Going Places: forsaking a faculty position at a four-year school to teach at a community college often means lower pay, less prestige and fewer resources. So why are more and more professors making the move?
"By far, teaching comes first for me," said Knauf, a psychology professor. "I'm happier in a classroom than anywhere else. At a community college, that's really the standard by which you're judged--your effectiveness as an educator."
Knauf's teaching skills are roundly endorsed by a host of current and former students. Underscoring that appreciation, the six-year Shoreline professor was recently tapped by students and colleagues to deliver the school's commencement address, which Knauf referred to as a "really big honor."
To be sure, professors who leave a university for a two-year school usually endure handicaps, including, in many cases, less pay and prestige and fewer chances to collaborate with the academic elite. But for those who have made the move, the negatives are outweighed by the real and perceived positives--more academic freedom, student-body diversity, opportunities to awaken students academically, smaller class sizes (generally), and more chances to influence the local community.
Heeding the Call
While no national data are available about professors abandoning universities for community colleges, a quick cross-country sampling reveals that more individuals than expected may be headed clown this path. Dr. Holly L. Moore, Shoreline's president, said three or more of her community-college full-time professors voluntarily left universities for Shoreline, with many more teaching part-time or in an adjunct capacity. Similarly, Dr. George Boggs, president of the American Association of Community Colleges, recalled several such faculty members during his stint as president of Palomar College in San Marcos, Calif.
One professor who took the leap from university to community college is Dr. Sean Murphy. It took him only one semester at Central Michigan University before realizing that his calling was to teach at a community college. Murphy, whose doctorate in English is from Kent State University, launched his career by teaching English at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Ill. After two years there, he was hired as a tenure-track assistant professor of English at the four-year CMU in Mount Pleasant, Mich.
Murphy didn't dislike his university experience. Influencing students' learning curve for four years was appealing to him, as was sharing ideas with a plethora of other professors--Central Michigan's English department alone had 50 faculty members. So his decision to return to CLC wasn't an easy one.
"I think there's the notion that once you get a Ph.D., you're really being trained as a scholar and maybe a teacher secondarily," he said. "Then when you elect to go to a teaching-oriented institution, people wonder how that scholarship will fit in."
But Murphy sees a "new day dawning, whereby research is not only possible for community-college professors, but "essential to their success as teacher-scholars."
Ultimately, CLC and the community-college mission lured Murphy back in: "They serve as engines of democracy and enable higher education to be accessible. That matches my own politics and beliefs," said Murphy, whose book, "James Joyce and Victims: Reading the Logic of Exclusion," was recently published.
He also enthuses about having more freedom to design classes at CLC than he had at Central Michigan. And, somewhat surprisingly, he said he has access to more travel money to support his research.
While Murphy said he is paid substantially more at CLC than he was at Central Michigan, his case is an anomaly. A 2002-2003 American Association of University Professors survey of 1,454 institutions showed the average pay for full professors at doctoral universities was $97,910; for institutions offering a comprehensive set of master's degree programs, $75,334; for primarily baccalaureate degree-granting universities, $69,598; and for community colleges, $65,608.
But regardless of the pay, Murphy said, "I thoroughly enjoy the classroom--beyond words, Overall, its quite challenging, but it's also very rewarding."
There Are Ups, There Are Downs
Like Murphy, Shorelines Knauf has the regrets about cutting loose from the university environment. Knault whose doctorate is from Fordham University in New York City, taught for one year at Manhattan College in the Bronx and then rejected that school's offer for a tenure-track position.
That's not to say she doesn't miss certain university features, such as teaching dedicated upper-division students and chumming with more full-time, well-established faculty members. If she were still at Manhattan College, she figures, she also could elude occasional snootiness, or at least questions about her judgment, from some colleagues.
"When people found out I was heading to Shoreline, they were horrified," Knauf said. "It was like, 'Wait a minute, you have a Ph.D., you're accomplished, you have publications under your belt and you've worked on this major research study--and you're going to teach at a community college?'"
Her credibility is still challenged at conferences she attends with four-year university professors. Which is why she takes pains to stress her doctorate. "The minute they see I'm from a community college," she said, "they tend to discount me, as in 'she must not be very good.'"
Yet Knauf said the benefits of teaching at Shoreline, which attracts many first-generation college students, surpass the shortcomings. She is still pursuing research opportunities there, including a project on street harassment. But unlike at four-year schools, where students might be directed by professors' work, at Shoreline she encourages students to drive the practically oriented research.
