In the evening, after a long day at work, an estimated 35,000 adults attend classes at Massachusetts community colleges, trying to further their education and their careers. These students take real academic courses, such as computer programming, business management, or English composition–courses that count toward graduation. In terms of academic quality, they are the same as those offered during the day. But these continuing-education students are not getting their money’s worth. And neither are the faculty who teach them.
On average, evening students pay 9 percent more tuition per credit than day students. While day and evening students often pay the same amount in fees, tuition for evening courses can be almost twice as much. For instance, at Springfield Technical Community College, the fees are $46 per credit, regardless of the time of day. However, while day students pay tuition of $28 per credit, evening students pay $57 per credit. That means, if you were to take calculus during the day, those four credits would cost $296, but the same course at night would cost you $412–a mark-up of 39-percent.
Not only do night students pay more, they get less. They have less access to their teachers, because evening faculty aren’t required to hold office hours. Colleges offer fewer academic support services, such as tutoring, at night. Financial aid offices are not typically open at night, making it more difficult to get assistance.
These inequities seem especially unfair to students who work full time, pay state taxes, then go to school in the evening. They also fly in the face of the new Fair Share funding formula, designed by the state Board of Higher Education to make public colleges more affordable to low-income families. The board wants community- college students to pay about 25 percent of the cost of their education. But evening students pay 100 percent of the cost of their education. That’s because state law authorizes community colleges (as well as the state’s four-year colleges and the University of Massachusetts) to conduct evening classes only as long as they “are operated at no expense to the Commonwealth.”
While this stipulation relieves the state of the expense of continuing-education courses, it turns the evening program–and its students–into the community-college system’s cash cow. Each of the 15 campuses sets its day tuition based on Board of Higher Education guidelines, and all of the revenue reverts back to the state treasury. In contrast, local boards of trustees set evening fees and tuition, and the colleges keep 100 percent of the revenue from evening courses. Since state appropriations account for only half of each college’s total budget, the campuses depend on that retained revenue from the evening courses to fund daily operations.
It’s not only continuing-education students who get taken advantage of in this arrangement. While day professors earn roughly $5,000 per class, evening instructors, who work part time, average only $1,967 per class. Day faculty also get fringe benefits with a value of approximately 24 percent of their annual salary. Furthermore, they and their immediate family members receive tuition waivers for any college or university in the state system. But continuing-education faculty get no benefits, not even tuition waivers.
Although the colleges benefit from the low pay of continuing-education faculty, the union representing all community-college faculty shares responsibility for the second-class treatment of these instructors. The Massachusetts Community College Council, an affiliate of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, represents day and evening instructors alike, but negotiates two separate contracts. The 1,982 day-faculty members control the union, although the continuing-education membership totals 3,402. That’s partly because evening faculty have little time to participate in union activities, as many work at other, full-time jobs during the day. But it’s also because evening-faculty delegates to the union’s annual assembly get only one-quarter of a vote.
Union leadership seems reluctant to bring the two units under one contract for at least two reasons. First, the union worries that if the state were responsible for funding continuing education, it would cut back financial support for the day program. Second, it fears that day faculty would be assigned classes outside their current workweek (which is Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.). But these concerns seem unfounded. The state could not diminish its financial support for day programs without reneging on its Fair Share promises. And in terms of scheduling, faculty in other states, which have one contract for both day and evening instructors, enjoy more flexibility in their teaching schedules than their colleagues in Massachusetts.
The union and the Board of Higher Education ought to work to right the financial wrong being done to continuing-education students and teachers. Costs per credit to evening students should total no more than the daytime charges, and support services, such as counseling and tutoring, should be as available in the evening as they are during the day. Salaries and benefits for evening faculty should be prorated to day rates, so someone teaching half a load would earn half the income and benefits.
To do so will take money–among the states, Massachusetts ranks 50th in per-capita spending for public higher education, although it ranks third in tax revenues collected per public higher-education student–but not money alone. The Legislature needs to rewrite the laws so that it can authorize and appropriate funds to support continuing education. Those funds should be restricted to operating the evening classes, reducing student costs, and raising faculty compensation.
At the same time, the union must reexamine its treatment of all its members. When negotiating a new contract, the union should demand that continuing-education faculty receive salaries and benefits equivalent to those who teach during the day.
For students and faculty, the concept of Fair Share should apply 24 hours a day.
David Ram is a professor of English and member of the day faculty at Greenfield Community College.