Adjunct teacher Lydia Fecteau teaching English composition at Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing Friday, March 4, 2016.

MAYS LANDING — Lydia Fecteau finished reviewing research paper guidelines with her English students at Atlantic Cape Community College, then promised she would be available to help them.

“We have time to work through this,” she said, maneuvering her motorized wheelchair away from the electronic whiteboard. “We’re going to work on getting it right.”

She reviews when and where she will be available for extra help, and that’s where it gets complicated.

“I can stay today after class,” she said. “I think we can meet here, but if not we can go to the adjunct office. Or we’ll find a place to hide out and go over your courses.”

Since 1996, Fecteau, of Mullica Township, has worked as an adjunct professor, starting at Stockton University, then adding Atlantic Cape in 2002. She teaches three courses a year at Stockton and three per semester at Atlantic Cape, the most allowed and the equivalent of a full-time job. She is a Stockton graduate and has a master’s degree in English from Rutgers University.

But in a good year, if she also teaches in the summer, she will earn only about $33,000, with no health benefits. 

In New Jersey, the number of adjuncts at public four-year colleges increased with student enrollment, growing by 73 percent between 2001 and 2011 to almost 7,900. During the same period, full-time faculty increased by just 11 percent to 8,077.

Fecteau, 45, said she has been teaching for so long that she has some privileges at Stockton, such as picking her own syllabus. She and her service dog, Phoenix, are a familiar site on both campuses.

But, she said, it is hard to find full-time positions, and almost impossible to make a living as an adjunct. She has muscular dystrophy and qualifies for Medicaid. Her father, Rich, drives her to work.

Through the efforts of the New Jersey Council of State College Locals, which represents the faculty at public four-year colleges, the pay for adjuncts has improved to $1,200 per credit or $4,900 per course at Stockton. She was paid $1,400 a course when she started.

But, she said, the most serious problem is the difficulty of interacting with students when you have no office or private place to meet.

“If you need to have an intimate conversation, where do you go?” she said. “It’s hard to have privacy. That is the real problem, the difficulty of making real connections with students.”

The plight of adjunct professors and the impact on students has gained national attention as more colleges hire them to save money in tough times.

A 2015 American Association of University Professors report found almost half of all professors, 47 percent, were adjuncts.

Stockton President Harvey Kesselman said flat state funding puts more pressure on state colleges to have more part-time or adjunct faculty. He said they try to maintain a ratio of having 70 percent of classes taught by full-time staff. Stockton has slightly more part-time than full-time faculty, but full-time staff teach more courses.

“It is a delicate balance,” he said. “You need to maintain the quality of the experience for students, or enrollment declines.”

Stockton and Atlantic Cape have added shared office space for adjuncts and offered opportunities to get more involved. Stockton is offering small grants to adjuncts, which Fecteau said will allow them to attend conferences or do research they otherwise could not afford.

At New Jersey’s 19 community colleges between 2001 and 2011, full-time faculty increased by 10 percent while adjunct faculty increased by 58 percent. Enrollment increased 26 percent but has since begun dropping.

Otto Hernandez, vice president of academic affairs at Atlantic Cape, said it is a less stable position, since adjuncts are added or cut each semester to meet enrollment and course demands. But, he said, being an adjunct can lead to a full-time position.

“They get to be well-known, so there is an advantage,” he said.

Pay is much lower at the less expensive community colleges, starting at about $535 per credit, or about $1,600 per course. At Atlantic Cape, adjuncts made up about 75 percent of the 387 faculty members and taught 54 percent of the courses in fall 2015.

Adjuncts tend to fall into two categories. The first is professional or retired people who don’t want to work full time. The second are those who would like to teach full time at the college level but can’t find a job.

Roseanne Weiss, of Galloway Township, has been an adjunct at Atlantic Cape since 1989 and continued after she retired as a mathematician from the Federal Aviation Administration.

“I enjoy the students, and it’s a little extra pocket money,” she said.

Tara Pyfrin, of Hammonton, is a school reading specialist by day and an adjunct at Atlantic Cape by night.

“Teaching at the college level is something I’ve wanted to do since I got my master’s degree,” she said. She’s getting her doctorate degree and would love to teach full-time at a college, but she knows there are few open positions.

Emily Van Duyne, of Ventnor, was one of the lucky ones. After teaching for several years as an adjunct at Stockton, Atlantic Cape and Cumberland County College, she was on the verge of giving up when she was hired for a full-time position at Stockton. She is now an assistant professor of writing.

“As an adjunct I was teaching 24 credits on four campuses,” she said. “It was insanity.”

An outspoken advocate for adjuncts, she says the current system exploits people who spend tens of thousands of dollars on required graduate degrees, then are offered only poorly paid part-time positions.

“We are told to look at higher education as a path to improvement, and yet adjuncts are being exploited by the same system,” she said.

One proposal gaining traction has been to add lecturer or instructor positions, which pay less than tenure-track professorships but are full-time and can have benefits and even tenure.

Fecteau and Van Duyne said those positions are ideal for developmental or general education courses. Instructors don’t need a doctorate degree or have the pressure to do research and publish, and can spend more time working with students.

Fecteau’s students at Atlantic Cape said they can usually tell when a professor is an adjunct because they are not as comfortable teaching and aren’t available to help them except through email or by phone, and sometimes only during very specific hours.

“It depends on the teacher,” said Lee Wallace, of Absecon. “Some are as good as the regular professors.”

Fecteau falls into that category.

“You can see she is dedicated and interested in the students,” said Carly Yoder, of Egg Harbor Township.

Contact: 609-272-7241

Twitter @ACPressDamico

Staff writer, education

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