After spending nearly 20 years working in corporate America for companies like General Electric and Digital Equipment Corporation (Hewlett Packard), Winston Maddox wanted to make a difference—so he turned his attention to teaching.
“I was a late bloomer and many traditional educators thought I was not college worthy,” says Maddox, who is currently the dean of the Business and Technology Division at Mercer County Community College (MCCC), located in central New Jersey. “Community college provided opportunities for a student like me. So I found this environment to be an excellent place to help others in similar situations.”
At one time—not too long ago—community colleges were thought to be the place where faculty who couldn’t get a four-year teaching job landed. But that perception has rapidly changed, particularly for minorities with terminal degrees who are consciously making the choice to choose to work at a community college instead of a four-year college or university.
That growing interest aligns with the nation’s changing demographics. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, more students are enrolled in one of the nation’s 1,132 community colleges than other institutions. Maddox, who taught computer information systems and programming for 11 years and has served as dean for the last six years at MCCC, was hired as an assistant professor and eventually earned the rank of associate and full professor. A former department chair, he was appointed interim dean for two years after the previous person resigned.
Now, Maddox—who oversees one of the largest divisions on campus—is interested in developing a pipeline to encourage other minorities to consider teaching and working in administration at community colleges across the country such as Mercer.
“I think we need to look for individuals who represent the populations we serve,” says Maddox. “The job of a community college administrator is a nontraditional one. You are educator, manager, the support for faculty, curriculum developer, student advocate, and tight-rope walker. One has to balance the requirements of the administration as well as the needs of the faculty.”
Maddox believes that community colleges should develop management programs to groom future deans among their faculty. The burgeoning college, which has about 12,000 students, is increasing its diversity from the top. Jianping Wang, who is Asian American, was recently appointed president of Mercer. Last year, Eun-Woo Chang, who is Asian American, too, was hired as vice president for academic affairs.
Unlike Maddox, Jacqueline M. Jones was convinced that she would teach at a four-year institution when she was awarded a Ph.D. in 2010 from the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Though Jones had taught at Holyoke Community College during her years as a graduate student at UMass, “I thought that community college was not for me,” Jones says.
When she entered the job market, Jones applied to LaGuardia Community College—which is part of the City University of New York system—largely because the school was situated in her hometown. But when Jones arrived for her interview, she was blown away by the intellectual climate on campus and impressed by the scholarship of the faculty.
“The work that people were doing there really matched the stuff that I was doing,” says Jones, who will come up for tenure next fall. She has worked as an assistant professor of English at LaGuardia since 2010, teaching a mix of composition and literature courses.
In Jones’ department, which boasts 60 full-time faculty and about 50 adjunct professors, the doctoral degree is coveted. At the very least, committee members have been interested in hiring candidates who are at least ABD, or “all but dissertation.” As community-college jobs become more selective, many search committees are looking for candidates to hold terminal degrees in their field, say community college experts. That was not the case two decades ago.
Contrary to the perception that all community-college instructors do is teach and engage in on-campus service, Jones says that publishing is imperative. “Publishing is an expectation,” she says. “It’s something we are engaged in.”
That was another factor that lured her to LaGuardia. An expert in African American literature, Jones has written an article that will soon be published in the Modern Language Studies journal and is writing a book chapter focused on The Cosby Show.
In the five years that she’s been at LaGuardia, two of Jones’ colleagues—both graduates from UMass Amherst’s Department of Afro-American Studies—have joined the full-time faculty.
“The successes are big,” she says of the wide range of students whom she meets on campus each day. “We really have all kinds of students. Many students could be elsewhere but they might be saving money. We [also] have an honors program on campus.”
As community college enrollment continues to spike throughout the nation, particularly among black and brown students, there will likely be a greater effort by some to ensure that the faculty and the administration adequately reflect the growing racial demographic.
For example, according to the Digest of Education Statistics, in 1995, black and Hispanic/Latino faculty accounted for 5.8 percent and 3.5 percent of the faculty at public two-year colleges. In 2011, these same groups accounted for 8.1 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
“So, if taken as a whole, then yes, there has been an increase in the number of faculty of color in community colleges,” says J. Luke Wood, an associate professor and director of the doctoral program in community college leadership at San Diego State University. “That being said, 14.9 percent of community-college students are black and 20 percent are Hispanic/Latino, so there is massive disproportionality between faculty and students.”
Wood says that, if the nation’s current enrollment of Latino students attending community colleges didn’t grow at all, it would take about 60 years for the community-college faculty to be reflective of its student diversity.
“Anecdotally, what we have seen is that the ranks of the adjunct faculty and faculty without tenure is where the diversity is actually taking place,” says Wood. “The ranks of full-time faculty and those with tenure is White and gray.”
Still, he says that the community-college environment can be an ideal place for minorities looking to join academe and to make a lasting impact.
“For those who have a commitment to social justice, the community college provides a unique opportunity to work with students in the most diverse sector of American postsecondary education,” says Wood. “The community college serves as the primary pathway into postsecondary education for society’s most underserved, particularly students of color. It is an institution where your work can really make a difference.”
Wood acknowledges the present popularity of two-year institutions. “Because community colleges have been the focus of President Obama’s administration, interest among policymakers, philanthropic organizations, and the public at large is at an all-time high,” says Wood.
“So, for prospective administrators, they are entering an educational sector that has the nation’s attention,” says Wood. “While this will dissipate some after Obama leaves office, his administration has made it more acceptable for college leaders to consider community colleges as a viable first-choice career path.”
This story is part of our Next America: Workforce project, which is supported by a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
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