Rob Jenkins

Associate Professor at Georgia State University Perimeter College

Community College FAQ: You Teach How Many Classes?

Full edward askew sothern as lord dundreary

Original Image:Edward Askew Sothern in Our American Cousin

A guaranteed showstopper, anytime I’m speaking to graduate students about faculty careers at community colleges, occurs when somebody asks, “So what’s your workload?” Jaws drop as I reveal how many courses we typically teach, in addition to all the other work we’re required to do.

So if you’re new to the academic-job search — and if you’re thinking about applying at community colleges this fall but don’t know much about them — then brace yourself. Because here’s the answer: At most two-year colleges, full-time faculty members teach five courses each semester.

That’s fairly standard at two-year colleges across the country, regardless of type (for a breakdown of the various types, see the previous installment in this FAQ series). A handful of colleges, mostly in the Northeast, only require four classes a semester. At my college, the two-year unit of a large research university, we fought the workload battle several years ago and won a modest concession: Our teaching load is five and four, or nine courses a year. But most two-year campuses require full-timers to teach 10 courses a year, and a few require 12.

The saving grace, I suppose, is that our class sizes tend to be small. At community colleges, you rarely see the kind of mega-section — say, 400 students in a biology lecture — that is common at research universities. A large class, for us, is typically around 40 students. Most of our courses have 30 to 35 students, while skills-based courses (like composition and labs) are usually capped in the low 20’s.

At the same time, we don’t have teaching assistants to help us conduct labs, offer occasional lectures, or grade papers. Our classes and our students are ours and ours alone, and we are responsible for every aspect of the course. (That is, unless we’re team-teaching, which was fairly common a decade or so ago but doesn’t seem to be in vogue anymore.)

In short, we have what many Ph.D.’s would regard as a heavy teaching load — unless you really like to teach, as most of us do at community colleges. Even then, five courses a semester is a lot. And it doesn’t end there. We also have at least two other areas of responsibility: service and professional development.

Under service, most full-timers serve on at least two or three committees. They may range from large, collegewide bodies (like a calendar committee) to small, discipline-based groups (like a curriculum committee). At some point, you may also be asked to serve on a search committee. They only meet for a couple months but can eat up all your “spare time” during those months. Faculty members can also fulfill their service obligations by sponsoring student organizations, conducting brown-bag workshops, or mentoring new faculty.

How much of this you will have to do depends on several factors, including institutional norms and — quite frankly — seniority. As is the case in many other professions, senior faculty can often divest themselves of some of the grunt work. In this case, that might mean getting out of a club sponsorship or not serving on as many committees. Of course, those tasks will then fall to the younger (or at least newer) faculty members.

But even tenured professors with 20-plus years of experience aren’t going to be able to get out of administrative tasks entirely. They’re simply part of the job, and everyone has to take a turn.

The one thing that community college faculty members generally don’t have to do is research. Once again, that can vary somewhat from campus to campus. There are a handful of two-year colleges (again, mostly in the Northeast) that do require faculty members to publish. But faculty members on the vast majority of two-year campuses can meet their professional-development responsibilities by attending conferences and workshops and perhaps presenting a paper occasionally.

The research expectations may be changing slowly, as competition for tenure-track jobs grows ever stiffer, as two-year colleges hire more Ph.D.’s, and as more two-years institutions add four-year programs. But for now, it’s generally the case that “publish or perish” is not an issue at two-year colleges.

In fact, many community colleges — perhaps not a majority, but a significant number—require faculty to do very little, almost nothing, in the way of professional development in order to achieve and maintain tenure. But I’ll talk more about that in my next installment on tenure and promotion at two-year institutions.

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