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The Need to Equip, Prepare Community College Faculty Has Never Been Greater

The Need to Equip, Prepare Community College Faculty Has Never Been Greater

By Evelyn N. Waiwaiole and Coral M. Noonan-Terry

Welcome to the NISOD column. In our partnership with Diverse, the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD), a consortium of more than 700 community colleges worldwide, is pleased to write a monthly column focused on community college issues. NISOD is the service vehicle and outreach arm of the Community College Leadership Program (CCLP) at The University of Texas at Austin.

As we look over NISOD’s 30-year history, we see that much has changed in community colleges, and the need to equip and prepare faculty has never been greater. What has remained constant, since the development of the first community college in 1901, is its promise of an “open door.” Community colleges were founded on the tenet that all people with a high school diploma or the equivalent should have access to higher education.

There are almost 1,200 community colleges in the United States — from small, rural colleges in remote areas to multicampus districts in large urban settings — serving tens of thousands of students. Community colleges now enroll more than half of all undergraduate students in higher education, and community college enrollments continue to rise. Of all of the nation’s undergraduate students, 47 percent of Black and Asian students, 55 percent of Hispanic students, and 57 percent of American Indian students are enrolled in community colleges. Besides their race or ethnicity, community college students are rich in other types of diversity as well. Forty-seven percent receive financial aid; 50 percent of parttime students work full time; 29 percent are the first person in his or her family to attend college, and 59 percent are women. Community colleges educate more students in remedial courses than any other type of postsecondary institution; 42 percent of students at public two-year colleges enrolled in at least one remedial reading, writing or mathematics course compared to 12 percent to 24 percent at other institutions.

 What do these statistics represent to community college faculty? Today’s community college students are working part time and full time, balancing the demands of their studies and employment. There are more first-generation students attending community colleges than ever. Many of these students have a limited knowledge of what is required for succeeding in higher education. More young mothers are attending community colleges, which requires juggling children, jobs and school.

 Although community college students span the age continuum, their average age is 29. In a typical community college class, a faculty member will have millennial students who grew up with text-messaging and blogging; gen x-ers who grew up as CDs and PCs were being invented; and baby boomers who grew up with the development of the television set and record players. Therefore, there is nothing “typical” about community college students. They come from a myriad of cultures, are of all ages, come from a wide variety of backgrounds and educational experiences, and span the continuum of diversity in terms of educational goals.

As a result, community college faculty are charged with the task of engaging all types of learners. Given current projections, more than 25,000 full-time community college faculty members will retire during the next decade. Given this reality, hiring new fulltime faculty will be one of the primary tasks facing college administrators. Opportunities abound to seek out faculty who better reflect the student body they serve. Whether a community college has a majority of veteran or new faculty, times have changed, and the methods by which students learn are requiring more versatility, involvement and instructional expertise than ever. To foster student success, colleges must invest in faculty to ensure that they have the skills and knowledge base to teach, mentor and engage students. Initiatives such as Achieving the Dream, a multiyear national initiative designed particularly to help lowincome students and students of color succeed in college, and the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, which specializes in providing data about community college quality and performance to improve student learning and retention, wave the flags that success counts and that student engagement is critical for student retention. Perhaps moreso than any other time in our nation’s history, student success is important not only for an individual’s personal goals, but for our society, nation and global economy.

The role of faculty, the impact and difference they make in the lives of their students, has never been more important. Too often when administrators face the daunting task of deciding which college programs and services to cut or reduce in times of budgetary constraints, professional development dollars are usually the first to be affected. While these are tough and complicated decisions, they should be made with an eye to maintaining a well-trained faculty that can willingly put their best shoulders to the wheels of change when asked to do so. They need to have the tools and the energy to continue working toward the college’s primary goal of improving opportunities for student success.

— Dr. Evelyn N. Waiwaiole is the director of NISOD, and Dr. Coral M. Noonan-Terry is the associate director of NISOD.

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