The pay is low and the benefits are usually zero. Some work three jobs, and at least one, with a master's degree from Middlebury, ended up homeless.

It's a hard life for adjunct professors.

If you don't equate professors with poverty, consider that adjuncts are paid $2,700 per three-credit course, according to the American Association of University Professors. That comes to just $16,200 a year for a full course load.

Adjuncts now teach the majority of college courses, according to the American Association of University Professors. That's a switch from two decades ago, and a fact that might surprise parents and students writing out big tuition checks.

These instructors often take on second jobs and do summer work. But even teaching eight courses a year — far more than most tenured professors teach — they will only bring in about $21,000 a year. According to a study by Adjunct Action and SEIU in Boston, an adjunct would have to teach between 17 and 24 classes a year — an impossible task — to afford a home and utilities in Boston.

A new bill might give these instructors — often highly educated and thrown into the now-crowded academic job market — a big break. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois introduced a bill last Thursday that would wipe out student loans for struggling non-tenured professors.

More than half of the faculty at public colleges in Illinois work on a part-time basis, according to Durbin, and many are not eligible for federal student loan forgiveness because they aren't considered full-time employees.

"As their budgets have tightened, colleges and universities have become increasingly reliant upon part-time adjunct faculty who face low pay, few if any benefits, and minimal job security," Durbin said in a statement.

"The vast majority of these educators hold advanced degrees, and as a result, bear the heavy burden of student loan debt. It is only right that we expand their access to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, a benefit already available to many of their full-time colleagues."

Durbin's proposal would open up the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to adjuncts, a program open to borrowers who make 120 payments, or 10 years of on-time loan checks, while working for governments or nonprofits, like a university. After that, they could have some or all of their federal student debt wiped out.

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Adjuncts are hailing the change as potentially life changing. Marga Ryersbach, an adjunct who teaches in New York, said in a statement released by Adjunct Action, "As a part-time, temporary worker with a crushing amount of school debt, I know how important student debt reform is for ensuring education retains the promise of social mobility for both me and my fellow adjuncts and the students we teach.

"We [would] have access to a program that helps correct the imbalances wrought by huge amounts of education debt."

Email: laneanderson@deseretnews.com