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Oplerno: A Fair Model for Adjuncts?

Whether online or face-to-face, adjunct faculty are an exploited class earning a fraction of what full-time faculty earn, with few benefits and often poor working conditions.

Within higher education, online learning has been one engine driving innovation in many areas of the academy such as pedagogy, technology, and even organizational structures.  However, online teaching’s impact on the broken model of adjunct appointments, has gone largely untouched—until now.

Oplerno, a new for-profit company offering online courses, has the potential for changing the equation in terms of  employing part-time instructors. Currently, adjuncts receive a lump sum per course, typically $2-4,000 per semester, per 3-credit course. The Oplerno model, in sharp contrast, allows part-time instructors to benefit from their intellectual property and efforts in the design of their course. Instructors in this model will directly receive a percentage of revenue from the students enrolled in their courses. Specifically, faculty will get 80% of the revenue, Oplearno the remainder. Potentially, this can mean that faculty can earn several times their average online salary they receive from most institutions.

Is there a caveat or downside to the Oplerno arrangement? Yes. Will there be sufficient enrollments initially to make it pay off for faculty and the Oplerno? In addition, although the potential to transfer credit is always there, in reality, will other institutions accept an Oplearno course for credit? The jury is still out.

The intention—to compensate adjuncts commensurate with their contribution—is nothing but revolutionary.  The plight of the adjunct is increasingly in the news, and represents a stain on fairness of contractual employment in academia. Full-time professors (often tenured, but increasingly less so), earn approximately four to five times per course as their part-time colleagues. Various rationales are offered for these gross discrepancies, such as:

  • Full-time faculty must do research, service, grant-writing, etc.
  • Full-time faculty have greater qualifications
  • Full-time faculty design curriculum and attend meetings …

While all of these arguments have some validity, they ignore the fact that many full-time faculty also get pensions, benefits, course releases, release time, sabbaticals and other perks not afforded to adjuncts. Much more can be said about this issue. However, the promise of Oplerno shows one possible solution that may start to resolve some equity issues for adjuncts teaching online.

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