Though it’s in the interest of Maine to make college as affordable as possible, I think Mainers need to know some of the costs of free community college tuition; in sum, why is this feasible economically:

Spring Point Residence Hall at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland. Gov. Mills “could easily have provided 50% free (community college) tuition to all Mainers and granted us equal pay for equal work for less than $40 million,” Dennis Camire writes. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

• Adjunct faculty with 10, 15 or 20 years of employment with the community college don’t earn more per course than recently hired adjunct faculty teaching for the first time. Regardless of having a doctorate, publications in their field and books, everyone earns the same, non-living wage salary per class: $2,850; $11,700 per semester if teaching a full, four-course load. Imagine being loyal to your employer for decades and having a pay rate exactly like someone just out of college! Imagine, after decades of labor, still not earning a living wage!

• Because of increased enrollment, some class sizes have been increased by two to five students; however, the pay rate for the adjunct instructor remains the same. What this means is that, with increased grading, email, conferencing, etc., the instructor now has to put in anywhere from two to five extra hours per week. Again, imagine arriving to work on Monday and being told that, for the next four months, you’ll be working two to five extra hours per week without being compensated!

• Despite how adjunct faculty, on average, are as educated, qualified and experienced as full-time instructors, we earn only about 50% of what full-timers earn to teach the same classes. We do the same amount of preparation, instruction and grading for the same courses. Our evaluations, too, on average, are as strong as those of full-time faculty. Personally, I received perfect scores in every category for an evaluation of one of my writing classes; however, this exceptional performance didn’t translate into a higher wage or my securing a full-time teaching position. Indeed, no one took notice of this evaluation, and my peers will know of it only if they read this column.

In sum, the biggest reason why Maine can grant free tuition to recent Maine high school graduates is that the Maine Community College System refuses, thus far, to adopt an equal pay for equal work policy. Imagine how this unethical compensation system would play out in the private sector. Imagine how you’d feel if, instead of earning $60,000 per year, like someone else in your workplace with the same job description and qualifications that you have, you earned only half that salary!

• This last point leads to the final consequence of free tuition: It makes Maine students the recipients of a social-economic justice policy (free tuition) that is reliant on the social-economic injustice of a compensation system for adjunct faculty. In short, the gains students make are contingent upon the exploitation of a labor force that teaches from 50% to 70% of the classes in the Community College System.

In closing, what’s so unfortunate about this situation is that, when the governor found $40 million in the supplemental budget to provide free community college tuition to certain Maine residents, there was concern in the State House over the giving away of the services offered by those earning a non-living wage. Quite a few lawmakers and citizens thought that, before giving away the services of adjunct faculty, we should ensure they are earning a living and dignified wage.

Indeed, what’s tragic is that the governor could easily have provided 50% free tuition to all Mainers and granted us equal pay for equal work for less than $40 million. Additionally, in doing so the community college system could have marketed itself as “the only living wage community college system in America that, to boot, offers 50% free tuition even though it, currently, still offers the cheapest tuition in New England.” Imagine such a win-win vision being an economically feasible option. Imagine how doing the right thing could work out for all parties involved!

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