Description: Community colleges serve an increasingly important role in society. According to Eduardo Porter (The Promise and Failure of Community Colleges, New York Times, 2016), “community colleges could be the nation’s most powerful tools to improve the opportunities of less privileged Americans, giving them a shot at harnessing a fast-changing job market and building a more equitable, inclusive society for all of us.” Porter continues to say “community colleges are pretty much the only shot at a higher education for those who don’t have the cash or the high school record to go to a four-year university. And that’s a lot of people: 45 percent of the undergraduate students in the country.” The decision to teach in a community college can be based on any of several reasons, of course, but the obligations couldn’t be made more clear.
Community colleges generally offer two-year associate’s degrees, introductory-level courses that are recognized by larger universities, and technical and special-needs courses. Full-time faculty are usually expected to spend at least 20 hours a week with students in classes, labs, and in the office. This equates to 5 courses a semester, 10 for the year. The challenge is not only the grading load, but working with classroom of students with diverse backgrounds, strengths, and weaknesses. “Teaching at a community college is not lecturing; it’s more hands-on” (AAAS ‘Community College Faculty: Must Love to Teach’). Some colleges have a tenure system that mirrors that of 4-year colleges and universities, but many hire faculty on extended contracts. Obtaining a full-time position can be difficult, since a large number of classes can be taught by part-time faculty. Community college resources and facilities are almost fully dedicated to classroom-based teaching and laboratory courses. Funding opportunities limited kinds of independent research, however, do exist, with funding for example from the NSF, Department of Education, and companies. Such projects almost always emphasize student training.
Advantages of an advanced degree: Science departments at community colleges typically prefer candidates with a PhD. This is virtually essential in an urban setting, where a sufficient base of expertise exists and positions are consequently highly competitive.
Key competencies: The ability to effectively teach a diverse group of individuals is of paramount importance. This goes well beyond what one might accomplish as a tutor or a TA, although these positions can be sufficient to identify one’s disposition and talents. Being able to address knowledgeably what’s involved in teaching online is also considered a plus, as are outcomes assessment and ‘universal design for learning’ (Reed, 2015). Additional competencies are important – critical thinking, of course, and to varying degrees mathematical/computational fluency and areas of critical design that relate to framing scientific hypotheses and interpretation of data in a didactic context.
On-campus organizations: Penn’s Center for Teaching and Learning
First steps: Teaching experience is a sine quo non for employment within a community college. There are nevertheless steps that can be taken absent that experience to learn more and to better position you for entry into that setting. The first is to “establish a presence” (Zackal) by scheduling a meeting with a department chair, asking to observe a class, and talking with some of the professors. It’s probably important in doing this to emphasize that you’re not lobbying for a job, rather just learning about community colleges (Zimbleman). The second is offering to participate in a community college course as a guest lecturer for one or two lectures, or to establish in some other way a collaboration with the college. In this regard, you might offer to tutor or to help with student activities. As you make a commitment to wanting to teach in a community college as a career, gaining experience as a teacher is essential. Teaching as an adjunct is one route. Teaching within a primarily undergraduate institution or university setting is another. One source states an expectation of two or three years teaching for consideration for appointment to a fulltime faculty position (Jenkins, 2013). Matt Reed provides some interesting stuff.
Videos: None available yet.
Alumni networks: Contact Rebecca Lopez
Jenkins, R. (2013). How the Job Search Differs at Community Colleges.
Reed, M. (2015). Tips for Faculty Job Seekers at Community Colleges.
Zackal, J. (2014). Becoming a Community College Professor.
Zimbleman, D.M. (2002). The Community College Job Search.