The calm before the storm: while college administrators now report an overabundance of job seekers, the tables could turn once baby boomers start retiring in large numbers.
While administrators say faculty retention is rarely a problem right now, it will likely become one during the next decade, as baby boomers begin to retire. Many of these older educators trace their tenures back to their college's founding in the 1960s and 1970s.
"There seems to be large numbers of people attracted to teaching at community colleges. It isn't hard to get candidates." said Dr. James Jacobs. associate director of community college operations at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College. "There always is a problem getting certain faculty in new technology skills, and sometimes old technology skills like nursing. Technical faculty are often hard to come by because in some areas, you can make far more money working in the area than teaching in it."
That's certainly been the experience for Paul Forte, assistant director of human resources in the Dallas County Community College District. "Our biggest crunch is in the health care field," he said. "We have a heck of a time trying to get nurses who have master's degrees to come in and teach. They're highly difficult, hard-to-fill positions.... [They] can make $56,000, $57,000, and you're trying to say, 'Come and teach for me [for an] entry-level salary of $38,000.' It's a no-brainer."
Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif., struggles to find full-time candidates in mathematics and the sciences, including biology, anatomy, chemistry and physiology, said Dr. Robert Dees, president of the two-year school. "People who are qualified in those areas can make more money on the outside than they can teaching," he said.
In addition to subject-area shortages, the combination of baby boomer retirements and the swelling matriculation of their children--along with inflows of students from steady immigration--will create geographic shortages, said Dr. George R. Boggs, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges.
With 53 percent of full-time faculty and 43 percent of part-time faculty expected to retire in the next 15 years, "We're going to see a great turnover," he said, which will hit states like Florida, California, Texas and Arizona, who have high populations of baby boomers, particularly hard.
"This is both a challenge and an opportunity," said Boggs. "We have to find the best people, and the people who really are interested in teaching and student learning."
For the moment, though, turnover is almost nonexistent, say most administrators and other observers.
"There's very little," said Jacobs. "One of the characteristics of community colleges is that you have a highly unionized faculty situation [tending to lead to] higher-paying jobs with more benefits and job security." Jacobs noted that the situation for current community college faculty was particularly attractive given "today's jobless recovery, and labor relations in other industries."
Boggs agreed, saying, "The retention of faculty is very high." He added, "Once faculty members get into a community college, they generally are very satisfied with that career. They generally don't even move from one college to another."
According to Forte, DCCCD sees very little movement. "Jobs are scarce, much more so than they were before. People are running scared: 'I've got to keep my job,'" he said. "People were more mobile in the past because opportunities were more abundant."
Part-timers fluctuate constantly at OCC, said Dees. But among full-time faculty, "We don't have too much problem. It's not that we pay so much, but they get a house and they settle down and stay there."
One exception to that rule is in Seattle, where 20 percent to 50 percent of tenure-track faculty leave prior to or immediately upon becoming tenured, said Lynne Dodson, district president for the Seattle Community Colleges Federation of Teachers Local 1789.
"This is the worst problem," she said. "We are hiring excellent faculty, they get on the tenure track ... then leave for better-paying positions nearly as soon as they are tenured or sooner. This has become a serious problem because it also means we have more full-time vacancies for longer."
Generally speaking, though, retention is more of a concern for professors than for administrators, said Craig Smith, associate director for higher education at the American Federation of Teachers. He said part-time, adjunct faculty report staying at a single community college six to seven years on average--but full-time, non-tenure track faculty are often churned out after four to five years. "They want to keep fewer people long term," he said.
Schools that provide incentives like raises that outpace health care increases and professional development opportunities retain more faculty, said Jonathan Lightman, executive director of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges. "There are some districts where the full-time faculty feel very supported," he said. "There are others where they feel like they're in a war zone with their administrators."
Both retention and recruitment could become a greater problem as baby boomers begin to retire--especially to the extent that schools continue to hire part-time adjuncts rather than beefing up their full-time ranks, some observers say.
Dr. Jack H. Schuster, professor of education and public policy at Claremont Graduate University, believes the combination of adjunct and non-tenure track hiring could prove problematic if it continues. Non-tenure track hiring rose from 51.3 percent to 58.6 percent of full-time hires from 1993 to 2003, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
"Most institutions have been able to do very well, qualitatively, with respect to their recruitment," he said. "The prospective part of this is that, when faculty retirements begin to accelerate and the need for recruiting begins to accelerate, whether the imbalance in the demand and supply begins to shift in the direction of [greater] demand [for tenure-track faculty], and whether the quality will be maintained. That gets back to the question of whether the more tentative connection between institutions and individual faculty members, as indicated by the type of appointment, will affect the attractiveness of academic careers."
According to Jacobs, getting traction on an answer to that question could prove difficult unless states step up to the plate. "The big gorilla in the closet is the question of how economically can you justify having large numbers of full-time faculty, when it's clear that state support is waning for the colleges, so financially it's hard to make full-time commitments," he said. "The converse argument is that it's better to have full-time people run your institutions."
