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Valencia and Seminole State College adjunct professors scramble to make a living wage and now, they want a union

Image: Valencia College, orlandoweekly.com
Image: Valencia College, orlandoweekly.com

Jennifer Copp is at the end of her rope.

The 46-year-old has two degrees in photography. She's taught college students as an adjunct professor for about 14 years, giving lectures at various institutions across Central Florida.

And yet, Copp only earns $18,000 to $19,000 a year in a career that offers her no benefits. She teaches two to four classes every semester at Seminole State College – but to make ends meet, she also adjuncts at nearby colleges and universities. Copp drives around less now because she has to take care of her 7-year-old daughter, who has special needs. To help pay the bills, Copp's 80-year-old mother also teaches part-time at Seminole State.

Copp and other adjunct professors at Seminole State and Valencia have filed for a union election to fight for better wages, job security and standards in higher education. Though they are considered "part-time faculty," adjunct professors make up the bulk of educators at both colleges. Florida lawmakers have refused to increase funding over the last two years for state colleges – and in turn, faculty at Hillsborough Community College, Broward College and the University of South Florida have voted to unionize.

Both Valencia and Seminole State say they will be reviewing employees' petitions. Meanwhile, Copp says her current career is not sustainable.

"The pay is so low it forces us onto Medicaid and public assistance," she says. "I can't support my daughter and myself."