AAUP Testimony on Public Service Loan Forgiveness Reform, Part One

Earlier this year, the US Department of Education announced a two-part effort to reform the troubled Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. On October 6, the department announced a series of executive actions to fix known, widespread servicing issues and opened a limited waiver to allow more loan payments to be properly counted. Beyond that, the department has convened a negotiated rulemaking committee on a range of student lending topics. New regulations have been proposed to recognize the difficulties faced by contingent faculty in their pursuit of PSLF; while they are a huge improvement from the current program, the proposed rules must go further to need the needs of faculty. Former professor and current AAUP staff member David Kociemba offered the following comments to the rulemaking committee during its first week of negotiations.

Hello, my name is David Kociemba. I’m an East Coast Organizer for the American Association of University Professors. I was an adjunct professor for sixteen years at five institutions in the Boston area. I am not alone in leaving the profession; there’s an entire sub-genre of “quit lit” writing devoted to the phenomenon.

For millions of academics like I was, your department and its loan servicers have broken their pledge to recognize those who live a life of public service. Ninety-eight percent of those who have applied have been rejected. While proposals on the table have promise, fundamental changes are needed to address the realities of what ten years of laboring as an adjunct professor looks like. 

It is extremely difficult for adjunct professors to have their work recognized by the existing program—though it is heartening to hear from so many negotiators today that you understand this. University administrators make sure adjunct faculty don’t hit the current eligibility threshold, lest the university give them health insurance. So, career adjunct faculty cobble together work at multiple universities that’s more than full-time work, but just barely thirty hours by some state and federal definitions. 

Earlier today, folks asked for data related to the contingency crisis. Contingent faculty are disproportionately women and racial minorities. Forty-three percent of faculty are part-time and, based on the AAUP's annual survey, are just scraping by on a national average of $3,556 a course. Unfortunately, there isn’t a recent or conclusive study on the average adjunct’s course load, but a 2010 study estimated it was about three classes. Most get no contributions towards health or retirement, and have employment so unpredictable they might not know their own course load a month away from the start of term. Don’t let the tweed fool you: being a college professor is no longer a reliable path to the middle class. I’ve talked to faculty who needed to file for unemployment, who worked weekends and nights at other jobs, or who wanted to find food pantries where they wouldn't run into their students. 

The path out of crushing student loan debt should be less onerous for those whose employment is the most precarious. To echo what others have already said at the negotiating table today: Go beyond the 2.5 work hours proposed for every credit hour, perhaps by adding on required office hours, or by using a more generous conversion rate. Under the current proposal, an adjunct professor would need to teach four 3-credit courses each semester to qualify for PSLFdespite their “full-time” peers getting benefits with one less course a semester. 

So-called part-time professors advise students, write and do research, keep up with developments in their field, design lesson plans, manage emails and course websites, and grade assignments. Please recognize that most courses are taught during the nine-month academic year when calculating eligibility. And please remember faculty like me that are still paying off loans they took out in the 1990s.

Thank you for your time.


Publication Date: 
Thursday, October 7, 2021