Image: Applicants for employment in the Lockheed plant, Rondal Partridge, Photographer (NARA)
Teaching at a community college isn’t for everyone. But if you’re reading this, you no doubt think it might be for you. Trouble is: Unless you attended a two-year college, you probably don’t know much about this sector of academe.
Hence this series aimed at answering common questions about the community-college search process. With the rapid approach of a new hiring season, job candidates are almost certainly not getting any information about community colleges from their graduate-school professors and advisers who, for the most part, tend to steer students away from the two-year sector.
And sometimes they’re right to do so. If what you really want to be is a researcher at a research-focused institution, then a job at a community is probably not for you. It’s also not a reliable “fall-back” position — you know, in case you don’t get any other offers. It isn’t necessarily easier to get a tenure-track job at a two-year college than at a four-year institution, and hiring committee members will almost certainly be able to read between the lines of your application and see that you’re not fully sold on the idea of teaching at a community college.
On the other hand, for people who really enjoy teaching — or at least don’t openly despise it — community colleges can be a viable option. Plus, there are a lot of them: about 1,300 or so nationwide, making up roughly a third of the higher-education job market. So if you haven’t considered including two-year campuses in your job search, you might want to rethink that.
And you’ll need information. You’ve to the right place. In this series, I’ll be answering questions that I’m asked frequently via email and in person when I speak to graduate students at research universities about becoming a faculty member at a two-year college. Obviously, not all two-year colleges are exactly alike. In fact, they can vary greatly from state to state and region to region — and sometimes even from campus to campus in the same state or region. I will attempt to provide answers that apply broadly to most community colleges and hope that readers from various institutions will chime in below, in the comments section, to fine-tune some of those answers for job seekers in different parts of the country. Without further preamble, then, let’s get to our first question:
“What is the community college hiring cycle like, and where do I find the ads?”
Community colleges typically list their first ads for full-time, tenure-track positions in mid-October. Most of those ads are posted before the December break, and in many cases applications are due before the break, too, or at least by the end of January. But job ads may appear as late as February or even March, so keep an eye out even after you’ve sent in your first batch of applications. Typically, the due date for applying will be a month to six weeks after the ad first appears.
You can find these ads in a variety of places. Of course, The Chronicle is an excellent resource — I’d say the best in the business, but I’m probably biased — with a conveniently searchable database. But another good place to look is higheredjobs.com, which also has a section dedicated to community colleges and is pretty easy to use. Be sure to look in both places, and on other sites as well, because some jobs will be posted on one site but not on others.
If you’re interested in a particular institution, you can go to the human-resources page on that college’s website and look at the job listings. Most community-college systems also have their own websites that include job listings from around the state. Again, even if you’re willing to go anywhere in the country, I’d recommend that you identify a few states or cities where you wouldn’t mind living and look up the job listings for those systems. You’re likely to find some openings that aren’t posted anywhere else — for the simple reason that colleges have to pay to list jobs on most websites, but not on their own.
(If you find a job posted on a college’s site that’s not on any of the aggregate sites, that may also indicate that the institution is specifically targeting its own part-time faculty members for the position — and yes, that does happen. But it doesn’t mean you can’t apply or that you won’t be considered. Unless the ad specifies that it’s for internal applicants only, the search is wide open — they just might not be broadcasting that fact.)
Once you’ve sent in your application, you may have quite a while to wait before hearing anything. In my experience, search committees at two-year colleges are usually formed in late January, after faculty members have gotten back into the swing of teaching after the winter break. They spend February reviewing applications and then in March start calling candidates to set up interviews, which may take place as late as mid-April. That means — if you submit your application in October or November — you might end up waiting five or six months to learn whether you’ve been selected for an interview.
Please note that I’m neither endorsing nor apologizing for this system. I’m just explaining how it works. No doubt some institutions are much more efficient than what I’ve described, but I would say that waiting three or four months to hear something about your application is not unusual in the community-college world, is perhaps even typical.
So don’t freak out if several months go by and you haven’t heard anything. That doesn’t mean you aren’t still in the running. (On the other hand, if you send in your application in October and still haven’t heard anything by April, then you’re probably not still in the running.)
The later a job ad is posted in the academic year, the more that time frame collapses. A college has to have its new faculty in place by August, at the latest, so they can report on time for the new school year. But on two occasions, I’ve been offered tenure-track jobs in late July.
In any case, this rough sketch should give you an idea of where to find community-college job ads and what to expect, timing-wise, once you apply. In my next post, I’ll talk about what should and shouldn’t go in your application packet, and why.