Academic journal article Adult Learning

Adult Education Chasm: Addressing the Disconnect between Community Colleges and Adult Education

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Adult Education Chasm: Addressing the Disconnect between Community Colleges and Adult Education

Article excerpt

Recently, I had an experience as a community college instructor that made me deeply and critically think about my role, my understanding of the field, and the identity of the community college and adult education organizations. This reflection describes the experience, examines the two theorized explanations, and offers implications for adult education organizations and community college faculty and administrators. At the beginning of the semester when administrators encouraged faculty to consider professional development opportunities, I submitted a proposal for the college to fully or partially fund a trip to an adult education conference. I provided a rationale for the conference, a list of expenses, and a detailed list of sessions I felt would impact my role as a community college instructor. I thought the college might deny the proposal based on cost, but I did not expect the college to deny the proposal based on content. The college denied funding for the conference because they felt provided sessions would not directly impact my work. I teach writing and research, and they suggested I find a conference for English instructors. I was confused. How could a conference on adult education not impact my work as an adult educator? I began to wonder how they reached this conclusion, and I theorized two possible explanations, both of which have great impact on the perceived identity of the community college, the role of faculty, and the mission of adult education organizations.

As the first possible explanation, community college administrators may not recognize adult education organizations as representative of their profession. Although I and some of my colleagues have degrees in adult education or higher education, degrees which offer curricula focused on community colleges as centers of adult education, most of my colleagues and administrators do not have adult education or higher education degrees or backgrounds. Community college faculty generally come from other fields. They may have taught in public schools, earned their master's degrees, and then chose to use that master's degree to teach in their local community college. Or they may have come from jobs in other industries like engineering or accounting and decided to leave their profession to teach. According to Gahn and Twombly (2001), over 50% of community college instructors come from a previous job outside of higher education such as businesses, nonprofit organizations, and public schools. The percentage of faculty members coming from businesses and public schools could be even higher, however. Their research did not explore initial career status before the academic jobs held during the study. Therefore, for the less than 50% of study participants who reported coming to their current position in community colleges from a 2- or 4-year institution, some could have had jobs in business or public school before taking their first academic job and simply changed academic institutions prior to the study.

If most community college faculty and administrators transition to higher education from business or public elementary, middle, or secondary education, their knowledge of professional organizations representing their field may be limited to those connected with their previous job. They may not have been introduced to adult education organizations. In my 18 years of teaching in community colleges, adult education organizations have never presented at my colleges, reached out to faculty, or encouraged faculty to attend or present at adult education conferences. Administrators at community colleges may not know that adult education organizations represent them or that what they do and the services the college provides are part of "adult education." Many community college administrators work their way up from faculty roles, which means they may have come from public school or industry, or hired because they have management experience, in which case their knowledge of professional organizations is limited to their chosen industry. …

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