The Colorado College campus, photographed on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

By Jason Gonzales, Chalkbeat Colorado

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat. Sign up for their newsletters at

Life as an adjunct instructor means constant uncertainty, explained Alex Wolf-Root.

Adjuncts such as Wolf-Root, a philosophy instructor at the University of Colorado Boulder, are part-time workers who must contend with low pay and little job security. Many hold doctorates and perform research for free in the hopes they will someday land full-time employment at a university, he said.

And they are an outsized share of the nationwide teaching staff.

“The odds are stacked against you,” Wolf-Root said of ever getting a full-time job at a university somewhere. “But I like to teach, I like to help students critically engage.”

As the pandemic forces colleges and universities to slash their budgets, part-time instructors like Wolf-Root, the base of the teaching staff at colleges, are worried about partly or even entirely losing their teaching hours. Without the protections enjoyed by tenured faculty, adjunct instructors could see their positions cut and openings for college-level instructors diminish everywhere.

The situation doesn’t bode well for students.

Cuts to part-time positions could mean fewer course offerings and larger class sizes. If cuts extend to full-time faculty positions, students will feel the impact.

Studies show the rise in the use of adjunct faculty by colleges, among many negative effects, has lowered student GPA and contriibuted to a decline in student persistence from year to year, said Adrianna Kezar, director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California.