The Professor Is On Food Stamps

College tuition keeps going up and also the amount of debt students and their families take on. College costs more not because of professors’ salaries: The Chronicle of Higher Education says that, according to the latest data from the 2011 Census, about 360,000 of the 22 million Americans with master’s degrees or higher in 2010 were receiving some kind of public assistance. While that is a small number in comparison to the total 44 million people nationally who received food stamps or some other form of public aid, hearing about Ph.D.’s subsisting on food stamps undermines the routinely-repeated claim that the more educated you are, the more $$$ you’ll make.

The Chronicle notes that those who do not attend graduate school are more likely to receive food stamps. But the percentage of those holding a graduate degree or higher who were receiving food stamps or some form of aid doubled between 2007 and 2010. For those holding a master’s degree, the figure for those receiving aid rose from 101,682 to 293,029. The increase was even more extreme for those with a Ph.D., with the number of those receiving assistance climbing from 9,776 to 33,655.

These figures might even be higher as graduate-degree holders may refrain from reporting that they are on public assistance.

The Chronicle describes three professor’s stories:

43-year-old Melissa Bruninga-Matteau has a Ph.D. in medieval history from the University of California at Irvine. She receives $900/month for teaching two humanities courses at Yavapai College, in Prescott, Arizona; a single mother, she receives food stamps and Medicaid.

Matthew Williams is the cofounder and vice president of the New Faculty Majority, an advocacy organization for non-tenured faculty. He earned $21,000 a year while teaching from 2007-2009 at the University of Akron and also relied on food stamps and Medicaid.

51-year-old Elliott Stegall is a graduate student finishing his dissertation in film studies at Florida State University. He and his wife have two young children; they receive food stamps, Medicaid, and aid from the Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC). Stegall currently teaches two courses each semester in the English department at Northwest Florida State College, in Niceville, Florida, and has also painted houses, worked for a catering company and cleaned condominiums to make ends meet.

As Michael Bérubé, president of the Modern Language Association and an English professor at Penn State University, says, “Everyone thinks a Ph.D. pretty much guarantees you a living wage and, from what I can tell, most commentators think that college professors make $100,000 and more.”

Sure, there are professors who make that much (in case you’re wondering, not the person writing this post). But full-time, tenured and tenure-track professors now comprise only 30 percent of faculty at the U.S.’s colleges and universities. The majority of college faculty — that is, most of the individuals teaching the majority of undergraduate courses — are adjuncts, part-time faculty who are not tenure-track, who do not receive health benefits and who make an average of $600 to $10,000 per course and, therefore, salaries that are far shy of six figures. As many schools have limits on how many courses an adjunct can teach (typically the maximum is two — any more and an adjunct would have so full a teaching load as to qualify for benefits), it is not uncommon for adjuncts to teach a course at this college and another two at that university, and another at another school, to cobble together something of a salary and pay for the gas to drive to all those schools.

(A good friend of ours who received his Ph.D. some years ago has been teaching about eight courses a semester at different schools in a midwestern city for several years.)

So many students today cannot afford college — and, more and more, too many professors cannot afford to teach them.


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Huber F.
Huber F5 years ago


Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Grace Jama-Adan
GIA D5 years ago

P.S. Not only are administrators, department heads, and deans (including those of internal colleges of universities and library, etc.( earning a wide gulf of six figures unlike thelow to middle five figure wages and salaries of teaching and clerical staff, here is another deal. Sex and dirty work, like politics, take too many unqualified and underqualified faculty and staff far in academe at the expense of ethical and hard-working employees. A good read about maximizing formal education is the 1933 first imprint book entitled, The Miseducation of the Negro, by Dr. Carter G. Woodson (historan), which speaks to ALL people.

