Sunday, June 16, 2013

 

What if Ph.D. Programs Actually Prepared Students for Community College Jobs?

What if Ph.D. programs prepared students for the academic jobs that actually exist?

First, there would be a lot fewer Ph.D. programs in the liberal arts, and the ones that did exist would be considerably smaller.  But what about what the programs actually do?

William Pannapacker, Sherman Dorn, and Rebecca Schuman (@PanKissesKafka) had a fascinating exchange on Twitter on Saturday about what it would look like if Ph.D. programs made a point of preparing their grad students for the jobs that are actually out there -- alt-ac, community college, and the like.  It got me thinking.

From this side of the hiring desk, I can offer a few suggestions for doctoral programs in liberal arts fields that would like to prepare their students for options in the teaching-intensive sector.  I’m sure that some programs are already doing at least some of these, but from what I’ve seen, they remain exceptions.

First, recognize that smaller teaching-oriented places have little use for a one-trick pony.  We need people who can cover multiple fields.  For example, a political scientist who has at least 18 graduate hours in, say, history or sociology is far likelier to get hired than one who doesn’t.  Particularly outside of English and math, where nearly everybody needs critical mass, there’s a premium on utility infielders.  Doctoral programs tend to reward depth and specialization, rather than breadth, but this side of the market rewards breadth.

Second, candidates who can speak intelligently about outcomes assessment and all that goes with it -- universal design, say -- have a leg up.  I don’t recall a single word about any of that when I was in grad school.  Candidates who can speak from experience about how they’ve adapted their teaching styles to meet the needs of students with disabilities will be far more desirable than candidates who can’t.

As it happens, that brings up a dissent from the latest round of blogs.  It’s becoming part of the bloggy catechism that brand-spanking-new doctorates are highly prized, but that candidates with teaching experience are considered damaged goods.  I can’t speak to most places, but I can say that where I am, some level of teaching experience is preferable to none.  Incumbent adjuncts have been a majority of my own full-time faculty hires, and I don’t think I’m freakish in that.  This may be a case in which a perspective that’s largely true at the R1 level is falsely attributed to higher ed in general, when in fact, the needs of the teaching-intensive sector are different.

Finally, some level of familiarity with colleges as institutions above and beyond collections of academic departments would help.  Some kind of “service,” even if attenuated, at least suggests that the candidate won’t just be a teach-and-go-home professor.  

I don’’t offer these in the spirit of adding yet more stuff to the list of things that graduate students have to do.  Rather, I’d like to see them form the basis for practical discussions of what to supplant.  Doctoral programs in the evergreen disciplines generally try to clone themselves.  They brag about the students they place in R1 institutions, and try to pretend that nobody is trying to adjunct together a living.  But the reality of the market, as we well know, is that tenure-track R1 jobs for new Ph.D.’s are the exception.  From reading the blogs and looking at the stats, you’d think that R1’s and adjuncting are the only options out there.

But they aren’t.  Community colleges, teaching-oriented four-year colleges, and even for-profits can provide outstanding opportunities for people who are prepared for them.  (As regular readers know, my first full-time academic job was at a for-profit; the experience I gained there positioned me for a move into community college administration.)  

None of these will solve the basic supply-and-demand issue, obviously.  And I’d hate to see them become excuses to make doctoral programs in the liberal arts take even longer than they already do.  But to the extent that they help some programs focus on the possibilities that actually exist, and thereby prepare their students better for the market that actually exists, I hope they do some good.  If nothing else, they might result in better teaching by new hires at community and state colleges; if that’s all it achieves, that’s good in itself.

Comments:
It seems to me that, at a minimum, a one-credit seminar on teaching, syllabus creation, survival techniques and the latest edu-buzz words would be helpful.

I agree with you about the desirability of teaching experience. I doubt that any of the hiring committees I've been on have hired folks without at least substantial adjunct experience. Why would we hire an unknown candidate, one that may or may not enjoy teaching? I'd rather hire someone who knows what they're getting into -- especially if they'll be a colleague for a long time.
 
It’s becoming part of the bloggy catechism that brand-spanking-new doctorates are highly prized, but that candidates with teaching experience are considered damaged goods.

As far as my school is concerned, the "bloggy catechism" is unadulterated nonsense. Over the two decades that I have been serving on hiring committees, we have never given any special preference to candidates with doctorates. In fact, many candidates with doctorates get quickly winnowed out of the applicant pool because they overstress research and understress teaching in their personal statements. Our community college is a teaching institution. If you don't get that, we don't want you.
 
