Faculty Careers in Community Colleges

Teaching Positions in Community Colleges
For PhDs, Masters, ABDs and Postdocs

    The following page is based on information provided in a career discussion program given by Dr. Alexine Fleck, Assistant Professor of English, Community College of Philadelphia

    Informal bio: Alexine wasn't sure what to do when she was finishing up her PhD. She didn't want to leave Philadelphia, had an obscure and off-the-beaten path dissertation subject, and was ambivalent about academics as a career. She applied for faculty position at four-year schools with no luck. She considered going into social services or teaching in high school. On the prompting of her sister, she also applied to Bucks County Community College, where she got a job in the English Department. It turned out to the right fit for her. After a few years, she applied for a position at the Community College of Philadelphia, where she got a tenure-track position in the English Department. She specializes in teaching Developmental reading and writing (for students who are not yet ready for college-level courses) and Women's Studies.

    Careers in Community Colleges

    The founding principle of community colleges (which trace back to 1880s, but became what we think of now in the 1960s) was that quality affordable education should be available to all people. There is commitment to community. There are no admission requirements; students come from a wide range of educational backgrounds and have both educational and career goals in mind; classes are offered at a wide range of levels and (ideally) there is lots of support for them. The majority of students need to take at least a few developmental-level courses.

    Is community college for you?

    If you are interested in career in community colleges, then these are some of the questions to ask yourself to determine if this career path might be a good fit for you:

    • Are you interested in teaching?
    • Are you interested enough in teaching to deprioritize your academic research? In other words, do you want to do academic work for its own sake, not for tenure/promotion?
    • Are you both idealistic and pragmatic?
    • Are you patient enough to deal with students who are often anxious about an academic culture that can be very alien?
    • Can you find creative solutions to meet their educational needs, which can seem overwhelming?
    • Are you interested in teaching a very diverse student body based on race, ethnicity, age, background, motivation, learning style, etc.?

    Do not apply if...
    There are many good reasons to apply for faculty positions within Community Colleges, but you will need to make a convincing argument in your application materials and during and interview to be slected for a position. So, you may want to carefully consider this career path, and it may not be the best idea to apply if:

    • Community Colleges (CCs) are just your safety net (they can tell)
    • You haven't researched CCs and don't know what you're getting into (they can tell)
    • You don't love teaching (they can tell, sort of)

    Reasons to consider Community Colleges

    Advantages:

    • Job expectations are very clear: teach and be a good departmental citizen. You do not need to publish to get tenure, although there is a vibrant intellectual community in CCs.
    • Bucks has great technological support; CCP has some classrooms with amazing technology and many more classrooms with only a chalkboard.
    • There is usually lots of student supportservices within community colleges

    o Tutoring center
    o Career services
    o Counseling
    o Transfer help
    o Financial aid help

    • Tenure: mostly stick around and do your job. At CCP, your fifth year contract = tenure (promotion requires a little more)
    • Investment in community

    o Public events (literary, theatrical, social issues, etc.)
    o Non-credit courses
    o Vocational courses
    o Bring courses to community centers, retirement homes, etc.
    o Bucks and CCP have programs to pay for one semester of courses for any recently laid off resident.

    • Not as much service expected, and you're often paid for doing extra work (such as advising). You should plan to serve on committees.
    • They are often unionized which means the salary is good.
    • Lots of hiring right now. Some schools hire in fall AND spring. Bucks and CCP often hire their own part-timers, so adjuncting and getting involved with the college can be a good investment in a future full-time job.
    • Better chance of teaching where you want to live – CCs are everywhere
    • You can actually feel like you're helping people
    • Very student centered
    • Room for innovation
    • CC students tend to be wide open – they are in a moment of transition and school, for some of them, is this amazing new experience.

    o For other students, however, school is not something they are looking forward to. Rather, they are trying to squeeze their education around a full-time job and family responsibilities.

    Disadvantages:

    • 4/4 course load

    o usually 1 lit course and 3 comp courses; at CCP, you might only get a lit course occasionally
    o you are expected to be able to teach writing
    o you need to learn how to teach reading, which is harder than it seems
    o courses tend to be introductory; they are the equivalent of first and second years at a 4-year school

    • Less student engagement

    o Commuter campus
    o Students often working full time AND going to college full time

    • Burnout
    • Some students come in with some pretty serious disadvantages (economic, family, social, emotional/mental, physical) – you are expected to teach to all of them. A typical Community College student population might consist of:

    o Students who need a little extra schooling before they move onto 4 year colleges
    o Students who can't afford 4 year colleges, and need to do their first 2 years at a CC
    o Precocious high-school students
    o People who need a degree to advance in their career
    o Mothers/housewives returning to school
    o Laid off workers returning to school
    o International students
    o People with learning differences
    o People who need remedial education (below college level)
    o People looking for continuing education (senior citizens, for example)
    o People looking for industry training

    Interviewing/Hiring Process

    Bucks County Community College

    • 7 hour/1 day interview
    • 14 people interviewed me in pairs
    • Open interview at end
    • Each pair asked me a predetermined set of questions

    o Why I want to teach at CC?
    o Why do I want to teach at this CC (good to know history of school for this question)
    o How to teach different sorts of learners/"cerebrodiversity"
    o Use of technology
    o Online courses
    o What would I contribute to the culture of the college?
    o How do I see myself helping students out of the classroom?
    o Who are my pedagogical inspirations?
    o How would I explain the mission of a CC in a sound bite?

    • Asked each person why they ended up here

    o Many said Bucks had saved their lives – they had started here as a student and went on to do graduate work and came back to teach. Many people have been there for years.
    o Plenty of former UPenn folk who just didn't like the academic life.


    Community College of Philadelphia

    • 7 month interview process:

    o sent in materials
    o called in for panel interview and teaching demonstration: 20 min demo; 20 min interview; predetermined questions
    o met with department chair(s)
    o met with dean and vice president
    o met with president

    Advice for applying

    • CCs don't tend to advertise in MLA JIL, so you should go to college websites to look for job listings
    • Read the job description/ad very carefully
    • Tailor application materials to ad and, if possible, catalog descriptions so that your teaching experience matches the language that CC uses
    • Research school - visit a CC if possible
    • Need to show you know what a CC is in terms of its mission, students, and the types of courses offered
    • Understand the challenges CCs face in terms of budgets and students with diverse abilities, backgrounds, and needs
    • Be able to give a clear reason why you want to teach in CC
    • Look at course offerings (note what they offer and what they don't offer)
    • Try to find out if they're receptive to new courses (CCP) or if it's harder to start new courses (Bucks)
    • Mention technology – lots of interest in technology, particularly online and hybrid courses
    • Do not overplay that you went to Penn – don't come across as snooty or like you think they're bumpkins. They are not.
    • Show you have interest in students
    • Dissertation is important, but don't put it up front and limit discussion of dissertation/academic work to one paragraph, placed near the end of your letter. Foreground teaching instead
    • Show you can teach generalist, intro-level courses
    • Know about assessment (rubrics, portfolios, alternative)
    • Understand that you are not in this for the money
    • Know about teaching comp
    • Consider working as adjunct – CCs often hire from their own part timers (unlike 4 year colleges)—seems to be at least 50% of hires

    Resources

    Job Search Materials
    Here is a cover letter and a CV for a community college teaching position as well as the writer's CV and cover letter for a faculty position at a university or selective liberal arts college.