Women Faculty in Community Colleges: Investigating the Mystery

Article excerpt

The author reviews recent literature on women faculty in higher education and in two-year institutions specifically. Existing research indicates that despite their higher numbers in administrative and faculty positions at community college, women often are marginalized because they serve in lower level and untenured slots that are concentrated in a few disciplines at less pay than men in similar positions. Likewise, women hold a higher percentage of instructor and lecturer positions that are non-tenure-track than men. Based on the literature review, the author points to the need for more research on women as faculty at both two- and four-year institutions to determine common social constructs that might prevent women from climbing the ladder to high-level faculty and administrative positions. The author delineates a research strategy that includes qualitative and quantitative data collection on women as graduate students and as professionals at different career levels across disciplines at both two- and four-year institutions.

Careers in the academy have been changing for several decades as the American higher education system has evolved from one of elite exclusivity to a multi-level mass education system. Expanding numbers and types of institutions have resulted in different roles and responsibilities for faculty members: Flagship research universities emphasize individual scholarship whereas comprehensive state colleges and community colleges focus on educating masses of undergraduates in a large variety of disciplines. At the same time, financial pressures on both public and private higher education institutions have resulted in cost-saving measures that have affected faculty ranks. Colleges now rely on more part-time and non-tenure-track limited-term teaching positions than in the past, especially at cash-strapped community colleges (Cohen & Brawer, 1996).

Faculty and administrators at both research universities and community colleges face organizational issues such as teaching versus research, tenure- versus non-tenure-track positions, part-time academics, funding battles, science versus the arts and literature, and remedial coursework versus college-level studies. Community colleges, in particular, have gone through major restructuring efforts during the past several decades to fulfill their expanding missions of vocational education for those students not continuing on to a four-year institution for a baccalaureate degree, and adult and remedial education.

In the midst of such systemic-level change, a common pattern appears to be emerging. Relatively small numbers of women and members of ethnic minorities progress up the academic career ladder to the top as departmental leaders (Fox, 1995; West, 1995). Even tenure-track professors at the nation's different types of postsecondary institutions point to the existence of widespread institutional barriers to their advancement within the individual academic disciplinary structures (Fox, 1995; West, 1995). Despite the virtual parity in the numbers of women and men attending college and many graduate and professional school programs for the last decade, the numbers of women who advance to positions of academic prominence and leadership in all types of disciplines remains relatively small, except perhaps for such traditionally feminine pursuits as nursing and education (Fox, 1995). This review was completed to explore the literature involving women faculty members in higher education, with a particular focus on community colleges, and to explore the processes of faculty socialization and other formal and informal organizational structures that may contribute to the generally lower status of women in the academy. Furthermore, a new line of research will be proposed to expand understanding of this issue, which is important for all women in the nation's higher education institutions, both students and faculty.

Women Faculty in the Community Colleges and Beyond

In total, women make up around 33% of the faculty at institutions of higher education in general and around 38% of the faculty at community colleges, with minority female faculty making up 2. …