I think there's a far more fundamental part of that "bloggy catechism" that needs to be understood, and it's that, within the graduate programs, ALL work that doesn't keep you on-track to land in a research-one job is frowned upon. (That's especially true in the humanities, but there's elements of it all over - I was SPECIFICALLY and FORCEFULLY discouraged away from teaching postdocs in my own biosciences PhD, by an advisor who was in every other respect quite happy to resist convention. When my own research postdoc started to turn to rolling disaster, I really didn't handle it well.)

Of course, where you are (and where I am as well, at a teaching-centered SLAC), teaching experience and the ability to wear several different teaching hats is a plus and not a minus. The number of four-year schools where that is considered a positive is dwindling, though, and dwindling RAPIDLY (my own job searches are littered with "a research plan that can support undergraduates" that the school really wants to be a mini-R1 moneymaker...um, reality, please?), and CC's retain their stigma within the PhD programs, because they're not prestige.

You would think intelligent people in this economy would understand that a job is a job is a damn job. I don't think that message is carrying, though.
 
Another area for Ph.D's to look is teaching high school, especially at private schools (though my local public has plenty of Ph.D's as well). Talk about focusing on teaching! And, actually, I still do research, I'm giving two presentations this summer, gave one this spring, and had an article come out this month. I also still write grants and other things normally associated with teaching at the college level.

I was lucky to have been prepared to teach in grad school. I had a short class on teaching when I first started my MA program, and then a longer, more in-depth class at the beginning of my Ph.D. program. And then I wrote my dissertation about teaching.

When looking for jobs, I looked for both and actually landed a job at a school down the road. The work load was more and the pay was less than I make now as a secondary school teacher. I know at least one of my colleagues made the same move to teaching at an independent school. One could easily get certified for teaching in public schools simultaneous to getting one's Ph.D.
 
One could easily get certified for teaching in public schools simultaneous to getting one's Ph.D.

I have been teaching college-level science for 14+ years, 9 of these full time at a community college. This past year, I became certified to teach HS biology and middle school general science; this was due to personal reasons as I have a pretty heinous commute and three young children so my thought was I might be able to land a teaching job closer to my house.

I will say that there is no incentive to really switch careers. At least in my state, K-12 teachers need to take a certain number of workshops in their field to reach the next level of licensure. The ironic thing? I could actually teach the subject matter of many of those enrichment workshops. When I asked the higher education folks if there were any way to waive this for someone who had already been teaching these topics to adults, they essentially told me "too bad"; I'm not talking about educational philosophies workshops, but rather, workshops in my scientific areas of expertise.

K-12 teaching might be an option for a newly minted PhD, but not for someone who is middle-aged and already has quite a few years of college-level teaching under their belt.
 
Yes, yes, and yes.

We definitely hire adjuncts, both our own and someone else's (teaching four year and CC). We sometimes get someone who started at a 4-year regional that decided to emphasize research over teaching as they fantasize about becoming an R1.

Other things being equal (meaning teaching), we do have a preference for a PhD because of the scope of knowledge and experience they bring. We'd like real-world experience as a substitute for the PhD, but those usually lack a sense of what is needed in our classroom. Your point about a diversity of spare 18-grad-hours is also extremely important, particularly at small colleges.

I'd go further than the first commenter, backing up one of your main points. Outcomes and their assessment are more than a buzzword. There is real value in deciding that a deep learning of some topics is more important than a shallow knowledge of many, and in a cross-campus (even cross department) discussion of what those should be.

Finally, you didn't mention "teaching portfolio", something any grad program interested in the future employability of its grads should emphasize.
 
Ideally, you'd have something like a 2-3 year teaching-intensive masters. It doesn't make much sense from a money standpoint to spend 7 years on a PhD to go to a high teaching load job with a low salary and no research. That's a huge opportunity cost in terms of training that isn't renumerative. The problem is that there are too many PhDs in certain fields, so they end up at community colleges rather than doing what they spent all those years being trained for. If there weren't too many phds, then community colleges would continue to hire masters degrees, just like they do in fields that aren't over-populated.
 
@Anonymous 5:16, I know people who've made the switch during middle age. I did. Though I went the Independent School route where a Ph.D. is more important than teaching certification. And most schools don't require certification. I'm lucky to be in an area with a lot of Independent Schools and that may not be the case for you or others looking for alternatives.
 
It is rare to find cheapest online phd programs for students but now we have this approach. We offer degrees with the lowest rates for them.

 
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