Thursday, April 20, 2017

Teaching Beyond Graduate School: Community Colleges

Contributed by: Easton White

This quarter’s theme is “Teaching Beyond Grad School”. Our plan is to compare and contrast different jobs that involve teaching. Our first session focused on teaching in community colleges. We discussed the role of community colleges in the US, typical student demography, why a community college may be an attractive place to work, how to get a community college job, and what a typical day might entail for a faculty member at a community college.

First, a bit of background on community colleges in the US. There are around 1,200 community colleges today. There are regional differences with different names including: comprehensive community colleges, technical colleges, two-year branch colleges, and state colleges. Each of these may entail more or less emphasis on academic versus technical programs. Comprehensive community colleges are by far the most common. They offer both two year degrees, often emphasizing transfer to a university, and technical or professional programs.

Perhaps surprisingly, in Fall 2015 around 38% of all undergraduates in the US were attending community colleges [1]. Further, 46% of students who graduated from a four-year college had attended community college at some point [1]. Typically, community colleges allow open enrollment, meaning there are no admission requirements, although placement tests may be required. This factor, combined with the lower cost of community colleges, leads to a different student body than might be found at a four-year university.

For example, the cost (just tuition) of attending Woodland Community College is around $1,100 per year. The cost of attending the University of California, Davis is approximately $14,000 per year.

Students at community colleges tend to be non-traditional students compared to typical students at four-year institutions. Community college students are often older (28 on average compared to 24), more likely to be a first generation student, be from a minority group, attend part-time, and tend to work part-time or full-time jobs outside of school.

So, is a community college job a good choice for your career? Here are some important attributes of a community college professor.

1) You love teaching

Typically, community college professors are required to teach a 5/5 schedule, that is 5 classes in the fall and 5 in the spring. This can vary between institutions and 4/4, 5/4, or 3/3 schedules are also possible. Five courses implies 15 hours of time teaching in the classroom. Therefore, it may not be exactly five courses depending on the number of units per course. In addition to teaching a heavy load, there are typically no graders. However, class sizes are also usually limited to 20-50 students depending on the subject.

2) You like working with under-prepared students

There are many bright students at community college. Many bright enough to realize they could save money and attend an institution focused on teaching that provides small class sizes. However, the range (or variance) of students that attend community colleges can be larger than other institutions. This can create teaching challenges, and opportunities, with students that have such varied backgrounds.

3) You are fine with not conducting research

A professor at a community college is expected to teach, perform administrative duties, and attend professional development activities. Expectations of research do not exist. This does not mean research is not possible. In fact, it is possible to have a research career at a community college, but it will probably be on your own time. Your college will likely applaud you for the work, but will not be able to provide additional incentives. A research program with a team of undergraduates is also possible. This type of program involves a lot of guidance and mentoring, but it can be a great way to engage undergraduates. Further, this type of training can help prepare undergraduates for opportunities if they transfer to a four-year school.

If you agree with the above statements, a community college career might be appropriate for you. The next question is how do you land a job? The minimum qualifications are typically a master’s degree and 18 graduate-level credits in the field you wish to teach. However, a PhD is often common. Most importantly, you need teaching experience, a lot of teaching experience. It is especially important to move beyond only a teaching assistant role. Experience as an instructor on record or teaching a course as an adjunct can be particularly advantageous. Training in pedagogy, either formal classwork or informal workshops, can also be helpful.

Working at a community college certainly presents challenges. However, a community college job can be an extremely rewarding experience. Students really want to be there and are eager to learn. Here are a number of articles and blog posts on this topic:


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