College instructors who work part-time or on a contractual basis are often referred to as adjunct faculty, or adjunct professors. Although their responsibilities can be comparable to those of full-time professors, they're often not required to hold a Ph.D., and they're not eligible for tenure.
Adjunct vs. Tenure Track
Because adjunct professors are considered part-time or temporary faculty, their salaries may be considerably lower than those of tenure-track professors. The average annual salary of postsecondary teachers — those who teach in any setting ranging from a vocational school to a four-year university — is $58,830, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The salary range for adjuncts, however, can be considerably higher or lower, depending on the institution, the specialty and the terms of employment. Adjunct professors working as instructors average $45,977, while adjuncts with the title of lecturer earn $52,436.
Why Salaries Fluctuate
By comparison, adjuncts make almost half the salary of full-time tenured professors, whose salary averages $108,749. Earnings fluctuate by discipline, with education and humanities paying less than medicine, engineering, law and business. Salary is also affected by the type of institution — e.g., public or private, vocational or university — as well as by the geographic region.
Median Range of Salaries
The median range of salaries of professors and instructors in postsecondary education falls between $41,600 and $83,960, with the highest 10 percent earning $121,850 or more, and the bottom 10 percent earning $28,870 or less. These figures include full-time and part-time professors, providing a general picture of how much adjuncts make as part-time or temporary employees.
The outlook for adjunct professors is promising, as colleges and universities encounter tighter budgets and may not be able to afford as many tenure-track faculty members. Adjunct professors may be contracted for terms ranging from two to five years to help meet the demands of growing student enrollment. They also will help fill the vacancies left by a large population of retiring tenured faculty who began their careers in the late 1960s and 1970s as the baby boomer generation created an unprecedented student enrollment. For these reasons, adjuncts with master’s degrees may experience better job prospects than candidates with doctorate degrees.