professor at Community College of Denver and a member of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).