Community College Faculty What We Know and Need to Know
By Twombly, Susan Townsend, Barbara K
This review of existing literature about community college faculty members speculates about why they have received so little scholarly attention, summarizes the nature of existing research, including its methodology and topics, and suggests what else needs to be known about them. Keywords: student outcomes assessment; curriculum and instruction; quantitative methods; research methods
“Community college faculty receive scant attention from postsecondary researchers-or worse, are simply dismissed as a separate, and by implication lesser, class of college professors” (National Center for Postsecondary Improvement, 1998, p. 43). Although this statement is almost 10 years old, it still holds true today, with few exceptions. What is intriguing about the neglect of community college faculty members in the research literature and the lack of respect they often receive is that their numbers alone suggest they should at least merit attention. As of fall 2003, 43% of all full- and part-time faculty members in public, nonprofit higher education institutions were in public community colleges (“Almanac,” 2005). In addition, community college faculty members teach around 37% of all undergraduates, including about half of all freshmen and sophomores. Among these students are more than half of all Hispanic and American Indian students and approximately 40% of African American and Asian students (“Almanac,” 2005).
In addition to teaching students whose first higher education experience is in the community college, community college faculty members also teach many students who start at 4-year colleges or students who are still in high school. Increasingly, high school students are exposed to community college faculty through dual- credit or dual-enrollment courses. In other cases, 4-year college and university students either return to the community college to gain a skill or complete a program after accumulating a considerable number of credits at the 4-year school, or they take a community college course while enrolled at a 4-year institution to meet a baccalaureate graduation requirement. Thus, an increasing number of 4-year college graduates include community college course taking as part of their baccalaureate education (Townsend, 2001).
Considering only the traditional transfer function, community college faculty members teach thousands of students each year who enter 4-year colleges by transferring from 2-year colleges. Although transfer rates from 2-year to 4-year colleges have remained around 25% for several decades (Townsend & Wilson, 2006), in the 21st century a variety of factors are converging that will likely push up the rate of transfer. As the societal press on individuals to earn a bachelor’s degree increases, a number of very populous states are turning to community colleges to absorb the first 2 years of a college education. States such as California and Florida have long done this, but other states have been slower to rely on their community colleges in this way. For example, New Jersey recently passed a law that requires that “an associate degree awarded by a county [community] college must be fully transferable and count as the first two years toward a baccalaureate degree at any of the state’s public institutions” (Redden, 2007). Although most state universities have had articulation agreements with community colleges in their states for at least two decades (Ignash & Townsend, 2000), these agreements can be very complicated. The intent of the New Jersey law is to simplify transfer. Laws such as New Jersey’s emphasize even more strongly that community colleges are no longer an isolated sector in the U.S. higher education “system.” Consequently, as instructors of the first 2 years of the baccalaureate curriculum, community college faculty members are increasingly “our” faculty.
Further acknowledging the important role of community college faculty members in higher education, the American Psychological Association (APA) recently “[established] an affiliate membership category for psychology teachers at community colleges and the APA Committee of Psychology Teachers at Community Colleges (PT@CC) to address their needs” (Hailstorks & Boenau, 2007, p. 6). This decision was prompted by the reality that “about 50% of the undergraduate students enrolled in psychology courses are matriculating at community colleges” (p. 6), and many undergraduate psychology majors start their postsecondary education in the community college. APA is now acknowledging the importance of a partnership between 2-year and 4-year faculties in educating undergraduates who take psychology courses and major in psychology.
Knowing about the faculty members who instruct community college courses is important because a lack of knowledge about them often results in the reluctance of 4-year college faculty members to accept community college courses and in their disinterest in admitting 2-year college transfer students. Not only do some 4-year college and university faculty members typically question the quality of community college courses and therefore the faculty members who teach them, they also tend to hold a general sense of arrogance about the status of 2-year college faculties relative to the status of university faculties. The comments posted in response to Inside Higher Education’s September 14, 2007, story about New Jersey’s law mandating the acceptance of the associate’s degree as the first 2 years of a 4-year degree (Redden, 2007) provide vivid evidence of this bias (http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/09/ 14/newjersey). In the comments, community colleges and thus implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) their faculty members are denigrated for their “easy courses,” low grading standards (e.g., “one of the community colleges in the Detroit area passed out A and B grades like plastic beads at Mardi Gras”), and academically weak students (e.g., “probably half of the students in them should not be in them in the first place”).
