Tuesday, April 05, 2011


Ask the Administrator: Do CC Alums Have an Edge?

A new correspondent writes:

I guess no one warned me earlier, but I really had no idea how dire it is out there getting academic jobs nowadays. I'm thinking I'll have the phd within 3 years from now, at which point I'll have to figure out what I'm going to do to make a living. One option that I've been considering more and more is teaching at a community college.

What I want to ask you is whether being an alumni from a cc will give me somewhat of an edge in getting a good tenure track position in a few years. I can really speak passionately about how meaningful an experience community college was for me when I was 21. I barely graduated high school, only went to the cc down the street from me to please my parents, and failed out my first year, only to come back one class at a time (non-matriculated at first) to graduate with honors before going off to a 4 year school, a prestigious masters program, and a phd ("low-ranked" as it is). I've also been teaching undergrads for 4 years now (by the time I'm done, it will be 6 or 7 years) and I have excellent observation reports from faculty and students alike. In other words, I have an inspiring story to tell cc students on day 1 (and to tell the people interviewing me for the job).

And for the record, it isn't a bullshit story. I have to land a job...I really think that cc was an incredible opportunity for someone like me and I am truly grateful for the guidance I received from my teachers there. I actually still have a letter from a faculty member who wrote about how revolutionary my change while I was a student there.

So while I'm surrounded by big shots trying to elbow each other out of the way to publish in the most prestigious journals and to work with other big shots (and reading Foucault all the while), I am content to quietly finish my phd by writing a dissertation I'm proud of and move off to an unassuming community college where I can inspire people and not have to worry about the hustle of academia.

So I know that I don't have the edge over my competitors when it comes to teaching at R1's, but I think I ironically might have an edge over them in the cc job market, where my more modest background might make me a better candidate. Do I have this edge? What are cc's looking for in candidates? Would I have even more of an edge if I went back to the cc I went to? And finally, what is a salary for someone teaching poli sci in a tenure track position at a cc in the northeast? Is thinking that I could make 70k a year (eventually) crazy of me?

First, good luck on your search. The market is brutal out there in the evergreen disciplines, and even more so if you aren’t coming out of a brand-name doctoral program.

That said, I’ve noticed that while a community college degree is pretty much the opposite of a brand name, it can actually help in applying for a full-time cc teaching position. That’s because the great fear at this level, in hiring Ph.D.’s, is that they’re ‘settling.’ In my neck of the woods, we have a substantial number of Ph.D.’s on our faculty, as do most of our nearby counterparts. Many of them are wonderful, but there are some who just can’t let go of the dream of teaching at Pastoral Liberal Arts College, and who never pass up the opportunity to complain about teaching loads, students, salaries, travel funding, clouds in the sky, fish in the sea, or whatever else happens to enter their field of vision that day. Although small in number, these people are toxic, and search committees are well-advised to avoid them.

Having a cc degree in your own background can help immunize you against suspicions of covert snobbery. If you can make a convincing argument to the effect that teaching at this level is your first choice, and you say that knowing the realities of the setting, you may come across as the best of both worlds: the amply-credentialed candidate who actually wants to be here.

That said, I’d strongly encourage avoiding language like “avoid the hustle of academic life.” Teaching well at a cc is hard work. You don’t want to convey the impression that you’re looking to coast or take it easy. And it’s rarely a good idea to say you want location A to avoid location B. Talk about why you want location A.

Salaries vary by region and institution, but generally speaking, a full-time position in a liberal arts discipline will usually start somewhere in the 40’s. (California and New York City are exceptions.) Depending on locale, the most senior faculty will earn anywhere from the 80’s to the low 100’s. And certain specialized fields, like Nursing, sometimes have higher scales. Salaries aren’t creeping up much these days; since the recession hit, freezes and furloughs have become the order of the day. At some point, though, I expect that things will thaw a bit. If they don’t, I’d expect an accelerating exodus over the next few years.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers -- any tips for a grad student considering a cc gig?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

For Pete's sake, the correspondent must learn that alumni is a plural noun. This is a pet peeve of mine, especially coming from people who are trained in academia and are supposed to have a degree of fluency in academic terms.

Alumnus = male graduate
Alumna = female graduate

If you don't dig on gender-inflected nouns, just call yourself an alum — I think it looks kind of silly, but of course gender inflection is problematic for, say, transgender people who don't want to be stuck with a label that feels alien to them.

Not that this is a CC thing; I hear it all the time from people from every educational background in academe. But it irritates me every time.
Your may have an opportunity to improve your chances of getting a teaching-focused job by reconsidering what you consider to be excellent teaching. In my experience, EVERY candidate has strong teaching evals and observation reports. To show you're really serious about a teaching-focused career, you need to design some classes that show real innovation and put effort into giving your teaching experience as much depth and breadth as possible. Familiarity with the scholarship of teaching and learning wouldn't hurt, either.
You're still going to need teaching experience before diving into full time teaching. I had been an adjunct at various four year schools for 5.5 years before I landed my full-time CC teaching job. I held a full-time position in another capacity and so it wasn't so dire to get the full-time teaching position, although it was something I wanted very much and I took a substantial paycut to do once I was offered the position.

At my CC, whenever we post a job, we get a few dozen resumes for the job; this is in a science department, but I daresay it would be similar, if not worse, in some of the other disciplines. At least 1/3 of those would probably be decent matches; our posting asks for 3 years of teaching experience. We do give preference to candidates who have CC teaching experience, so that would help, and it might help that the candidate had been a CC student as well, but I think the teaching experience at a CC would carry more weight.