Grace Jama-Adan
GIA D5 years ago

I have been there. I was paid $1000 per course in 1992 to teach two courses at an established evening college. The regular tenured professor decided the extra pay was too low. I had fifty students in each secton. I did not get the payroll until the semster was over. All adjunct instructors had to turn in midterm and final exams, roll books and grades to get paid. During the day, I aslo taght at public nd parochial schools, earning less than $200 a week there. My ex-husband was completing his professional credentials. I still qualifid for food stamps, had no health insurance and gladly got Medicaid and briefly WIC for my daughter. There was no extended family on either side to help. I was not ashamed to advise my student not to go into academe and expect the best pay. I got excellent student evaluations, but remember a lot of politics and mismanagement goes on in education preK to colleges. As a favor to a friend at a nearby research university, the evening college "dean" hired a recent PhD graduate who did not have a relevant subject degree, giving him my teaching materials to use and conscripted help from other instructors for several years. This nice woman in charge was an ex-public school teacher who hired a lot of adjuncts who taught during the day prek to 12! They had the reputation of assigning chapters to read, then giving tests to college students. No wonder the college made the MSN !0 worst graduation rate list!

Lin Moy
Lin M5 years ago

Some people just don't realize some want to teach, it's a passion with them. It is sad that they can't get decent jobs and do others instead. You'd think as much as it cost to send a child to college someone would make good money but they don't. Anymore you take a job that hires you just to live.

Yulan Lawson
Yulan Lawson5 years ago

Change, it seems maybe one day that will be the new currency, food stamps, because most people won't have the other.

Hartson Doak
Hartson Doak5 years ago

I graduated from college in 1970. The year that President Nixon pulled MOST Federal money from research to help pay for the war. PhD's were taking entry level positions just to have work. I never had a chance at finding work in my chosen field. Nearly 20 years later, I got a job with the USDA as a Wildlife Tech. My job was to kill the birds at the airport. No degree was needed for that. I can't really say that I have used my degree. I have been a shop equipment operator, a fabricator in a heavy metal shop, a Nuclear Quality Control inspector, a nondestructive test tech, an Executive Housekeeper, a Facilities Manager and a Resident manager. Happy that I went to college though. It did open my eyes to wider possibilities.

Kimberlee W.
Kimberlee W5 years ago

While this is a disgusting development in education and employment, what I'd like to ask of the 360,000 is
How many have physical disabilities so harsh that they cannot effectively func)tion on their own?
How many have psychological disabilities that are so severe they cannot hold employment?
How many have credit problems?
How many have had trouble with the law, guilty or innocent? (please don't make the assumption that authorities do not make mistakes; they are rather common these days
How many have their doctorate or masters in subjects that are too specialized?
How many are unable or unwilling to relocate to a destination where their specialty is desired?

What I'm saying is that, taken into perspective, the number 360,000 is quite small. And I have to wonder how many of these people could be like me and thus, unemployable, regardless of the laws.
I don't have a disability per se, but I do have personality quirks that make others around me uncomfortable. I can get a job easily; I simply can't seem to keep it for over 2 month. This is in spite of excellent work reviews and habits.
I wonder how much the number would go down then.

Virginia B.
Virginia B5 years ago

Maureen H. has hit the nail on the head! As a faculty member at a state university, I can bear witness to the fact that administrative positions have ballooned over the past 20 years, and the university has fewer and fewer tenured or tenure track professors. Those who now run our universities are more likely to be hired for their administrative / budgetary skills than their understanding of academe and the needs of students.
Two other problems students and their parents are facing: 1)the use of graduate students who are usually just several years older than their students and not much better informed (!) to teach foundation courses and the skewed focus on the hard and social sciences to the detriment of the humanities. The HUMANities are what teach us to be better HUMANS!
Yet another great miscarriage of funds: football! in our state the university football coach earns more than the university chancellor or the state's governor!!

Maria D'Oporto
Past Member 5 years ago

Well that is not limitative to USA proffesors, I was working as a universitary teacher for years in México and had to keep 4 different places to teach and a job as a consultor to be able to make enough money to support my son and I, and the sad side of this is I was working in 3 of the most important universities of the country and I wasn't able to pay the university of my own son; had to quit the proffesor job and got a job with benefits to be able to help my son to get an education, I really miss my students ( and proudly they miss me too, often call to ask me to return) but can't make a life teaching and paying school fees so maybe later will return to teach.