Applying to Community Colleges
In a challenging job market, many new Ph.D.s consider widening their search to include community colleges. Applying to two-year institutions requires a different focus and strategy to obtain an interview and secure a position.
1. Appreciate the variety of two-year institutions
Two-year schools vary greatly in their mission, student populations, and working conditions. They include institutions that provide job training and basic skills, and others that grant associate degrees in business, health care, technology, liberal arts, and other fields. Many students complete introductory courses and then transfer to four-year institutions to pursue a bachelor's degree. Instructors have heavier teaching loads than their counterparts at four-year institutions but generally have fewer committee assignments. Some community colleges offer programs online or on branch campuses located at businesses or at four-year campuses.
To determine the nature of a two-year college, review the institution’s website, course catalog, and required books.
2. Write a résumé, not a C.V. Community colleges hire teachers, not scholars. Focus on your teaching experience, especially anything you have done to make material more accessible to students. Shape your resume to suit the needs of the institution you are applying to. Stress your accomplishments as an instructor and include non-academic work experience if it broadens your background and applies to the community college’s programs.
3. In discussing your dissertation, emphasize the process over the product. Consider what doctoral research taught you about selecting and evaluating sources, collecting and assessing data, conducting experiments or surveys, weighing competing interpretations, or separating facts from opinions. Demonstrate how the experience of writing a dissertation will make you a more effective teacher.
4. Do not presume you are overqualified. Because an increasing number of traditional college students attend community colleges with the intention of transferring to four-year institutions, community colleges see an advantage to having Ph.D.s on their faculty to both attract students and demonstrate the rigor of their course offerings. Having a Ph.D. can also put you on the fast track to administrative positions, which usually require doctoral degrees.
5. Sell your teaching experience. If you have been a lecturer or teaching assistant you have a unique opportunity to sell yourself to a community college. Faculty and administrators have an ongoing concern about the content and grading standards of their transfer courses. As a current or recent teaching assistant in a four-year institution, you know the writing skills expected in university-level composition, the type of research papers assigned in introductory psychology, and the format used in lab reports. Take syllabuses, exams, and exercises to your interview. Demonstrate that you can be a valuable asset to the department to insure that students are getting the knowledge and skills needed to transfer and succeed in colleges and universities.
6. Don’t be surprised if you have to go back to school. Some states require that instructors in two-year public institutions have a teaching license, which entails completing credits in education. Courses are usually free and taught in-house. New faculty are typically given two years to obtain a license, which requires continuing education credits to renew.
7. Recognize the advantages of teaching in a community or technical college. A two-year school may not be your first choice, but community colleges have distinct advantages, depending on your discipline and personal situation. Some community colleges offer highly competitive salaries and benefits, and most operate on a seniority system rather than tenure. There is little, if any, pressure to publish or conduct research. Community colleges with close ties to business and industry afford opportunities for consulting or part-time jobs in the private sector. Perhaps the greatest advantage to teaching in two-year institutions is the satisfaction of working with a diverse student population that includes immigrants, veterans, single mothers, and displaced workers. Because of the large number of mid-career professionals returning to college to upgrade their skills, community colleges have become some of the nation’s largest "graduate schools."
8. Don’t let your institution limit your ambition. A community college defines where you work, not who you are. Teaching in a two-year school does not prevent you from publishing, participating in professional organizations, or presenting papers at conventions. The security of a two-year teaching position can provide greater freedom to pursue research than a series of lectureships or terminal appointments at universities.
Mark Connelly teaches literature and film at Milwaukee Area Technical College. His books include The Diminished Self: Orwell and the Loss of Freedom, Orwell and Gissing, Deadly Closets: The Fiction of Charles Jackson, Fifteen Minutes, The IRA on Film and Television, and several college textbooks.