Free College: Labor and Who is going to Teach?

Matt Reed, a writer at Insider Higher Ed and a community college Dean, wrote a blog post on “Free Community College,” asking whether it’s worth going free if that means hiring LOTS more adjuncts.

If free college required a dramatically higher adjunct percentage, should we do it?
Yes, that’s a loaded question. It assumes that the meanings of both “free” and “dramatically higher” are transparent. For the sake of argument, let’s say that “free” means “no tuition or fees,” and “dramatically higher” means half again as high as now. (So a college with 50% of its sections taught by adjuncts would move to 75%.) Assume general cuts to administration, just so we don’t get lost in pretending that it would be enough to solve the problem in itself.

I’ve been disappointed that the conversation around higher education in this presidential election has not faced the fundamental labor issue here. Bernie Sanders’ plan for free college included a line that 70% or of all public university faculty would be tenure-track, but I’ve been told on background that they never figured out what that would mean from a budget perspective. At least Sanders and/or his staff put the line in his proposal. I haven’t heard anyone else discussing it.

What good is free college if the education is provided by contingent and impoverished faculty? 

My mantra remains: low cost / high quality – we’ve got to link these conversations.

My prediction: We’re going to get at-best huge swaths of job-training colleges that adequately prepare most Americans for the jobs of yesterday and today. Meanwhile, elites will keep getting liberal arts and science degrees. And it’ll be better than students going into vast debts for those jobs, but it will solidify, rather than erode, class barriers.

Because right now, the teachers aren’t even in the conversation.

I wrote about it here:

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