"You can be a part of some kids catching a spark, and that's just amazing," she said.
She disputes suggestions that community-college professors are less talented than university instructors. Of the 30 or so faculty members in her social sciences department at Shoreline, Knauf noted, about one-third have Ph.Ds. Nationwide, according to a 1998-1999 study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, 18 percent of full-time faculty members at community colleges had Ph.Ds.
The Community Appeal
For many two-year college instructors, a major appeal is their institutions' integration into and support of the community. Dr. Brad Smith, who was teaching earth sciences and physics full-time until recently becoming interim dean at Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon, Wash., is often on textbook-adoption and advisory committees at area K-12 schools. He and his colleagues are usually the "resource of choice" for local reporters, and he's even participated in local school-board debates about creationism vs. evolution.
But a primary reason he enjoys teaching at Skagit is the small class size. At Arizona State University, where he taught lot almost five years and was informally offered tenure, he taught an introductory earth-science course with 450 students in a cavernous lecture theater. At Skagit, he's teaching less than one-tenth that number.
"You have more opportunity to interact with students and get to know them, and I enjoy that enormously," said Smith, who has a doctorate in geology from the University of California-Berkeley.
Smith said he is glad that Skagit instructors take their teaching very seriously. It's not uncommon, for example, for earth-science faculty members, as well as instructors in varying disciplines. to share teaching strategies.
He's convinced the teaching skills are so developed that many four-year university professors couldn't cut it at community colleges.
"They would have to teach students who are struggling with math or who've never been in college before," Smith said. "That's not to diminish the contributions research universities make. But the flip side is that many of those people couldn't do what we do here at all."
From a personal standpoint, Smith is also attracted to the slower pace of life in Mount Vernon, which is just 60 miles away from where he grew up. Crime isn't much of an issue, and there aren't any traffic jams or oppressive commutes. In addition, housing is affordable and there are wide-open spaces--advantages that Smith said make up for hindrances like perennially squeezed budgets for lab and research equipment and teaching materials.
Full of Surprises
For Dr. Lucia DeBauge-Harcum, who has taught at four public and private universities, the decision to apply for an interior-design faculty position at El Centro College in Dallas was almost a no-brainer. The interior-design program there has long been accredited by the Foundation of Interior Design Research, a designation many universities covet.
DeBauge-Harcum, who still teaches two classes per semester as El Centro's interior-design program coordinator, said the community college offers high-quality faculty and students, exceptional facilities and equipment, good pay and administrative support. Plus, El Centro has the rare ability to offer a four-year interior-design degree.
"I expected classrooms, curriculum and amenities to be less than that at a four-year school," said DeBauge-Harcum, whose doctorate in architecture is from Texas A&M University. "Instead, I was overwhelmed by the fact that these items were not only better here, but superior."
Like many community-college instructors, DeBauge-Harcum delights in teaching a diverse student body at El Centro. A 2000 enrollment survey by the National Center for Education Statistics revealed that Caucasians accounted for 61 percent of students at public two-year institutions, compared to 69 percent at public four-year schools. Community-college students also span a wide age range. For example, the number of students aged 40 and older is three times greater at two-year schools than it is at universities.
"It's like if you're going into a kitchen and you want to make some exciting desserts and all you have is vanilla ice cream," DeBauge-Harcum said, adding that she is regularly offered teaching jobs at four-year schools. "You've got to do a lot of stuff with it in order to change its flavor. However, if you walk in with a wide variety of flavors already, coming from different areas, then you'll have some real exciting adventures trying these new flavors out."
While many professors would never entertain abandoning a university for a two-year school, instructors such as DeBauge-Harcum and CLC's Murphy harbor few second thoughts. In fact, Murphy is convinced that others will find community colleges increasingly enticing.
"I wouldn't at all be surprised if more university professors make the decision to go to two-year schools in the coming years," he said.