Because we believe that community college faculty members merit attention and respect, in this article we first suggest why so little attention has been paid to them in the scholarly literature. Then we briefly describe what is known about community college faculty members and conclude with what needs to be known about them. To do this, we sought literature about the community college faculty, with particular emphasis on peerreviewed articles, chapters, and books published in the past two decades. To find the peer-reviewed articles, we examined the table of contents of the two major journals about community colleges (Community College Journal of Research and Practice and Community College Review) and the three major general higher education journals (Journal of Higher Education, Research in Higher Education, and Review of Higher Education). We set the time period of January 1990 through September 2007 as our parameters so as to examine relatively current articles. Believing a historical perspective is important, we also searched the tables of contents of all the issues of the Community College Journal, published since 1930 by the American Association of Community Colleges. A review of this journal’s tables of contents provides a glimpse into some of the concerns of 2-year college leaders and faculty members over many decades. We also drew heavily on three recent books about various aspects of community college faculty members’ lives (Grubb & Associates, 1999; Levin, Kater, & Wagoner, 2006; Outcalt, 2002) as well as chapters from older texts.
Why So Little Is Known About Community College Faculty Members
There are several possible reasons for the relative lack of attention to community college faculty members. One may be that research designed for publication is primarily conducted by individuals at research universities as part of their quest for tenure, promotion, or merit pay. Those who write about higher education issues and constituents tend to focus on the world they know-the research university-and not on the world they may never have experienced-the community college. As partial evidence, an examination of articles published from 1990 through 2003 in five major higher education journals (Journal of College Student Development, Journal of Higher Education, NASPA Journal, Research in Higher Education, and Review of Higher Education) revealed that only 8% of the articles focused on community colleges (Townsend, Donaldson, & Wilson, 2005). In addition, although research faculty members can study themselves and get rewarded for doing so, the same is not true for community college faculty members. They are not required to do research, and if they do choose to do so they are encouraged to engage in the scholarship of teaching and focus on ways to improve the teaching-learning process (Palmer, 1992; Vaughan, 1986, 1988).
Sometimes research about the community college faculty appears as part of a general study of the U.S. professoriate. Works such as The New Academic Generation: A Profession in Transformation (Finkelstein, Seal, & Schuster, 1998) and The American Faculty: The Restructuring of Academic Work and Careers (Schuster & Finkelstein, 2006) address community college faculty members but typically do so by comparing them to 4-year faculty members, as when national survey data are used to illustrate points about faculty work and careers. These comparisons are important, even necessary, to put the community college professoriate in perspective. Given higher education’s tendency to privilege status, however, such comparisons often render the community college, its students, and its instructors as deficient. Even when these books do not engage in specific comparisons but provide baseline data on the community college faculty, their authors seldom delve into the nature of faculty work lives at community colleges in any great depth. This situation is beginning to change. Within the past decade, three books have helped provide a portrait of specific aspects of faculty work at community colleges. These books include Honored But Invisible: An Inside Look at Teaching in Community Colleges, by Grubb and Associates (1999); A Profile of the Community College Professorate, 1975-2000, by Outcalt (2002); and Community College Faculty: At Work in the New Economy, by Levin et al. (2006). These works build on earlier studies by Earl Seidman (1985; In the Words of the Faculty) and Howard London (1978; The Culture of a Community College). The 1999 work by Norton Grubb and Associates took a qualitative look at arts and science and occupational technical faculty members in several community colleges across the nation, providing critical insights into how they approach teaching. Issues of professionalization in the community college professoriate were explored by Charles Outcalt (2002), who used descriptive data from a national survey for his findings. Through both quantitative and qualitative means, Levin et al. (2006) examined the roles of community college faculty members as managed professionals in the globalized economy. Each of these books portrays specific aspects of the lives of community college faculty members, but none offers a comprehensive synthesis of what is known about these individuals and the conditions of their work.
