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Community college faculty hiring runs into resistance

A planned funding increase to hire more full-time community college faculty in California is running into resistance. The Association of Community College Financial Officers penned a letter to the California legislature recently that requested flexibility in spending the funds. Instead of hiring more full-time faculty, the CFO association wants to hire additional administrative staff.

“Excessive hiring in a declining enrollment environment can lead to painful budget reductions, layoffs, furloughs,” the group wrote in its appeal to legislators. (Apparently, declining enrollment doesn’t lead to layoffs among community college administrators.)

The California community college system has a long-term goal of using full time faculty to teach 75% of classes. Currently full-time community college faculty teach just 59% of all courses system wide. That percentage has not changed in more than 30 years. The Legislature is considering a $170M appropriation that the 116 colleges in the system must use to hire professional faculty.

The CFO association argues that hiring more faculty during a period of enrollment decline will simply lead to layoffs and less stability among the faculty. Community college leadership argues that more professional faculty will enable students to develop critical relationships with instructor and ultimately increase retention. Numerous studies have shown that students fare better academically and complete more degrees when full-time faculty members teach most of their classes.

The faculty union argues that the system has relied for decades on part-time instructors. While that approach has improved the bottom line, it has also resulted in worse outcomes for students. Full-time faculty members play a significant role in mentorship and student retention. The legislative allocation would enable the system to hire about 2,000 full-time faculty members system wide. That averages to about 17 new hires per campus.

Community college faculty hiring can improve student retention

I’ve said this a hundred times already. No student has ever enrolled in a community college because the administration was great. Hiring more full-time community college faculty demonstrates a commitment to the mission of the community college: educating students. Asking to divert the money to lower-impact administrative hires ensures that enrollment will continue to decrease.

Heavy reliance on part-time instructors creates an uneven, unpredictable experience for students. Knowledge about a specific subject does not substitute for professional teaching experience. Clearly, community colleges must rely to some degree on part-time instructors, but when the College chooses to staff the majority of classes with part-time instructors, it has an overall negative effect on the learning environment

WCC’s current administration has a demonstrated history of bulking up its own numbers while holding the professional faculty constant. The results have been predictable. The WCC Board of Trustees should strive to increase the number of full-time, professional faculty members at WCC. The goals of the move would be to increase student retention and improve the overall student experience. With plans in the works to make community college free, increasing the number of professional faculty would enable students and local communities to reap the greatest reward from these programs.

Photo Credit: Brenda Gottsabend , via Flickr