Why I Paid Myself $72,000 to Teach College

Unlike most adjunct professors who face economic hardships, I did exactly this (paid myself) for six years. I had been a technical writer for 30 years and along the way some gigs paid well. I saved a lot, invested, and managed to remain debt-free. My last position was eliminated in 2006 when I was 54. I could no longer deal with the corporate culture. Plus I knew I would face age discrimination. Then I thought: the college classroom. It's why I went to graduate school back in the 70s. I knew I couldn't live on what they paid. I had enough investments (stocks and bonds, etc.) to generate $1,000 a month to supplement the adjunct wages. At six years, that comes to $72,000. Pay yourself to work: a libertarian paradise (or nightmare). I didn't save money, but I didn't lose any either.

How can it help older adjuncts? It can't. Can young adjuncts try something similar? Maybe. Technical writing is one idea. Staff positions have dwindled. Working as a contractor can yield good hourly wages plus the flexible hours, working from home.

This provides the main income source. If the college classroom is that important, do a course or two at night, or off hours. Online courses obviously save a commute. Keep your mind in the game. Yes, adjuncts who choose this path will put in a lot of hours every week. Social life may be impacted. But the question is how bad do you want it. Yes, this is compromise. But it is also not giving up.

The good money I made was in the 80s and 90s. One company provided a matching contribution to a 401k. From just that alone I was able to make $100,000 out of nothing. Wages across most labor markets have been stagnant for decades. It will be really be difficult to save anything of significance.

I could make the semi-outrageous (?) claim that the college owes me $72,000 in back pay. Robbed overtime and unfair wages are one thing; paying yourself so you can afford to accept a job is quite another. No one forced me but my alternatives might have been working in Wal-Mart and then I would have had to do the same thing. But I think education serves society better than a poorly-paying retail job. I had the skills and the motivation. Why not?

Choosing as I did actually cost me more than $72,000. I took early retirement in January 2015 at age 62. I would have waited for full retirement at age 66, but I needed the money. If the college paid me what I was worth or at least a living wage, I would have waited. The difference between early and full retirement was about $1,000 a month. So, they actually cost me an additional $48,000 for a grand total of $120,000.

I'm considering going back to teach one course this summer or fall (to get out of the house one or two mornings a week). This time I will not need to pay myself to teach. I could say I have been one of the lucky ones, but it's not all luck. Perseverance, planning, and passion go a long way.