Rob Jenkins

Associate Professor at Georgia State University Perimeter College

The Community College Side Hustle

Full academichustle

Original Image: Do the Hustle / New York Hustle Incorporated

“Side hustle” is a term I had never heard until a few months ago, and now suddenly I'm seeing it everywhere, most recently in an advertisement for Uber drivers. It refers to having a second source of income — some "hustle," or paid activity — in addition to one's main job.

That's a concept professors have embraced, probably ever since there have been professors. To paraphrase something I read several years ago (but don't remember where), full-time faculty members only need two things to be happy: a parking space close to the building and an outside source of income.

That's true of academics at both two-year and four-year institutions. Unfortunately, for those at community colleges, finding a side hustle can sometimes be problematic, for a couple of reasons:

  • Faculty at two-year colleges sometimes lack the publications, the name recognition, or even the academic credentials that professors typically parlay into paying gigs as consultants, commentators, or private practitioners.
  • More important, community colleges tend to be more ambivalent about their faculty pursuing “outside activities.” Research universities have policies on this front but generally encourage their professors to pursue paid consulting work and so forth, believing (correctly, in my view) that such activities enhance the overall reputation of the institution. Community colleges, on the other hand, often interpret faculty members' outside activities as lack of commitment to the campus.

I have a somewhat unique perspective on this issue, having spent almost my entire career at community colleges until suddenly finding myself part of a large research university a few years ago, due to a merger. As a community-college faculty member, I was usually very quiet about my outside activities. Sure, I reported them to my supervisor, as required, and filled out the requisite forms. But other than that, I tried to fly under the radar as much as possible for fear that, if I made an issue of the fact that I had an outside source of income, someone would tell me I had to stop.

Of course, flying under the radar can be difficult when you write for a national publication. I once had a community-college administrator ask me about my columns for The Chronicle, with obvious disdain in her voice, “Do you get paid for that?” (Who knows: Maybe she objected to my writing, and not the additional income.)

But after I unexpectedly morphed into a tenured faculty member at my state's largest research university, however, I no longer feel the need to downplay my outside activities (although I still rarely talk about them). Not only the university seem more welcoming of such activities, but it's apparent that large numbers of my new colleagues are involved in similar endeavors.

So my purpose in writing this post (in case you were wondering) is two-fold.

  • First, I call upon community colleges to liberalize their policies on outside activities, and change the campus culture so that side hustles are no longer frowned upon. Faculty at two-year colleges are among the lowest-paid in academe. Allowing them to supplement their income will make them happier and, in the long run, more productive. Moreover, having faculty members write for local and national publications, serve as consultants, and work in private practice does indeed enhance a college's reputation. Anything that brings positive attention to a college’s professors also benefits the institution itself. Why campus administrators don't see that, I've never quite understood.
  • Second, I would like to encourage faculty members to find things they can do to earn more while at the same time stretching themselves professionally. That may mean something as simple as teaching part-time at a nearby private or for-profit college. Or, it could involve getting paid to share your expertise outside the college. You can find some excellent suggestions here and here for putting your skills to use for money. Of course, if you decide to take my advice, be sure to read your institution's policy on outside employment very carefully. It will likely spell out clearly what you can and can't do, define potential conflicts of interest, and list the steps you must go through in order to obtain the necessary permission.

I would caution against keeping your outside activities a secret from your supervisors. It's not worth losing your full-time position (and pay) just to make a little extra money on the side. Chances are, however, if your college allows faculty to engage in outside activities at all, you can probably present whatever you're doing in such a way as to gain approval — even if that approval is grudging.

In the end, everyone benefits if community colleges allow — and even encourage — faculty to pursue appropriate side hustles. Institutions enjoy greater exposure and enhanced reputations as their faculty gain local and sometimes even national recognition for their expertise. Students profit from more engaged teachers who are actually expanding their knowledge and skills by putting them to greater use. Best of all, faculty benefit from increased professional activity and perhaps even a slightly higher standard of living.

And yes, I purposely prioritized faculty over students in that last paragraph. Our collective "students first" mantra notwithstanding, my experience as both a faculty member and a former administrator suggests that, if you really want to do what's best for your students, first treat your faculty well. Happy and fulfilled faculty tend to make for satisfied students. But that's another blog post, for another day.

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