Other than books about community college faculty members, research about them most often appears in community college journals, those periodicals that publish only articles on community colleges. For example, an examination of articles published in six selected journals from 1990 through 2000 (Townsend, Bragg, & Kinnick, 2001) revealed that the three journals focusing on community colleges (Community College Journal of Research and Practice, Community College Review, and Journal of Applied Research in Community Colleges) published a total of 86 articles about the community college faculty (11% of all 777 articles in these three journals during the specified period). In comparison, the three higher education journals that were examined-those that are commonly considered to have a general focus on higher education rather than on a specific higher education sector (Journal of Higher Education, Research in Higher Education, and Review of Higher Education)- published a total of 30 articles about some aspect of the community college, and only 3 (14%) of these articles were about community college faculty members (see Table 1). Although the community college journals publish the vast majority of work on the community college faculty, it is important to note that even in these journals research on the faculty composes a relatively small portion of the research published on community colleges.
Also, faculty members and administrators in 4-year institutions are unlikely to read the community college journals because their focus would not appear relevant to the professional world of the 4- year college faculty. Research about community college faculty members also appears in other venues with limited distribution, such as dissertations and institutional reports. Some of this research may eventually appear in journal format, but it is likely to be in the community college journals.
What We Know About Community College Faculty
Although research about community college faculty members is less extensive than research about university faculty members, some research nonetheless exists. It is not possible to recount in this article the full extent of what is known about the community college faculty. Therefore, we briefly describe some of the topics most frequently represented in the literature, after first noting some methodological characteristics of these writings.
Much of what we know about the community college faculty results from small-scale quantitative or qualitative studies conducted at the institutional or state level. Given the tremendous variation among institutions in terms of size, population served, and geographic location, this approach makes sense. On the other hand, the localized nature of the research makes it difficult to generalize findings across institutions and states or to assume the transferability of findings in the case of qualitative research.
Because most research on the community college faculty is based on local- or state-level studies, it can be inferred that there is (or has been) little interest on the part of external agencies to fund large-scale studies of community college faculty members. For example, the National Science Foundation invests substantial funds in research on various aspects of the faculty in science, mathematics, and engineering. This research has yet to substantially contribute to knowledge of community college faculty members in these fields.
However, in the past decade or so, there has been an increasing use of national data sets to derive faculty profiles and perceptions. In particular, the electronic availability of data from the National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF) surveys, which have been conducted since 1988, has resulted in a spate of studies about community college faculty members, examining such topics as their intent to leave (Rosser & Townsend, 2006), their job satisfaction in general (Issac & Boyer, 2007) and their satisfaction with their autonomy in particular (Kirn, Wolf-Wendel, & Twombly, 2008), their perceptions of gender and racial status in the institution (Perna, 2003), the changing nature of their work (Levin et al., 2006), and community college labor market characteristics (Gahn & Twombly, 2001). Although the results of these studies have greater generalizability than the results of small-scale studies, studies based on national data sets have their own weaknesses, namely that the already-existing data shape the questions that can be asked. Outcalt (2002) and his colleagues at the Center for the Study of Community Colleges in Los Angeles have developed their own national surveys for the specific purpose of looking at the community college faculty. As a result, their research may more accurately reflect the community college world than do some of the studies that are based on NSOPF data. Local or single-institution studies also presumably address questions of importance to individual colleges, whereas national studies based on NSOPF or other national databases are more likely to address general policyoriented questions that may or may not be relevant at the local level.
Whether studied locally or nationally, quantitatively or qualitatively, community college faculty members have primarily been examined in terms of the following topics: characteristics of the community college professoriate, both full-time and part-time; faculty work in the context of the community college; dimensions of the faculty career and labor market; the influence of various institutional factors, such as unions, on faculty work; and community college teaching as a profession.
Characteristics. First, it is important to note that approximately two thirds of community college faculty members are employed on a parttime basis. This percentage has held fairly steady for at least a decade. Although part-timers outnumber their full- time counterparts, nationally they teach only about one third of community college courses (Roueche, Roueche, & Milliron, 1995). Given this fact, it is important to be careful about painting the community college professoriate as mostly consisting of part-time faculty members. Although technically accurate, such a statement misrepresents who actually does the bulk of the teaching.
