Community College Faculty: Though pursuing research can be difficult at two-year colleges, many scholars of color are drawn by the opportunities to teach an increasingly diverse student population
Twenty-five years ago, Dr. Marilyn Howard fit the classic profile of the community college student. A first-generation college student from a working-class family, Howard did well all through elementary and secondary school, but lacked academic guidance or traditional preparation for higher education. It was not until she attended Columbus State Community College here, then a technical institute, that Howard was able to tap into her intellectual potential and, in the process, gain a lifelong appreciation for the two-year school.
Today, Howard is the picture-book community college professor. She thrives on mentoring students from diverse and nontraditional backgrounds as they develop their talents and discover their niche. And she is dedicated to life in the classroom.
"I wanted to teach," says Howard, who is a history professor at Columbus State.
"I like to do research and I like to write, but I think of myself as a teacher. The community college is one of the last bastions of teaching in higher education."
Like many of the nation's minority faculty, Howard, who is African American, was drawn to a career on a two-year campus because of her own experiences as a student, the comfort of the diverse environment and, ultimately, her belief in the open-access mission on which community colleges are built.
Although there is conflicting data about just how many faculty of color make their professional homes at two-year institutions, community colleges have long attracted African American, Hispanic and American Indian academics. Drawn by the diversity of the student body, the employment opportunities and the potential for gaining experience in the classroom, many professors of color begin their higher education careers at two-year schools.
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A recent study on faculty at public community colleges, commissioned by the American Association of Community Colleges in Washington, D.C., asserts that about a third of minority faculty in all of higher education and some 44 percent of the part-time ranks are employed at two-year schools.
Tronie Rifkin, of the Evaluation and Training Center in Los Angeles, authored the study. She argues that until recently, "community colleges were more likely than other sectors to employ women and minorities as members of the faculty." Recently, however, "the supposed lead that community colleges had in the proportion of minorities that teach at their institutions is shrinking," she writes.
This new trend is attributed, in part, to more aggressive efforts by universities to diversify their ranks. While nearly one in five new faculty hires at research and doctorate degree-granting institutions are identified as people who come from racially or ethnically under-represented groups, the latest federal statistics indicate that just 15 percent of those hired at community colleges are faculty of color.
But it is generally agreed that many two-year schools, particularly those in urban areas and diverse suburbs, appear to be well ahead of their four-year counterparts in creating a diverse professorial corps.
Surveys have echoed the reasons highlighted by Howard.
"The missions of teaching and service are attractive to minority faculty," says Ronald Opp, an associate professor of education at the University of Toledo who has studied community college faculty. "Community colleges are attracting more students of color, and, in turn, that attracts more faculty of color."
Opp points out that the requirements to teach at two-year institutions -- generally a master's degree -- draw minority faculty who cannot or choose not to seek a doctorate in their discipline. That goes for their White colleagues as …