A Surfeit of Doctorates
Craig Smith said the AFT has grown its membership among non-tenure track faculty and has not seen any slowdown in the use of adjuncts thus far. He believes higher education institutions are producing too many Ph.D.s, particularly in humanities fields, then taking advantage of the surplus by offering watered-down opportunities.
"The system the way it's functioning right now is mistreating them twice over," he said. "You bring a Ph.D. candidate in at these big public research institutions, they provide five, six, seven years of service, they teach 1,000 students while they're there. They're the lifeblood of these institutions. All this sacrifice to get this degree to come out into a job market that ... you would never encourage anyone to get into."
For the time being, that means recruitment is relatively easy for full-time positions, except in specialized fields and sometimes either rural areas or very expensive metropolitan areas, said Dr. Claire Van Ummersen, vice president and director of the Office for Women in Higher Education at the American Council on Education.
"In many areas, especially the South and the West, there are rapidly growing populations of students coming into the community college at a time when the colleges have very limited resources," she said. "One of the ways to provide classes for all of these students is to move to the greater use of part-time adjunct faculty than in the past."
Again, it's would-be faculty who face the crunch. Community colleges in California struggle to meet the state's 17-year-old requirement of 75 percent full-time faculty, few of which have been added since the state last had budget surpluses in 2000 and 2001, Lightman said. "There should be genuine progress in that direction that hasn't happened," he said. "It's bad for students, it's bad for faculty and it's bad for districts."
Dees said OCC had "26 or 27" faculty members take a retirement package last December, but he expects to have those positions filled this year and will stay in line with the 75 percent requirement as a result. He said recruiting in the competitive Los Angeles region is not always as easy as some other locations, especially when trying to diversify the ranks.
"We'd like to get female candidates and minorities to represent our student population," he said. "When we put out an ad for a position, we know that a number of our candidates are also going to be applying at Irvine, Saddleback, even out in Riverside. It's competitive within the schools. We try to make everything as attractive as possible."
Dr. Wright L. Lassiter Jr., president of El Centro College in Dallas, said faculty pools are larger than in the past but diluted, as well. "They are somewhat weaker pools because there are more 'seekers' in pools who possess only the minimal requirements," he said. "On the positive side, pools do include interesting mixes of young, inexperienced but highly creative individuals.... By being selective, there is a place for that young, bright, credentialed but limited-experience prospect."
In Seattle, Dodson said it is not so easy: She believes more than 100 people applied for the psychology position she was hired into 14 years ago, but "we could hardly get 25" for an opening last year. "Anecdotally I am hearing that there are fewer and fewer applicants every year," she said. "There have been several positions--business, particularly, and nursing--where we have had to re-advertise because the pool of applicants was too small and underqualified."
A Brave New World
While most administrators and other observers report a brighter overall picture than Dodson does, significant challenges do face schools to varying degrees. Jacobs said some candidates are not ready, willing and able to change their teaching methodology to fit 21st century modes of educational delivery.
"Many people are attracted to community college teaching perhaps not realizing that the colleges themselves have emphasized better teaching, the use of computers, a different kind of teaching than people have seen in the past," he said. "This is a field that is in transition. For those people who want to make that transition, it's a good field. For those people who are frozen in a 19th century way of teaching, it's not."
Boggs listed the salary issue for fields like nursing, the dearth of minorities especially in science and math, and high housing costs in certain geographic areas as significant challenges to recruitment and retention. "I would encourage colleges and universities to think about ways they could make it more affordable for new faculty to get established in the housing market," he said.
Real Estate Crunch
Housing costs present a high hurdle for OCC, Dees said, and the district board is considering building faculty housing on unused land it owns. "We've had candidates turn down job offers and say, 'No, I'm going to go out to Bakersfield.' We lost them because of the price of housing," he said. "The last five years, it's become more and more and more of a predominant issue when we look to hire somebody outside the county: 25 percent turn [an offer] down for that reason, specifically."
OCC has unused land on its campus, and the district office has more across the street, Dees said. "The district board is taking a look right now at using that land, and somewhere in the planning we've included the idea of faculty housing. It's part of the planning concept right now. How much, I'm not sure."
DCCCD has focused heavily on minority recruiting in the past six years through a Visiting Scholar Program that brings faculty in as two-year, temporary hires with the goal of promoting them to permanent positions when available, said Forte. Of 246 visiting scholars, 92 have been hired and 94 remain in the program; of those hired, 35 have been black, 24 Hispanic, nine Asian and one Native American, he said.
"We didn't have a faculty and staff that reflected the ever-changing, diverse makeup of Dallas County," he said. "This program opened up a door that wasn't open in the past." Forte added that the program considers all applicants, and 22 whites also have been hired. "We don't discriminate against anybody," he said, but "we were wanting to open up the door to individuals who have not historically been in the mix."
The program has provided a pipeline for recruitment at El Centro College, which has hired 24 of its 26 visiting scholars, all but one of whom have been ethnic minorities and approximately 70 percent of whom had been adjuncts, Lassiter said. "While the Visiting Scholar Program is not race-specific, it has provided a useful vehicle to identify imbalances and take expeditious action to address those imbalances," he said.