A fairly clear demographic picture of community college faculty members, both full- and part-time, emerges from the literature. The data consistently indicate that 80% of the community college faculty is White, a higher percentage than might be expected, given the demographics of the student body. (We note here as an aside that there is almost no research about being a minority faculty member in the community college, whereas numerous books and articles have been published about being a minority faculty member in universities [e.g., Berry & Mizelle, 2006; Cooper, 2006; Li & Beckett, 2005]). The community college professoriate is evenly split between men and women, thus making this group of faculty members more gender balanced than the faculty members in any other higher education sector (Townsend & Twombly, 2007a). It is somewhat more difficult to determine the average age of community college faculty members. Some studies have shown the average age of full-time faculty members to be 50 (e.g., Rosser & Townsend, 2006). Looking at age in another way, the U.S. Department of Education (2005) determined that approximately 36% were younger than 44, whereas 32% were between the ages of 45 and 54 and 22% were between the ages of 55 and 64; only 8% were older than 65. In terms of teaching area, Levin et al. (2006) found that the largest single group of full- and part-time faculty members (47%) teaches in the liberal arts. Approximately 40% teach in professional areas (e.g., business and nursing), 8% in vocational areas, and 4% in developmental education (Levin et al., 2006). Although we know the approximate percentage of the faculty who teach in each of these disciplinary areas, demographic profiles for each of these subgroups of the community college faculty have not been ascertained. The average salary for full-time community college faculty members on 9- or 10-month contracts in 2005-2006 was $55,380, as compared to $67,909 for full-time faculty members in 4- year public institutions (Clery & Topper, 2007, p. 20). With the exception of salary, the differences within the part-time group by teaching field are likely to be greater than differences between full- and part-time faculty members. Faculty work. Faculty work in community colleges is shaped by the institution’s mission: its commitment to provide access to higher education to everyone who can benefit from some sort of postsecondary education; to offer transfer, vocational, remedial, and academic programs; and to do so at the 2-year level. Thus the institution’s students come with varying levels of academic ability, English-language ability, and economic resources. Faculty members teach predominantly lower-level courses. It is not surprising that the literature is very clear that the major work of community college faculty members is teaching; their average teaching load was five 3-hr courses per semester in 2004 (Townsend & Rosser, 2007). Community colleges provide little support for research, and it is not surprising that their faculty members do little of it. NSOPF 2004 data indicate that, as a group, 2-year college faculty members published-on average-0.25 juried and 0.41 nonjuried articles and made fewer than two presentations between 2002 and 2004 (Townsend & Rosser, 2007).
Two other topics fall under the broader category of faculty work: faculty development and faculty satisfaction. Although scholars have written a lot about faculty development, much of the literature merely catalogs what colleges do. The literature that does exist is quite critical of faculty-development programs for being ad hoc, lacking in institutional support, and having powerless coordinators (Grant & Keim, 2002; Murray, 2001). In terms of job satisfaction, community college faculty members, including minority faculty members, are the most satisfied faculty group in academe. Consistently, national studies of faculty job satisfaction show this (e.g., Antony & Valadez, 2002; Flowers, 2005; Kirn et al., 2008). In addition, studies that compare the satisfaction of full- and part- time community college faculty members show few, if any, statistically significant differences (Valadez & Antony, 2001). Perhaps some of this job satisfaction, at least for full-time faculty members, occurs because community college faculty members have the shortest work week among the professoriate. An analysis of NSOPF data revealed that the community college faculty members surveyed in 1993 reported an average work week of not quite 47 hours, as compared to an average work week of at least 50 hours for faculty members employed at the various kinds of 4-year public institutions. Similarly, community college faculty members surveyed in 2004 had an average work week of slightly more than 49 hours, as compared to an average work week at 4-year colleges that ranged from a low of approximately 52 hours for those in liberal arts colleges to a high of almost 55 hours for faculty members in research institutions (Townsend & Rosser, 2007).
Dimensions of the faculty career and labor market. The qualifications of 2-year college faculty members have been a topic of research interest throughout the history of the community college. A number of conclusions about the faculty career and labor market emerge from the available research. Becoming a community college faculty member may not be a person’s initial career goal but may emerge as a positive choice compared to work in other settings (Townsend & Twombly, 2007b). Although K-12 public schools have diminished as a source of community college faculty members, a substantial proportion of the faculty has held previous positions in other settings before moving to the community college (Gahn & Twombly, 2001). No formal preparation for a teaching position is required other than the desired academic credential, which is typically a master’s degree with 18 graduate hours in the teaching field. The master’s degree is seen as less narrow than a doctorate yet still providing the depth needed to teach associate’s degree students (Townsend & Twombly, 2007b). Vocational and technical fields may require the baccalaureate degree or less, when combined with work experience in the teaching field. Community colleges typically prefer some teaching experience or demonstrated potential to be a good teacher as well as fit with the mission of the community college.