An Educated Work Force Community-college faculty and staff, by highest degree, fall 1998 Part-time Full-time Less than a bachelor's degree 10.8% 5.6% Bachelor's degree 19.8% 12.7% Master's degree 58.6% 61.7% First-professional degree 2.7% 1.9% Doctorate 8.2% 18.2% SOURCE: "THE DIGEST OF EDUCATION STATISTICS 2002," BY THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION'S NATIONAL CENTER FOR EDUCATION STATISTICS. NOTE: TOTALS MAY DIFFER FROM FIGURES REPORTED IN OTHER TABLES BECAUSE OF VARYING SURVEY METHODOLOGIES. Dollar for Dollar Average faculty salaries, 2002-03 All Private- Institutions Public independent Church-related Doctoral institutions Professor $97,910 $92,387 $118,269 $100,172 Associate $67,043 $64,938 $77,165 $69,497 Assistant $57,131 $54,986 $66,926 $58,075 Instructor $39,069 $37,589 $45,832 $47,655 Lecturer $44,785 $43,390 $49,815 $43,605 No Rank $48,743 $45,857 $54,347 $48,940 All Combined $73,997 $70,357 $89,630 $74,865 Master's-degree Institutions Professor $75,334 $74,545 $80,011 $74,578 Associate $59,326 $59,145 $61,263 $57,875 Assistant $48,965 $49,086 $50,028 $47,238 Instructor $36,929 $36,398 $39,310 $37,909 Lecturer $42,731 $42,968 $41,674 $39,934 No Rank $48,500 $46,403 $53,163 $48,505 All Combined $58,769 $58,440 $61,422 $57,446 Baccalaureate institutions Professor $69,598 $67,004 $79,928 $60,977 Associate $53,575 $54,694 $57,340 $49,734 Assistant $44,700 $45,587 $47,409 $42,064 Instructor $36,191 $36,503 $38,090 $35,081 Lecturer $41,813 $39,334 $49,110 $37,409 No Rank $46,583 $49,772 $50,823 $35,989 All Combined $54,051 $52,841 $60,817 $49,109 Two-year colleges with ranks * Professor $65,608 $65,730 $53,511 n.d. Associate $51,589 $51,696 $43,634 n.d. Assistant $45,471 $45,653 $35,885 n.d. Instructor $37,914 $38,215 $22,988 n.d. Lecturer $44,101 $44,135 $36,443 n.d. No Rank $43,082 $43,196 $22,830 n.d. All Combined $51,619 $51,824 $36,667 n.d. Institutions without ranks * No Rank $49,762 $49,843 n.d. n.d. All categories combined (except institutions without ranks) Professor $86,437 $84,073 $101,200 $75,094 Associate $61,732 $61,497 $66,328 $57,189 Assistant $51,545 $51,517 $55,616 $46,700 Instructor $37,737 $37,249 $41,103 $37,579 Lecturer $43,914 $43,096 $48,693 $41,229 No Rank $47,769 $45,976 $53,359 $45,043 All Combined $65,048 $63,974 $74,359 $57,564 * THE TERM "WITH RANKS" REFERS TO TWO-YEAR SCHOOLS THAT USE ACADEMIC RANKS; "WITHOUT RANKS" REFERS TO INSTITUTIONS THAT DO NOT USE ACADEMIC RANKS. N.D. = NO DATA. THE TABLE IS BASED ON 1,454 REPORTING INSTITUTIONS REPRESENTING 1,732 CAMPUSES. FOR DEFINITIONS OF CATEGORIES, SEE EXPLANATION OF STATISTICAL DATA (HTTP://WWW.AAUP.ORG/SURVEYS/03Z/STATDAT.HTM). SOURCE: "UNEQUAL PROGRESS: THE ANNUAL REPORT ON THE ECONOMIC STATUS OF THE PROFESSION 2002-03", BY THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF UNIVERSITY PROFESSORS. What They Earn and Where They Earn It Average faculty salaries, by institution Doctoral institutions $97,910 Master's degree institutions $75,334 Baccalaureate institutions $69,598 Two-year colleges with ranks * $65,608 Institutions without ranks * $49,762 All categories combined $86,437 (Except institutions without ranks) * THE TERM "WITH RANKS" REFERS TO TWO-YEAR SCHOOLS THAT USE ACADEMIC RANKS; "WITHOUT RANKS" REFERS TO INSTITUTIONS THAT DO NOT USE ACADEMIC RANKS. SOURCE: "UNEQUAL PROGRESS: THE ANNUAL REPORT ON THE ECONOMIC STATUS OF THE PROFESSION 2002-03", BY THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF UNIVERSITY PROFESSORS. Note: Table made from bar graph.
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|Publication:||Community College Week|
|Date:||Jan 5, 2004|
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