The district and individual schools split the costs equally for the visiting scholars, Forte said, and the schools pick up the entire tab for those hired permanently. "Affirmative action, in my opinion, is driven by economics," he said. "Unless you have the economic commitment to make it happen, it's not going to happen."
OCC hopes to beef up its ranks, minority and otherwise, through a newly established internship program with the University of California-Irvine that will bring five Ph.D. candidates from various disciplines who are more interested in teaching than research, Dees said. "The idea there is to give them an idea of community college teaching," he said. "Along with that, we're doing the best we can to let UCI know that we would appreciate having some minority candidates there."
Rural colleges sometimes face challenges in recruiting faculty to move beyond metropolitan areas, Van Ummersen said. "They have a hard time recruiting individuals, even if it's a full-time position, who don't want to live in a rural area," she said.
That's not usually a problem for Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet, Minn., 17 miles from Duluth, said Sister Therese Gutting, vice president of academic affairs. But Gutting added that most hires hail from "the Twin Cities, north."
"One of the barriers is when you come into some of the specialized areas, to find people that are actually credentialed in a specific area, particularly in languages [and] some of our specialized areas like e-crime," she said.
Dr. David Smith, interim president at Lamar Community College in Lamar, Colo., said his school has adopted a "grow your own" philosophy for tough-to-fill slots. For example, he said, Lamar has hired nursing instructors who only possessed a bachelor's degree and then worked to "facilitate their completing their master's within a certain period of time."
The school has taken similar tacks in fields like agricultural business management, small business management and horse training management, Smith said. "We're in an area that's both rural and relatively remote, and ... economically disadvantaged," he said. "We have to be competitive salarywise. We've had success in the past doing it. It's becoming more of a challenge all the time based on budget issues."
Salary and budget issues crop up in other geographic locations as well. Lightman believes schools in California have struggled to keep a lid on class sizes, which might affect recruitment and retention because it affects working conditions. "The budgetary realities kind of drove that, where the class sizes had to increase," he said. "Does that impact recruitment and retention? I've got no hard evidence."
Salaries have been a thorny problem in Seattle, with its high cost of living and little support from the state Legislature.
"This means faculty come in at a pretty low salary and can't move up," Dodson said. "It's very frustrating and debilitating." Money can come from local funds if a school increases teachers' duties, such as adding noninstructional days, she added.
"We've lobbied mightily in the state Legislature," Dodson said. "We've also begun tracking retention more carefully ourselves, so we can demonstrate to the board of trustees how many faculty we are losing. They've become convinced.
Job Satisfaction Breakdown of work satisfaction factors among faculty at public colleges Two-Year Four-Year Teaching courses that interest you 52.7% 48.8% Opportunity to educate students 50.1% 45.4% Job security 44.9% 45.0% Opportunity to work independently 44.7% 46.9% Flexible work schedule 40.9% 50.7% Reputation of department 35.1% 18.9% Working in collegial environment 35.0% 25.1% Time for family 34.1% 28.4% Reputation of institution 27.1% 16.0% Working in intellectually challenging environment 22.9% 29.7% Opportunity to advance knowledge in field 22.9% 26.0% Physical working conditions 19.8% 21.7% Teaching load 18.9% 20.0% Attractive salary and benefits package 18.2% 12.1% Having institutional support for scholarly inquiry 14.3% 10.4% Opportunity for professional recognition 11.5% 16.0% Quality of students 10.4% 15.0% Note: Table represents the percentage of respondents who felt "very satisfied" with each factor. The factors were sorted by CCW. SOURCE: 1999 AMERICAN FACULTY POLL, SPONSORED BY TIAA-CREF AND CONDUCTED BY THE NATIONAL OPINION RESEARCH CENTER AND THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO. Bringing Home The Bacon Average salaries for male and female faculty at two-year colleges, 2004-2005. Professor M $68,000 F $64,500 Associate M $54,900 F $52,900 Assistant M $48,400 F $47,000 Instructor M $41,100 F $40,200 Lecturer M $44,100 F $44,300 No Rank M $41,800 F $37,400 All Combined M $54,800 F $51,400 Note: The table is based on 1,416 reporting institutions representing 1,715 campuses. SOURCE: TABLE 5 FROM "INEQUITIES PERSIST FOR WOMEN AND NON-TENURE-TRACK FACULTY: THE ANNUAL REPORT ON THE ECONOMIC STATUS OF THE PROFESSION. 2004-2005." ACADEME, 91/2 (MARCH-APRIL 2005), P. 34, REPRINTED BY PERMISSION OF THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF UNIVERSITY PROFESSORS. Measuring Job Security Percentage distribution of faculty and instructional staff at public two-year colleges (Fall 2003) FULL-TIME PART-TIME No tenure system 25.9% 12.9% Not on tenure track 10.1% 82.7% On tenure track 15.5% 1.8% Tenure 48.5% 2.6% SOURCE: NATIONAL CENTER FOR EDUCATION STATISTICS, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, 2004 NATIONAL STUDY OF POSTSECONDARY FACULTY (NSOPF:04) REPORT ON FACULTY AND INSTRUCTIONAL STAFF IN FALL 2003