Relatively little else is known about the labor market for community college faculty members, which is a bit surprising given the fact that community colleges, like most postsecondary institutions, are facing a wave of baby boomer faculty retirements. The literature suggests that although community colleges may advertise positions nationally, particularly in certain fields such as the sciences, they often hire locally or, at best, regionally (Twombly, 2005). Unlike their 4-year college counterparts who follow a fairly typical path from graduate school to teaching, community college faculty members come from a variety of sources (e.g., business and industry, K-12 public schools, 4-year institutions), which allows the institution a hiring flexibility not found in other postsecondary sectors. In sharp contrast to market forces that drive faculty salaries in national markets, faculty salaries in community colleges are typically set by unions or are determined by matching a candidate’s qualifications to the appropriate step on the set salary ladder. Because institutions tend to hire locally or regionally, community college salaries are not as subject to market forces as those in research universities (Rhoades, 1998; Twombly, 2005). The exception here may be faculty members in vocational areas, although there is very little research on this topic. There is some evidence to indicate that vocational faculty members are subject to the same salary scales as faculty members in transfer areas (Twombly, 2005), thereby prohibiting colleges from paying more for faculty members in fields such as computer networking than for faculty members who teach English. It is likely that the market forces at work are very different ones from those governing national faculty markets because many vocational or occupational faculty members are employed locally while teaching. Much more needs to be learned about how this market works.
In sum, the faculty labor market in community college works very differently from that of 4-year colleges and universities, a conclusion that has significant implications for graduate students who might consider the community college as a place to teach as well as for community colleges as they seek to fill positions.
Influence of various institutional factors on faculty work. Unions and faculty governance are the two institutional factors about which the most has been written, but that is not to say that much has been written about either. Community colleges in both their current and earlier junior college forms have been described as bureaucratic institutions in which administrators had (and have) more power and faculty members less power than administrators and faculty members in 4-year colleges and universities (Alfred, 1994). It is not entirely clear how many community colleges are unionized and what percentage of the faculty is part of collective bargaining units. Rhoades (1998) provided the most in-depth examination of union contracts, although his work is somewhat dated now. According to his data, most unionized community colleges have a set salary schedule primarily based on seniority and the academic degree held rather than on merit, market, or any sort of equity. These institutions are less likely than 4-year colleges to have specific rules guiding layoffs but are more likely to cover part-time faculty members. It is interesting that Rhoades found that 2-year college contracts protect the intellectual property of the faculty more so than do contracts in unionized 4-year institutions. Although scholars such as Rhoades and Levin et al. (2006) tended to see unions as an indication of an increasingly managed professoriate, few studies of unions look at how faculty performance is affected. Salaries do not appear to improve over the long haul as a result of unionization, and unionized faculty members do not appear to be more satisfied than are nonunionized ones (Townsend & Twombly, 2007b).
Although most colleges have some form of shared governance (as distinct from unionization), little is known about the role shared governance plays in the work lives of community college faculty members and its importance to them. Studies of shared governance suggest that community college faculty members view their college administrations as more autocratic than democratic (Thaxter & Graham, 1999). Levin et al. (2006) also suggested that although community college administrators increasingly involve faculty members in governance activities, doing so serves the institution’s managerial and administrative interests, but not the faculty’s.
It is clear that other institutional factors, such as the academic department and connections with the professional field, are likely to affect community college faculty work, but these connections have not been widely studied. External factors, such as state and national policies surrounding issues such as accountability and the addition of baccalaureate degrees, will also affect faculty work but are rarely studied.
