ERIC Review: Community College Teaching-Toward Collegiality and Community

By Outcalt, Charles L. | Community College Review, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

ERIC Review: Community College Teaching-Toward Collegiality and Community


Outcalt, Charles L., Community College Review


This review of the literature focuses on community college faculty and their teaching practices. After summarizing faculty demographic changes since the 1970s, the author describes both obstacles to effective teaching and the innovations that faculty use to overcome them. Although isolation, growing reliance on part-timers, pressure to produce research, underprepared students, and inadequate resources for development continue to challenge community college faculty, they have responded by using innovative methods such as learning communities, collaborative learning, and self-directed learning. The review concludes with descriptions of institution-wide efforts that have transformed teaching and produced innovative curricula.

There is no doubt that teaching occupies a hallowed spot in community colleges. "Community college faculty stand out from many of their professorial colleagues not only because of the size and diversity of their sector of higher education, but also because teaching--far more than research or service--is the heart of their profession" (Huber, 1998, p. 12). The Commission on the Future of Community Colleges asserted the following in 1988, "The community college should be the nation's premier teaching institution. Quality instruction should be the hallmark of the movement" (as cited in DeBard, 1995, p. 34). Cohen and Brawer summarize this point aptly: "First and last, the junior college purports to be a teaching institution.... For the junior college instructor, then, the process of instruction is crucial to identity formation" (1972, p. 13).

Some educational researchers assert, however, that community college teaching is given scant attention in the research literature (Grubb, 1999). O'Banion echoes this concern, stating "The unchallenged assumption was that the community college was the `teaching college,' and the lack of research and publications on the part of its faculty was ironically cited as proof" (cited in Huber, 1998, p. 12). Although it may be true that a great deal more research and reflection on community college instruction are necessary, the recent educational literature does provide a wealth of information on teaching. This ERIC review will outline several trends discernible in the literature, especially the tendency toward more collaborative teaching that directs responsibility for instructional success not just to the community of instructors, but also to cooperative relationships between students and teachers, and among students.

Before considering the practice of teaching, it would be useful to outline a few demographic facts regarding community college faculty. Over the last quarter-century, the professional origins of community college faculty have shifted considerably, with far fewer tracing their roots to high school instruction. In 1973, 53.6% of community college faculty had taught in high schools; this percentage had deceased to 26.3% in 1993 (DeBard, 1995). DeBard notes that graduate school has remained a consistent source for community college faculty, although many of the instructors hired with experience as graduate teaching assistants at four-year colleges do not stay at the community college. The importance of community college faculty for higher education cannot be overestimated: Huber (1998) reports that community college faculty constitute 31% of all United States higher education faculty, teaching 39% of all higher education students and 46% of all first-year students. Cohen and Brawer (1996) note that an increasing number of community college faculty are minorities (14.5% in 1992) and women (44% in 1992). Throughout the century the proportion of faculty who have earned a doctorate has increased greatly, with up to 22% holding this degree according to a 1987 study cited by Cohen and Brawer (1996). The average age in the community college professoriate has increased steadily since the wave of hiring in the 1960s, although this figure seems likely to decrease when these instructors retire and are replaced by younger colleagues (Cohen & Brawer, 1996). …

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