Monday, July 27, 2009

Ask the Administrator: Tracking the Elusive Full-Time Business/Management Gig

A new correspondent writes:

I just read your post on full-time English gigs. Is the picture any brighter for those of us with MBAs who want a full-time CC gig [teaching] business/management?

Coming on the heels of the "don't do it!" advice I gave to the prospective English professor, this one is a bit different.

The 'Business' major at the community college level, in my observation, is neither exactly fish nor fowl. It's about the real world, but most of the students who major in business -- and it's typically one of the two or three largest majors at the cc's I know -- transfer to four-year programs upon graduation. Although most cc's that I've seen have some immediately employable options within their Business programs, they're usually either very specific niches (i.e. accounting, culinary) or historical survivals on their way out (i.e. 'administrative professional,' or what used to be called 'secretarial sciences'). Most of the action is in the transfer programs.

(Before the inevitable flaming, I'll just say that my observation may well be regionally specific. I'm told that 'paralegal' programs are still relatively common and viable out West, for example. Here, not so much, since paralegal jobs pay so badly.)

It isn't unusual to see business departments that encompass everything from accounting to computer science to law. The people who teach in these programs, accordingly, tend to be utility infielders (that is, people who can teach more than one thing), and they usually have significant real-world experience. We do very well recruiting from the business world, since we can offer lifestyle, benefit, and stability packages increasingly unlike what tends to be found in the private sector.

The culture of business departments tends to be markedly different from the culture of liberal arts departments. Most of the liberal arts faculty always intended to be college faculty, and many of them have never held significant lengths of employment doing anything else. This is both good (dedication to mission, plenty of focus) and bad (tunnel vision, institutional naivete). Since business faculty tend to have had significant experience in the private sector, they tend to get less caught up in the internal politics of the college. Whether that reflects a healthy sense of perspective, gratitude for knowing just how good they actually have it, or a mercenary sense that there's little to be gained by it, depends on your angle to the universe.

Business faculty often get more opportunities for external consulting gigs and/or noncredit teaching. This, too, may explain their relatively lower profile on campus; they aren't around as much.

The joy in being a business professor is that you can have the best of both worlds. You can have the security and benefits of an academic job, and the lucrative consulting opportunities of the private sector. This is especially true in the summer. Even better, opportunities for 'extra' classes tend to be countercyclical to the larger economy, so the moments when consulting gigs fall flat -- that is, recessions -- tend to be the moments when, say, summer classes are the most plentiful.

For those interested in these gigs, though, a couple of caveats:

1. We don't hire many. Part of that is because we don't hire many of anybody, and part of it is that current business departments often comprise people absorbed from earlier programs (secretarial sciences, say) that have gone by the boards.

2. When we do hire, we don't usually hire spanking-new MBA's. We like people who've been in the business world. They bring a certain credibility with students, and in some programs, they can bring valuable contacts.

Admittedly, this is all based on my personal observation, with all the limitations that implies. Folks in the field, or in different parts of the country where things look markedly different, are invited to fill out the picture in the comments.

Good luck!

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