Adjunct instructors at St. Paul's Hamline University, the first in Minnesota to form a union, have reached a tentative agreement on their first contract.

The agreement calls for an immediate 15 percent raise — the instructors' first raise in their base pay in 10 years, union officials said.

"We think that this contract is a historic first step," said Della Zurick, a political science instructor at Hamline and one of the union negotiators. "We feel so good about this for so many reasons."

In 2014, adjuncts at Hamline became the first in Minnesota to vote to unionize as part of a national campaign, called Adjunct Action, to improve wages and working conditions for part-time, temporary faculty members on college campuses.

The agreement, reached late Wednesday, will increase the pay of about 200 Hamline instructors by 20 to 30 percent by the end of the three-year contract, according to the union, which is affiliated with SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 284.

Zurick, who has taught political science at Hamline since 2007, said the university had paid the same base rate, $4,000 a class, for 10 years. The two sides had been negotiating since September 2014 to reach a contract.

"Everybody's going to see an increase," Zurick said.

If ratified by union members in January, the contract also will give adjuncts the "first right of refusal" to teach certain courses, more advance notice on hiring, and a fund for professional development. "That means that, for the first time, part-time teachers at Hamline have access to funds that they can use to become better teachers," said Zurick.

John Matachek, Hamline's provost, said, "I think we landed in a fair place." He noted that about 15 to 20 percent of Hamline's courses are taught by adjuncts, and that the college paid a "fairly competitive" rate. At the same time, he said, "we weren't particularly proud of the fact that [some adjuncts] hadn't received an increase in 10 years. It should have been higher on the radar screen than it was."

Typically, adjuncts are hired by the class and paid far less than tenured professors, with few if any benefits. The use of adjuncts has greatly expanded in recent years as colleges and universities have sought to rein in expenses and maintain flexibility in filling teaching slots.

But Zurick rejected the notion that the contract would add to college costs. "We believe that education can be affordable and that people can be paid just wages," she said. "We don't think that those are mutually exclusive."

Zurick said the agreement is likely to resonate beyond Hamline as adjunct professors around the country struggle with similar issues. "We sort of stood up, and in the interests of justice for everybody … started a conversation with Hamline," she said. "We are part-time workers, but Hamline is acknowledging our value."