Community college teaching as a profession. Being a faculty member in the community college has many positives, as is clear from the high degree of satisfaction evident in the national studies that have examined job satisfaction. However, there are also negatives. The down side of being a community college faculty member is articulated both in opinion pieces and in research studies. The down side includes feelings of being disrespected by those in 4-year institutions (e.g., Townsend, 1995; Townsend & LaPaglia, 2000). As well, some community college faculty members are disrespected or held in lower esteem by some of their own colleagues. For example, those who teach students in developmental education and English as a second language are sometimes considered by other community college faculty members as lesser in status (Grubb, Badway, & Bell, 2003; Perin, 2002). Status tensions also occur between “academic” faculty members, those who teach in the general education or transfer programs, versus those who teach in the career and technical nontransfer programs (Grubb, 2005; McGrath & Spear, 1991). We do note, however, that internal divisions or pecking orders are not unique to community colleges. Within research universities, certain disciplines have more status than others, as education faculty members quickly learn. Perhaps because of status concerns, the question of whether community college teaching is a profession is a longstanding one within the literature about community college faculty. The scholars who have tackled the subject have used various definitions of a profession (e.g., Cohen & Brawer, 1987, 2003; Garrison, 1967; Levin et al., 2006; Outcalt, 2002; Palmer, 1992). As a consequence, the evidence about the extent to which community college teaching is a profession is mixed, dependent on which characteristics are used in defining a profession. In addition, authors who write about community college teaching as a profession tend to focus on professionalism with an explicit or implicit comparative in mind-typically the research university (e.g., Clark, 1987; Outcalt, 2002).
Some scholars of professions have argued that specific professions conform to the characteristics of the ideal profession to a greater or lesser extent (Sarfati-Larson, 1977). In this view, there is no perfect or ideal profession; each meets characteristics of the ideal to a greater or lesser extent. Thus, the question is not whether community college teaching is a profession but whether community college teaching is so significantly different from teaching in other types of educational institutions that it constitutes a unique profession. In addition, where does community college teaching fall on a continuum of professionalization? As to the first question, there seems to be little evidence that community college teaching is unique and different from teaching in other sectors. Community college teaching does not employ different methods, require different pedagogical training, or have substantially different norms than teaching in any other sector. With respect to the second question, the results seem equally clear: Community college teaching exists between high school teaching and university teaching in terms of the extent to which it exhibits the characteristics of ideal professions.
Emerging curricular trends in the community college, such as the development of baccalaureate degrees awarded by community colleges and the push to count associate in applied science courses and degrees as transferlevel courses and credentials, are events likely to raise the required entry credential for career education faculty members and to increase the number of community college faculty members with doctorates. Given that a prolonged preparation time is one hallmark of a profession (Townsend & Twombly, 2007b), these developments may lead to perceptions of greater professionalization of the community college faculty.
What is not clear is whether perceptions of greater professionalization would really make a substantive difference in community college faculty members’ work lives, their relationships with students, and the teachinglearning process. It is possible that if 4-year faculty members begin to accept community college teaching as a profession, they may develop greater respect for community college faculty members and thus for their students who transfer to 4-year institutions. However, we simply do not know if this would occur, partly because these issues have not been researched, which leads to the next topic: what needs to be known about the community college faculty.
What Needs To Be Known About the Community College Faculty
Does it really make any difference in the work lives of community college faculty members or in the learning of the students they teach if these faculty members remain under the radar screen of higher education researchers seeking to understand the professoriate? We argue that it can. Beyond the obvious use of research by individuals to earn tenure, promotion, and merit pay, research can influence policy and practice. Research on the community college faculty can do this only if it goes beyond the received, and often unquestioned, story that community colleges are teaching institutions and that therefore, by definition, their faculty members are good teachers who produce learning. In this concluding section, we not only suggest that community college faculty members should receive greater attention because of the increasingly important role they play but also suggest some topics, based on our review, that merit greater attention.
Before identifying specific topics for study, we offer two general conclusions. One has to do with the nature of research conducted, and the second gets to the heart of what should be studied. Based on our review of the literature, we argue that research on the community college faculty has a horizontal nature. That is, an institutional or statewide descriptive study is conducted on some aspect of the community college faculty, such as professional development; this study is then replicated in other individual states, with an article published on each state. Again, given the local nature of community colleges, this approach makes some sense. The disadvantage is that the same knowledge tends to be replicated. Rather than deepening knowledge of a phenomenon, the research tends to generalize it. Unquestionably, both breadth and depth are needed. The use of national databases helps to provide the generalization, and we would hope that studies using other methods could help deepen that knowledge.
Second, we argue that research on community college faculty members needs to be tied more to their roles in the teaching and learning process. Much of the existing literature on the community college faculty accepts the construction of community colleges as teaching institutions and the assumptions about faculty members that accompany such a construction. The resulting research examines an aspect of faculty work as an end in and of itself. This trend exists regardless of topic, whether it is professional development, faculty satisfaction, participation in governance, or faculty careers. As an example, one can read the literature and come away with a pretty good idea of the characteristics of faculty-development programs. What the literature does not indicate is whether or how any of them improve teaching and learning. Nor is it known, for example, whether community college faculty members with master’s degrees are better teachers or, in the current economic model of teaching, produce more learning than do university faculty members with PhDs.
