CC Teaching Loads

July 3, 2007

Also appears in Confessions of a Community College Dean)

A returning correspondent writes:


In my CC system, faculty members can teach a 5-5 or a 4-4 load. If we choose the 4-4 load, we do service work in place of the 5th course. I'm in English, and I'm gratefully taking the 4-4 option, to stay sane with fewer papers to grade. But how unusual is this arrangement? How many other CCs will allow a 4-4 load? I live in an expensive state and would love to move to a cheaper one, so I'm wondering, if I am able to get another job at a CC, how likely is it I'll be teaching a 5-5?
And how do English teachers manage to teach 5 courses a semester, many or all of which are writing-intensive?


I read somewhere that academics speak of research opportunities and teaching loads. That stuck with me.

Calculating workloads is notoriously difficult even across a single college – comparing across systems or states is that much harder.

At my cc, and at every cc in my state, the standard load is 30 credit hours per year. In disciplines like English or history, that works out to a 5-5 load. (3 credits per class equals ten classes per year.) In math, most of the courses are 4 credits, so you wind up with fewer courses over the year. In disciplines that distinguish 'classroom' from 'lab' time, lab time is calculated at a set fraction, for reasons nobody has ever cogently explained to me. (Worse, the fraction varies from department to department, based mostly on who was on the union negotiating team at the time.)

At Proprietary U, the standard load was 45 credits per year (3 4-month semesters, 15 credits each; it was a cc schedule without summers off, essentially.) There, they did something I haven't seen anywhere else: they assigned lab time for composition classes. A composition class met for three classroom hours a week, plus two lab hours. Lab hours got half-credit, so the professor would get 4 credits (3 plus 2x1/2). That wasn't true of other courses in the humanities and social sciences, which were the traditional three credits each. It led to some very weird schedules, and a constant low-level “I have it worse” carping from both sides.

Composition lab was a weird experience. You herded the students into a computer lab, and tried vainly to keep them on task while they used the internet for heaven knows what. (I tried a few group-writing exercises, with decidedly mixed results.) I didn't care for it, but I didn't fight it, since the sections held 35 students apiece and I didn't relish the thought of teaching five of them. At my cc, composition is the traditional three credits, but the sections are smaller (capped at 25, as opposed to 35). This leads to the predictable carping from folks in other disciplines, where the caps are higher, but the difference in grading loads is pretty apparent to anybody who chooses to look.

'Release time,' or credit towards the annual total that you get for tasks other than teaching, is budgeted pretty strictly. Department chairs get some, as do 'coordinators' of various programs, but that's about it. I've never heard of a blanket, college-wide option of 'service' credits – it sounds like a good deal to me!

I'll ask readers who teach full-time at cc's to share what their teaching loads are. My impression is that 15 credits per semester is pretty much the industry standard, but I'll admit that's just an impression. Anybody who works at a school on a trimester or quarter system is invited to explain how that parcels out, since I honestly don't know.

I remember being told in grad school that anything more than a 3-2 load was unconscionable. Lacking a frame of reference, I believed it. Looking back, it was pretty clear that they were assuming fairly rigorous research requirements for tenure, which is not the case at cc's. A close friend of mine in the Midwest told me that this past Spring he only taught one course, and had a grad student do the grading. I literally can't imagine. In my time at Proprietary U, I taught one course per semester while deaning, and did all my own grading. Different worlds.

I don't know how English professors can grade five sections of composition per semester, year after year, and not burn out. Wise and worldly readers – any useful survival tips there?

Depending on how onerous those 'service' expectations are, it sounds like you have a reasonably good deal on workload, by cc standards. (Salary, of course, is another issue.) I'd be surprised if you found a much cushier deal on workload at another cc, though readers are invited to correct me if I'm wrong.

Good luck!

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com

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