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Old goal far from reality

Colleges statewide lack full-time faculty, funds

By Cody McFarland, associate editor
On March 15, 2014

  • When the solar panels went online in 2008, the district’s kilowatt expenses began to gradually decline. Lorenzo Morotti and George Morin / The Advocate

The statewide goal of community colleges to achieve and maintain a standard that a minimum of 75 percent of classes are taught by full-time professors is far from a reality in California, despite being initiated more than 25 years ago.
Assembly Bill 1725, passed in 1988, mandates that California community colleges work toward and preserve that standard, yet the state failed to continue funding its progress after only two years.
Like most two-year colleges in the state, Contra Costa College struggles to progress toward the 75/25 full- to part-time ratio. However, a wide variety of factors, including geography, unstable enrollment and cuts made to education funding over the last two decades, have impeded growth for many community colleges throughout California.
"It is a project that the state undertook but proved unable to fund on an ongoing basis," CCC President Denise Noldon said. "I would never argue against having more full-timers. I just don't see it as possible under our current funding structure."
As of fall 2013, the Contra Costa Community College District's percentage of full-time faculty was at 50.78 percent, down nearly 4 percent from fall 2012. Yet CCC, like many other California community colleges, continues to meet the annual state mandated minimum, known as the Full-time Faculty Obligation Number, without making any actual progress toward the 75/25 goal.
"Fifty percent is an embarrassingly low number," United Faculty President Jeffrey Michels said. "It's unfortunate and a real weak spot for our district. Our faculty deserve full-time jobs and our students deserve full-time teachers."
The district currently has one of the lowest ratios in all of Northern California, Dr. Michels said.
As of fall 2013, only two districts in the state had 75 percent or more classes being taught by full-time faculty: San Mateo and West Hills community college districts.
Vice Chancellor of Human Resources and Employee Relations for the San Mateo Community College District Harry Joel said that in his 12 years of service with that district, they have not gone below the 75 percent full-time faculty line.
Joel attributes their success to monitoring numbers on a regular basis, having many people involved and constantly reviewing up-to-date and historical information with the 75/25 goal kept closely in mind.
"It's more of an art than a science," he said. "We're juggling the college budget. How much can we afford? Is enrollment up or down? What demand is there and for what classes? These are factors to consider when staffing for a new semester."
Unlike the CCCCD, SMCCD is a basic aid district, meaning that property values within that area are high enough to cover the expenses of the college district through property taxes alone. Basic aid districts do not receive additional state funding per Full-Time Equivalent Students, like the CCCCD does.
If AB 1725's provisions were strictly followed, districts that fail to improve their ratio would be stripped of up to 40 percent of their funding. Though a high number of districts fall into this category, none have been denied funding for this reason.
Because part-time faculty are less expensive than full-timers, there is an incentive for colleges to not hire full-timers in favor of hiring adjunct professors, Michels said.
Adjunct or part-time professors are only allowed to teach up to 67 percent of a full load and are only paid for half of one office hour, if given office hours at all. Attempting to make a connection with students and provide the quality instruction and regular availability of a full-time professor is not possible from adjunct professors, he said.
"It's very hard to be a good, consistent teacher while trying to run back and forth between different colleges," Michels said.
Astronomy, physics and engineering assistant professor Mark Wong was formerly an adjunct, but is now in his first year as a full-time professor.
Wong said that becoming a full-time faculty member has "absolutely" benefitted his ability to assist students.
"I'm here all day long, so rather than running from campus to campus, I'm able to meet with students more in accordance with a schedule," he said.
Speech professor and department Chairperson Sherry Diestler served as an adjunct professor for eight years before getting hired as a full-time instructor at CCC.
Diestler said her experience "teaching in three districts and living in a fourth" made her feel as if she was not really a part of the three college's departments she was teaching in. Her opinion was seldom considered and she was forced into schedules instead of being allowed to choose one that worked within her existing teaching schedule.
She said the advantages of becoming a full-time professor are that you have a professional home, one student body to love and a loyalty to one campus.
"You feel like you have more of a part to play in the success of students and of the campus. Our adjuncts have that, but they have to subdivide that between the places they work," Diestler said.
She said, however, that being an adjunct professor is good for some and is ideal for working professionals who can pass down knowledge and experience from the field.
Adjunct fine art professor Dana Davis agrees.
"Part-timers are a screaming deal," Davis said. "They come at a low cost and teach students about the world they come from, a world many of the students are trying to enter. That's our added value."
He said he appreciates his minimal teaching load as an adjunct because it allows him to expend all of his energy in one class session, adding that, "As a part-timer only teaching one class a day, I don't feel the need to pace myself."
Yet, there are some downsides.
"I like having a foot in both worlds, but the money could be better," he said. "Job security is very tenuous and there's no guarantee or feeling of control over whether we'll (adjuncts) be here from one semester to the next."
Engineering and physics major Christopher Estrada said, "It doesn't matter to me if a teacher is part- or full-time, so long as we have more classes being made available, especially in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program."
Estrada said discerning between part- and full-time professors is not an issue of quality, but one of availability. He said having more full-timers would allow for students to become familiar and comfortable with a specific professor and really get the attention they need through office hours, which most adjunct professors do not have.
"But really, part-timers are just as good as full-timers," he said. 

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