I just typed “online adjunct instructor” into Glassdoor.com and got a very interesting, specific number: $57,613. Interesting because, as a career online adjunct instructor myself, the fact that this number can be calculated at all is baffling, given how much variability there is not only among adjuncts themselves, but also among schools. Also, is this the average yearly pay for someone who teaches as an online adjunct at one school? If so, this number (in my experience) is a little on the high side; or at least can be, depending on how many courses that school offers in a year. If this number represents someone who is teaching at three schools, able to offset a famine at one institution with a feast at the others, then 57k may not be too far off.
On the other hand, 57k is too low an estimate for someone with a solid reputation who has made a full time career out of teaching online at many schools. Over time, it certainly is possible to earn an even more comfortable living in this line of work. So $57,613 as an average, then, is not super representative. When you line up all the salaries possible across every online adjunct (those who teach for one small school and those who teach for many and larger universities), $57k may be somewhere in the middle (right of center probably) with many folks making much less and some making much more.
The problem with estimating how much money you’ll make teaching college courses online is that the nature of adjunct work is piecemeal, per-contract. When there is a course to teach, you are asked to teach it and you get paid for it. When there isn’t, you aren’t and you don’t. The work – and therefore the pay – is unpredictable. Online adjuncts often navigate this volatility by teaching at multiple schools or by sustaining a “day job” in their industry.
So, how much money does an adjunct make teaching online? The answer is: It depends.
Salary, or better said, the course contract rate, can vary greatly from school to school; it’s not apples to apples. Below, I will compare the known weekly rate at four institutions. Since each of these school has different term-lengths (5-week, 8-week, 10-week quarter, and 14-week semester), comparing across weekly rate seemed more illustrative than a “per course” comparison:
|School/Term Length||Pay Per Week||Total Course Pay|
|School 1 (5-week term)||$300||$1500|
|School 2 (8-week term)||$488||$3900|
|School 3 (10 week quarter)||$460||$4600|
|School 4 (14-week semester)||$250||$3500|
And this simple chart doesn’t capture subtler but very important aspects of the course load – like whether or not the course is prepared and ready-to-go or how many students are in the class. But, more on that below.
The next questions you might ask are – “If these are the average going rates per class, per school, then how many classes can you teach at a time at a school? How many will you be promised per year? How stable are the teaching positions? I’d like to be able to estimate how much I might make per year if I teach for this school.” Online adjuncting isn’t much different from on-ground adjuncting in this regard – you aren’t promised anything, really, and you might not get a straight answer to these specific questions – not because anyone is being cagey, but because schools don’t know the answers until they see how enrollments shake out. However, the question that schools are comfortable answering (and one you’ll want to have in your back pocket for when you are interviewed!) is how many you are allowed to teach in a year. They are likely to tell you that answer as they can read it straight out of the faculty handbook/policy manual.
Because there is so much diversity and unpredictability in salary in the online adjunct world you have to be prepared to do some research, math, and critical thinking when determining the fairness and acceptability of an amount. You might be doing a lot of work for that $4600 or you may have the time of your life teaching a small, short class for $1500. When considering pay, you will want to consider the following:
The length of the term. A pay rate will sit differently with you depending on whether you are teaching in 5-week, 8-week, or semester-long terms. If a number looks low, you might be appeased to know the class is only 5-weeks (vs. 14), and vice versa. For this reason, it is not advised that you look only at contract rate per course. You’ll want to look at the per week rate or otherwise factor the length of the contract.
Typical course size. This one, in my experience, is the most important factor to consider. As a student-centered instructor, I aim to provide every student with individualized attention throughout a term. Large course sizes (>30), therefore, are much more time consuming than average-sized or smaller ones. Because I’ve taught many a large online class in my day, whenever I teach a course for a school that caps their enrollment at 25 or so but that continues to pay a standard or above standard rate, I’m thrilled! Not only do I get more time to pay attention to each individual learner, but the dollars per hour ratio packs more of a punch.
Is the class plug-in-play, or does it need to be developed? If the class is ready to go for you (pre-designed), that takes out a lot of that prep time and you might be willing to take a slightly lower-than-average pay rate in this instance. If, on the other hand, the class is going to take a lot of prep work beforehand (you are developing it from the ground up, having to write the assignments, create the exams, decide on a textbook, create the discussion prompts, etc.) you might look at that seemingly “average” or “better than average” pay rate with a more critical eye.
Degree differential and seniority. Some schools will pay a bit more to someone with a doctoral degree than to someone with a master’s or they may offer increases in pay the longer you stay on.
Pay per enrollment. Some schools pay “per head,” or per student enrolled in your course (or per student who is still enrolled in your course after the final withdrawal date). This makes it hard to predict your income. Some schools will offer bonuses if you agree to teach an overenrolled class. Some will over-enroll and not offer any particular bonus.
Size of school. Large universities tend to pay a bit more than smaller schools, particularly smaller online schools who do not have a brick-and-mortar campus to boost them.
In sum, there is no easy answer to the question: How much money does an adjunct make teaching online? You can make nothing (if the school doesn’t have any courses for you to teach in a year) or you can make six figures (if you teach for a variety of schools and have pieced together a full time+ course load). The real answer is somewhere in between depending on a wide variety of factors. Hopefully the chart and considerations are helpful to you as you weigh the relative fairness or acceptability of an online teaching job pay rate.