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Ask the Administrator: Do CC Alums Have an Edge?
April 4, 2011 - 11:01pm

A new correspondent writes:

I guess no one warned me earlier, but I really had no idea how dire it is out there getting academic jobs nowadays. I'm thinking I'll have the phd within 3 years from now, at which point I'll have to figure out what I'm going to do to make a living. One option that I've been considering more and more is teaching at a community college.

What I want to ask you is whether being an alumni from a cc will give me somewhat of an edge in getting a good tenure track position in a few years. I can really speak passionately about how meaningful an experience community college was for me when I was 21. I barely graduated high school, only went to the cc down the street from me to please my parents, and failed out my first year, only to come back one class at a time (non-matriculated at first) to graduate with honors before going off to a 4 year school, a prestigious masters program, and a phd ("low-ranked" as it is). I've also been teaching undergrads for 4 years now (by the time I'm done, it will be 6 or 7 years) and I have excellent observation reports from faculty and students alike. In other words, I have an inspiring story to tell cc students on day 1 (and to tell the people interviewing me for the job).

And for the record, it isn't a bullshit story. I have to land a job...I really think that cc was an incredible opportunity for someone like me and I am truly grateful for the guidance I received from my teachers there. I actually still have a letter from a faculty member who wrote about how revolutionary my change while I was a student there.

So while I'm surrounded by big shots trying to elbow each other out of the way to publish in the most prestigious journals and to work with other big shots (and reading Foucault all the while), I am content to quietly finish my phd by writing a dissertation I'm proud of and move off to an unassuming community college where I can inspire people and not have to worry about the hustle of academia.

So I know that I don't have the edge over my competitors when it comes to teaching at R1's, but I think I ironically might have an edge over them in the cc job market, where my more modest background might make me a better candidate. Do I have this edge? What are cc's looking for in candidates? Would I have even more of an edge if I went back to the cc I went to? And finally, what is a salary for someone teaching poli sci in a tenure track position at a cc in the northeast? Is thinking that I could make 70k a year (eventually) crazy of me?

First, good luck on your search. The market is brutal out there in the evergreen disciplines, and even more so if you aren’t coming out of a brand-name doctoral program.

That said, I’ve noticed that while a community college degree is pretty much the opposite of a brand name, it can actually help in applying for a full-time cc teaching position. That’s because the great fear at this level, in hiring Ph.D.’s, is that they’re ‘settling.’ In my neck of the woods, we have a substantial number of Ph.D.’s on our faculty, as do most of our nearby counterparts. Many of them are wonderful, but there are some who just can’t let go of the dream of teaching at Pastoral Liberal Arts College, and who never pass up the opportunity to complain about teaching loads, students, salaries, travel funding, clouds in the sky, fish in the sea, or whatever else happens to enter their field of vision that day. Although small in number, these people are toxic, and search committees are well-advised to avoid them.

Having a cc degree in your own background can help immunize you against suspicions of covert snobbery. If you can make a convincing argument to the effect that teaching at this level is your first choice, and you say that knowing the realities of the setting, you may come across as the best of both worlds: the amply-credentialed candidate who actually wants to be here.

That said, I’d strongly encourage avoiding language like “avoid the hustle of academic life.” Teaching well at a cc is hard work. You don’t want to convey the impression that you’re looking to coast or take it easy. And it’s rarely a good idea to say you want location A to avoid location B. Talk about why you want location A.

Salaries vary by region and institution, but generally speaking, a full-time position in a liberal arts discipline will usually start somewhere in the 40’s. (California and New York City are exceptions.) Depending on locale, the most senior faculty will earn anywhere from the 80’s to the low 100’s. And certain specialized fields, like Nursing, sometimes have higher scales. Salaries aren’t creeping up much these days; since the recession hit, freezes and furloughs have become the order of the day. At some point, though, I expect that things will thaw a bit. If they don’t, I’d expect an accelerating exodus over the next few years.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers -- any tips for a grad student considering a cc gig?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.


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