DD makes a good point about the reality of CCs. If you are positive that teaching is your first priority, then it will likely be a good fit. Your colleagues will be like-minded. There is one colleague of mine who really belongs in a research environment, and this person is constantly swimming upstream with respect to goals for our department and expectations for us as a group.

Good luck!
IME, people with experience as a student at a CC have a definite edge -- other things being equal -- but it is not going to get you the job over someone with a better teaching portfolio and some experience teaching at a similar CC.

Many of my general observations about seeking a CC job were summarized here a few years ago. Curiously, one link towards the end of that long essay is to an article by Dean Dad back in July 2008.

One other observation: Dean Dad's remark about "brand-name doctoral program" applies more to 4-year jobs than 2-year jobs unless that brand includes a teaching-grad-students-to-teach program rather than just top-notch research labs.
Being a cc alum (and, for Pete's sake yourself, Dr. Koshary, spare us your petty prescriptivism)is a plus on any hiring committee I've been on. It's not a real big edge, but it shows that the candidate knows the nature of a cc from the inside out.

The most important thing a candidate should show is that s/he's a good teacher.

Echoing other comments: I think you have an good story which won't hurt your appliation prospects. However, it doesn't seem like you have a very coherent reason for wanting to work at a community college other than that you can 'inspire students'. Reading between the lines in your request for advice, it sounds like you're basically looking for a place where you could find a job and you're looking for any 'in' you can find. That's understandable, but be aware that, in my experience, search committees at community colleges will not think very highly of this.
In addition to everyone's advice, I recommend researching the CC job market in your discipline. One consequence of the budget cuts is that many CCs start replacing their retired faculty in areas that have lower enrollments with adjuncts. Completing additional master's degrees or course work can increase your chancing of teaching full-time at a CC (in addition to relevant teaching experience, of course).

That being said, the job market is pretty tough this year, and will probably remain that way for a few years. With Ph.D. and a resume full of adjunct and full-time CC teaching experience, I landed far fewer first-round, unpaid interviews than I originally expected. With many colleges trying to save cost by cutting their adjunct-staffed classes, it is only understandable that people are trying to give priority to their long-time adjuncts when hiring full timers.
Making it to a PhD after working your way through a CC education would be a plus in most CC job interviews. As the chair of a CC math dept, I like to see candidates who understand the CC role and want to be a CC teacher. My colleagues and I all have master's degrees and a handful have doctorates of various kinds, but a PhD is a neutral factor. As an indicator of greater knowledge and expertise, it's a plus; as an indicator of a research orientation, it's a minus. Prepare yourself by doing some serious research into the CCs where you apply for jobs and make sure you like what you see. Talk to faculty members there. Visit the campuses. Check out their websites. Figure out why you're applying and how to make a good case that the CC should want you. (If you can't figure it out, we'll notice during the interview.)

Whatever you do, don't be like the job applicant who thought he was doing us a big favor by applying. We wasted the time we spent interviewing him, although it was rather entertaining.
zeno, thanks for sharing that link - I quite enjoyed it!

Question for you, though: I see you wrote the linked piece a few years ago. Do you think it is still the case that CC jobs are widely available to folks with master's degrees? There's such an over-supply of PhDs in my field, and the job market is so poor these days, that even CCs seem to have an abundance of applicants with doctorates to choose from.
Dr. Koshary: I'm transgendered (male to female). I was actually thinking of myself in female terms long before I "crossed over." So calling myself an "alumna" felt right to me, though I couldn't publicly refer to myself that way.

Actually, I've always gotten around the issue by simply referring to myself as a graduate.
We do find more PhD-bearing candidates in the mix for CC faculty positions than we did a few years ago. At the level of the screening & interview committee, where I operate, I see no significant impact. The doctorate does not seem to bestow any special advantage on the candidate and we continue to be just a bit skeptical of someone with a research-based degree seeking a teaching-based position. As I said before, however, the PhD doesn't actually hurt a candidate's chances unless the application stresses the applicant's research expertise.

What I don't know is whether the doctorate is a plus or a minus during the final round of the hiring process, when the president interviews the finalists that the interview committee certified as well qualified and best of the bunch. With budgets slashed so significantly and only the most critical hiring occurring, these days a president may care whether a pricier PhD gets a job for which a more economical master's suffices. The finalists have all been vetted by the hiring committee and deemed eminently acceptable. The doctorate could be a tie-breaker in the negative direction if the president is in penny-pinching mode (and what CC president isn't?).
It was my experience that in a popular southern city, the evergreen fields receive 200+ applicants for each ft position. We're in a chill (putting off hiring) right now, but my college can get PhDs for every position, if it wants. Since it can, right now it does. And, actually, most of my department--even the long timers-- have PhDs.

So, you have a PhD and CC experience. That's good. Now what you need are conference presentations and publications related to teaching. Since you are teaching during your PhD program, you can probably get that. Hopefully your program is supportive of conferences and publications.

If you can do your dissertation in an area that works well in teaching the community college student, that will also help.

With 200+ applicants, CCs need a way to differentiate. First cut, PhD. Second cut, experience. Third cut, publications.

I lost my first go-round at my CC to an instructor with more pubs. I won the second with a book and multiple articles.
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