Career Stages of Community College Faculty: A Qualitative Analysis of Their Career Paths, Roles, and Development

Article excerpt

Twenty-two faculty at a Midwestern community college were interviewed to elicit their perceptions of their career paths, their early-stage career roles, and the role played by faculty development in their early careers. Based on the interview data, the majority did not foresee their career path and chose the community college because of its emphasis on teaching. Participants indicated that their career roles changed over time from an emphasis totally on teaching to one that included supplemental activities and that research was encouraged in their work. Many perceived faculty development activities as having a significant impact on their careers. The authors make recommendations for faculty recruitment, retention, and development.

Despite the growth of community colleges in our society and the claim that the strength of these colleges is in their faculty, very little research has been done in recent years to provide insight into this group of academic professionals. Over time, studies have provided certain demographic characteristics of community college faculty, often on a national level, and reflected the change in background from a group of high school teachers fleeing the public school system (Gleazer, 1968; Johnson, 1958) to a group of faculty without a clearly specified professional role (Alfred & Linder, 1992; Cohen & Brawer, 1972, 1996). Researchers have cyclically looked at faculty job satisfaction, preparation, staff development, issues of teaching and learning, and career stages (Barnsley, 1992; Carter & Ottinger, 1992: Cohen, 1972, 1973; Frankel, 1973; Keim, 1989; O'Banion, 1972). Yet these findings are often drawn from the extremes of national survey data or discipline-specific studies (Debard, 1995; Zappia, 1995). Additionally, data on community college faculty are often derived from subsets of larger studies of postsecondary faculty or from using four-year college models to study two-year college faculty (Blackburn & Lawrence, 1995; Furniss, 1981). Few studies have focused on developing two-year college faculty models or on beliefs about and constructions of the community college faculty role. With the prediction of faculty shortages looming on the horizon (Bowen & Schuster, 1986; California Educational Policies Committee, 1991), it seems prudent that decision makers have a different understanding of their current (and prospective) labor force that is afforded through more in-depth inquiry into the lives of community college faculty.

To that end, the study described in this report was conducted to examine community college faculty in the early stages of their careers. This study represented an attempt to understand more deeply factors leading faculty to employment in a community college, conceptualizations of the faculty members' roles during early career years, and the potential impact of faculty development during this same period. A qualitative study of faculty at Midwest Community College (a pseudonym) was designed. Midwest Community College (MCC) was selected because its recruitment has remained stable during the last decade. It is a large suburban institution offering curricula across the comprehensive community college spectrum that had hired sufficient numbers of new faculty throughout that spectrum from which a sufficient sample could be drawn. Even if unlike more rural settings, the entry experiences of MCC faculty might be in common with faculty at other urban and suburban colleges where postsecondary and private sector employment options are fairly broad, regardless of advanced or specialized training.

Twenty-two early career community college faculty at MCC were purposively selected to meet the following criteria: (a) they were in their first six years of full-time teaching at a community college; (b) they represented diversity between liberal arts and technical-vocational programs; and (c) the sample included both gender and cultural diversity. Faculty were selected to capture these varied curricular orientations. …