Community College Honors and Developmental Faculty: Characteristics, Practices, and Implications for Access and Educational Equity

By Kisker, Carrie B.; Outcalt, Charles L. | Community College Review, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Community College Honors and Developmental Faculty: Characteristics, Practices, and Implications for Access and Educational Equity


Kisker, Carrie B., Outcalt, Charles L., Community College Review


This study explores the demographic, personal, and professional characteristics of honors and developmental faculty in community colleges. The authors uncover significant racial and ethnic patterns and arrive at a preliminary typology of those who teach at the upper and lower margins of the two-year college curriculum.

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Community colleges enroll approximately 5.5 million students, or nearly half of all first-time college students. In addition, they serve a disproportionately high percentage of students of color (Cohen & Brawer, 2003). Therefore, community colleges are not only an important part of the higher education system in general, but they are integral in providing educational access for students of color. Despite the fact that community colleges educate millions of students, they receive scant attention in the research literature, especially in studies that marry two distinct aspects of an institution, such as its faculty and curriculum. This gap in the literature is especially serious at the margins of the community college: Very little is known about the instructors who teach the most and least prepared students through community college honors and developmental programs (Boylan, Bonham, Jackson, & Saxon, 1995; Bulakowski & Townsend, 1995).

Honors and developmental courses are significant for two reasons. First, they represent the "bookends" of the community college curriculum and, as such, provide an understanding of the range of courses offered at community colleges. Perhaps even more importantly, developmental and honors programs form highly important links between community colleges and other types of educational institutions. Developmental courses can bridge the gap between secondary and higher education for students who are not prepared for college-level work. For their part, honors courses can act as a stepping-stone to four-year schools through course content and by enhancing students' chances of acceptance at baccalaureate institutions.

After a brief discussion of the conceptual framework employed in this study, we present the literature on honors and developmental programs in community colleges, as well as the research questions and methods used to analyze honors and developmental faculty. We then present the results of this analysis and discuss the significance and implications for research and practice.

Field Analysis as a Conceptual Foundation

Our understanding of the ways in which educational institutions interact with one another draws upon the theoretical work of Bourdieu and Wacquant (1992). As these authors' notion of field analysis suggests, rather than viewing institutions as separate and distinct entities, higher education can be conceptualized as a field within which actors (in this case, colleges and universities) work within the context of one another. Field analysis reminds us that--while it might be convenient to study various segments of higher education in isolation from one another--students, and indeed society, interact with higher education as a whole rather than with merely one segment at a time. While field analysis has only rarely been explicitly applied to studies of higher education (McDonough, Ventresca, & Outcalt, 2000), Bourdieu's conceptual framework is useful in conceptualizing higher education as an integrated system in which institutions help students move, or attempt to move, from one segment to another, and this framework allows for the examination of instruments that facilitate or impede that movement. This study will focus on two such instruments in community colleges: faculty teaching honors courses and faculty teaching in developmental programs.

Literature on Community College Honors and Developmental Programs

Although the community college literature contains some information about honors and developmental courses--primarily studies of the students within these programs--very little is written about those who teach at the upper and lower margins of the community college curriculum (Boylan et al. …

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