DeWitt Scott is a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership at Chicago State University. You can follow him on Twitter at @dscotthighered.
Traditionally, graduate school has focused on preparing students to become future scholars who seek to live a life of the mind, produce cutting edge research, and become professors at 4-year institutions. Everything about the graduate school process lends itself to this particular way of life. A graduate student’s daily routine usually consists of tedious data acquisition, scanning scholarly literature, consuming primary texts, and validating research results. Prominent scholar Marc Lamont Hill once said graduate school prepares one to “know everything about nothing.”
While this career path is admirable, many graduate students have come to realize that it is not the only path for Ph.D. graduates. There are a myriad of other ways in which Ph.D. recipients can use their degrees and genius to benefit society. Alt-ac careers have become viable options, as well as K-12 administration, and the non-profit sector.
However, doctoral advisors and faculty often ignore community colleges when speaking to their students about employment options. At many of the elite graduate schools in the country, students are essentially vilified if they consider any career aspiration outside of a tenure-track position at a Research I or esteemed liberal arts institution. Careers other than university professor or senior academic administrator are downplayed as insignificant and a waste of one’s degree. As a result, many Ph.D. recipients overlook 2-year college positions and miss out on some of the most gratifying and rewarding work in higher education.
The traditional mission of community colleges to be institutions open to anyone who desires to further their education, regardless of K-12 educational preparation level, makes it one of the most dynamic educational and social institutions in the world. It possesses a culture and ethos that is as altruistic and unselfish as any other in America. Professors and administrators at community colleges have a collective understanding that before all else they are servants. Afflictions that most 4-year colleges suffer from, such as faculty egoism, student elitism, and athletic corruption are less prevalent at the 2-year college level. Student support services are plentiful and the ability to develop deeper, more meaningful connections between faculty and students is much more feasible at community colleges.
Community colleges also allow professors to be deliberate, generous, and attentive to service pursuits. Naturally, research is not as prized at community colleges as it is at most 4-year schools. Professors at community colleges usually have deeper connections to the community surrounding the institution and can use their expertise and knowledge to impact the community in a number of ways. Research is extremely important and pushes knowledge forward in all areas, but many scholars at 4-year schools can become content with analyzing and writing about society’s issues rather than doing actual physical work to improve said issues. Professionals at community colleges tend to have many more opportunities to find themselves in the trenches and tangibly working to make change. Theory and epistemology are important, but the more highly trained, intelligent people that can be physically involved in solving society’s issues, the better.
While almost all senior administrators at the community college level either have or are pursuing doctorates, you do not need a doctorate to teach at a community college (at least not yet). Although this is one of the most common reasons why doctoral students and graduates ignore community colleges, along with the truth that the pay is typically higher at 4-year schools, my estimation is that graduate students dismiss community college positions for more superficial reasons. Many Ph.D. recipients disregard these positions because they are less socially prestigious than positions at 4-year schools. Scholars and administrators at 4-year schools are usually not as impressed when they meet professors and administrators from 2-year schools as they often are when meeting their colleagues from 4-year schools. Professionals at 2-year schools may feel self-conscious about not being highly regarded by their peers and colleagues at elite 4-year institutions. That’s totally fine. Those people obviously are not in academia for the right reasons anyway. If you are more concerned about the letterhead on your stationery or the heading on your email signature rather than enlightening and molding future leaders of society, then community college, and higher education altogether, is not for you.
Graduate students who are interested in personally connecting with students, working with significant numbers of nontraditional and first-generation students, and contributing significant service to a community should strongly consider positions at 2-year colleges. I am not trying to belittle 4-year schools and research institutions. The world needs the brilliance and talent that exists at 4-year schools. Rather, I am trying to convey that the same opportunities to develop brilliance and talent exist at the 2-year level. Do not let prestige, your advisor, mentor, or elitist colleagues prevent you from lending your intelligence and talent to 2-year institutions. It is at these institutions, one could argue, that your genius is needed most.
What are your thoughts about pursuing positions at 2-year colleges upon graduating with a doctorate? Is there anyone who has obtained a position at a 2-year college straight from graduate school? If so, are you satisfied with your decision?
[Photo courtesy of Flickr user marcobellucci and used under a Creative Commons license.]
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