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Students walk past the University of Colorado Colorado Springs mountain lion sculpture April 9, 2021, next to the El Pomar Center on the Colorado Springs campus.

Many of the 10,500 adjunct professors working in Colorado could receive federal student debt relief — thanks to a bill passed by the Colorado legislature on Wednesday. 

If signed into law, Senate Bill 84 would make adjunct professors eligible for the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program by multiplying the hours they work by 4.35 to meet the program's full-time employment requirements. 

The federal program forgives the remaining balance of student debt for those who have worked in public service full-time and have made monthly payments on their loans for at least 10 years.

Proponents of the bill said it would not only financially assist adjunct professors but also more accurately reflect the time they spend working. While adjuncts largely perform the same duties as their full-time colleagues, they are contract workers only paid for the time they spend inside of the classroom, not including time spent planning, grading and other activities.  

"Having worked as an adjunct faculty member, I can attest to the multiple hours I spent doing all of these activities outside of class time," said bill sponsor Rep. Mary Young, D-Greeley. "This bill allows for a more realistic calculation of the hours adjuncts put into their work." 

During a committee hearing on the bill, several local adjunct professors testified that they have tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt but only make around $22,000 to $23,000 per year, despite working full-time hours. 

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Adjuncts make up 37% of Colorado higher education faculty, said bill sponsor Sen. Janice Marchman, D-Loveland. That percentage increases to 75 to 80% for many community colleges, including Front Range Community College in Westminster and AIMS Community College in Greeley.

The state House of Representatives passed the bill in a 44-18 vote on Wednesday, following the Senate's 23-12 approval last month. In both chambers, all Democrats voted in support of the bill and all but one Republican voted against the bill. Rep. Mary Bradfield of Colorado Springs was the sole "yes" vote among Republicans. 

Some opponents raised issue with the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, seemingly disagreeing with the ethics of loan forgiveness itself.

“While this would help thousands of people, then the forgiveness of the loan has to be paid for by everyone else,” said Sen. Mark Baisley, R-Woodland Park, who voted against the bill. “I can’t, in good conscience, make it unfair to everyone else while we help these folks.” 

No organizations registered against the bill. In addition to individual professors, the Colorado Education Association and American Federation of Teachers supported the measure, pointing to the benefits it could have on the education institution by helping colleges retain their adjunct professors.

The bill will next be sent back to the Senate to consider minor changes made by the House. Afterwards, the measure will go to Gov. Jared Polis for final approval and take effect immediately upon signage as it includes a safety clause.  

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