Thus, we need more research that, like the work of Grubb and Associates (1999), seeks to get beyond the rhetoric that community colleges care for the success of their students and that individuals who teach in community colleges are excellent teachers simply because they teach in teaching colleges. As Bailey and Morest (2006) pointed out all too clearly, little is known about the success of students in community colleges and what might be done to improve rates of success. Although many factors may contribute to enhanced “productivity” of community colleges (used here to mean successful graduation, students’ attainment of career goals, institutional transfer rates, and achievement of the myriad purposes community colleges serve), the quality, preparation, and pedagogical skills of the faculty have to be central. We know something about their preparation, institutional efforts at professional development, the role of unions in determining work responsibilities, and the influence of globalization in the work of community colleges. But we know almost nothing about the relationship of these factors (and others) to the teaching and learning process. For example, do unions promote or discourage improved teaching practices?
The same can be argued for the study of faculty job satisfaction. Researchers may seek to ascertain what variables affect job satisfaction with the hope that relevant variables can be manipulated in the actual workplace so as to produce greater job satisfaction. If research demonstrates that community college faculty job satisfaction is less high among faculty members who previously worked at a 4-year college (Rosser & Townsend, 2006), this finding may suggest to community college administrators that they should not hire individuals with this background, if having satisfied faculty members is an administrative goal or concern. Satisfaction is an important case in point because the national surveys of faculty members collect data on satisfaction, thus making it a relatively easy topic to study. Although satisfaction is a useful and important end, we might also ask whether increased satisfaction improves student learning.
There is no question that, to produce good learning outcomes, community colleges must employ effective faculty members. How effective faculty members are recruited and selected is unknown. Other facultyoriented research that might influence policy and practice would be research that examines the labor market for community college faculty, both from the faculty member’s perspective and from the institutional perspective. Although the research provides a description of community college faculty careers that is pretty clear and consistent, we know little about the relationship between labor market characteristics and hiring practices, for example, and about learning outcomes. For those seeking to work in the community college and for those who already do, research could also strengthen their understanding of how the promotion and tenure process works in the 72% of community colleges that have tenure (Parsad & Glover, 2002). In the 4-year sector, the bar for achieving tenure seems to be increasingly raised (Townsend & Rosser, 2007). Does the same hold true for the 2-year college sector? Also, institutional leaders (and thus faculty members) might benefit from a greater understanding of the promotion and tenure process in other 2-year institutions and of ways to support faculty members in their efforts to achieve promotion and tenure. As part of this research, there should be an examination of possible differences by race or ethnicity, gender, teaching field, and unionization status.
Using these variables in examinations of other aspects of faculty work lives at community colleges would also be productive. For example, there is some research to indicate that faculty members in career and technical education, developmental education, and continuing education have lower status within the community college than do faculty members who teach transfer-level courses. First of all, is this an accurate reflection of relationships in the majority of community colleges? If so, does the status differentiation affect the performance of the faculty members who are perceived to have lower status? Do their students suffer in any way from the negative status perceptions of their faculty members? Institutional leaders need to be concerned about the possibility of this issue affecting not only individual faculty members’ job satisfaction but also their performance and thus the education of their students.
The ultimate justification for knowing more about community college faculty members is their impact on the higher education system through the teaching of so many students. The community college’s educational mission is solely to transmit knowledge, in contrast to the university’s mission, which is to generate knowledge. From this perspective, conducting research about how community college faculty members teach and what student outcomes occur because of their teaching approaches would seem critical. Ascertaining the effectiveness of particular pedagogical approaches in the general transmission of knowledge and also more specifically examining which pedagogies work best in certain teaching areas (e.g., developmental education, vocational education, and transfer education) is critical in improving student learning outcomes in these areas. It seems highly fitting that the institution that most prides itself on being a teaching institution should be the institution whose faculty members are most studied for their teaching approaches and student learning outcomes.
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University of Kansas, Lawrence
Barbara K. Townsend
University of Missouri, Columbia
Susan Twombly is the chairperson of and a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Kansas, Lawrence.
Barbara K. Townsend is a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Missouri, Columbia.
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