Durbin, Franken Introduce Bill To Expand Public Service Loan Forgiveness To Adjunct Professors

WASHINGTON – At a time when adjunct faculty members now make up a majority of higher education instructors nationwide, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Al Franken (D-MN) today introduced legislation that would allow part-time faculty at colleges and universities across the country – who are often paid low wages with few benefits – to be eligible to participate in the federal student loan forgiveness program for public servants.  In Illinois, more than half of all faculty at public and non-profit colleges and universities work on a part-time basis, which often makes them ineligible for benefits, including participation in the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. 

“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.  “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 recognize their public service by allowing them to participate in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, a benefit already available to many of their full-time colleagues.”

“Part-time faculty like adjunct professors, who typically receive fewer benefits and lower pay than other educators, often carry a large amount of burdensome student debt,” Franken said. “By expanding a key loan forgiveness program, our bill will help professors in Minnesota and across the country cut down on their debt load.”

Between 1991 and 2015, the number of part-time faculty in the United States more than doubled from 291,000 to over 743,000.  Simultaneously, the percentage of professors holding tenure and tenure-track positions steadily decreased, from 45 percent in 1975 to 29 percent in 2015.

Adjunct faculty members earn an average annual income of between $20,000 and $25,000.  And a  recent UC Berkeley report, “The High Public Cost of Low Wages,” found that a quarter of all part-time college faculty receive public assistance, such as Medicaid or food stamps.  Most adjunct professors are paid per credit hour of instruction, though they may not be compensated for the hours they spend preparing for class or advising students outside the classroom.  Those who seek to support themselves by teaching classes at more than one school end up bearing a full-time workload without standard employee benefits like vacation time, paid sick days, or access to group health care.  According to a 2014 Salon article, many adjuncts earn less than the federal minimum wage.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is designed to encourage graduates to seek careers in public service by offering student loan forgiveness for eligible federal loans after making 120 qualifying payments while working in government service or the non-profit sector.  Graduates with jobs in fields like nursing, military service, and public health qualify for the program.  Although many educators may also qualify – including full-time faculty at public universities and some part-time faculty at community colleges – other faculty members who only work part-time are not eligible for the program. 

Durbin has been a longtime supporter of encouraging young graduates to pursue careers in public service.  In 2003, Durbin introduced the John R. Justice Prosecutors and Defenders Incentive Act, which created a student loan repayment program to help prosecutor and public defender offices retain and attract talented attorneys.  The John R. Justice grant program – which was enacted into law as part of the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act – offers student loan repayment assistance to state and federal public defenders and state prosecutors who agree to remain in their positions for at least three years.

Franken has worked to reduce teacher shortages by expanding federal student loan forgiveness programs for educators in rural communities and Indian Country.  Earlier this year, Franken helped introduce the Rural Educator Support and Training (REST) Act, which would address teacher workforce shortages in rural America by providing scholarships, loan forgiveness, and professional development opportunities to educators who commit to working in rural schools.  Franken also helped introduce the Native Educator Support and Training (NEST) Act to help recruit and retain teachers in Indian Country by providing new scholarships, federal student loan forgiveness, and teacher development courses to prospective and existing educators who are either Native American or who commit to teaching at schools that serve a high population of Native students, including local public schools and Bureau of Indian Education schools.

The legislation is supported by the Service Employees International Union; International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW); American Federation of Teachers; National Education Association; and National Association of Graduate-Professional Students.