2-Year College Retirement Wave?

Survey suggests California's two-year institutions may be just a few years away from major faculty turnover. Are the campuses ready? Could this create more stability for part timers?

April 11, 2012

California's community colleges may be just a few years away from "a retirement wave" for faculty members, a transition that could create much better jobs for the part timers on whom campuses depend, according to a survey being presented at the American Educational Research Association's annual meeting, which starts this week.

The study, based on a survey of full-time and part-time faculty members throughout California's mammoth community college system (the largest in the United States), also points to the potential for campuses to more actively engage prospective faculty members in their careers. While the survey found great pride from many faculty members in their work and in the community college mission, it found that many developed those ideas "after the fact," with many instructors taking their first jobs without any intention of making a career of it, or fully understanding the nature of community college teaching.

The research is based on a survey of 1,885 faculty members throughout the system and the analysis was prepared by Lori Ogata Keeler of Moreno Valley College and John Shoup of California Baptist University.

They predict a coming retirement wave based both on demographics and the plans stated by survey respondents. As of 2009, when the survey was conducted, more than one-third of faculty members were 56 or older, and 19 percent were 60 or older. Also at that time, 31 percent of full-time faculty members indicated that they planned to retire within 8 years (5 years from now), and 39 percent indicated plans to retire within 11 years (8 years from now). In an interview, Shoup said that the worsening economy may well prompt some to delay retirements a bit longer than they had expected in 2009, although the long-term trends should still involve retirements.

Most full-time faculty members (67 percent) said that they viewed their positions as a valued choice. Top reasons cited included embrace of the community college mission, the emphasis on teaching (and specifically on teaching adults), and a sense of making a difference in students' lives. Those who didn't see community college teaching as a preferred career offered the following as top reasons: desire for a university teaching job, not something they had thought about as a career, or low pay and prestige relative to other positions.

Three-quarters of the current full timers started off in the system as part timers, and there is strong interest from current part timers in taking on the full-time jobs, the report says. Just under 80 percent of part timers said that they would accept a full-time position if offered. And the top reason cited by the 20 percent not interested in full-time work was that they planned to retire.

The part timers who responded to the survey also provided yet more evidence that "part timer" can be a misnomer, as it typically applies to the relationship between an adjunct and a single institution. The odds are overwhelming in California that part timers are working at multiple institutions, frequently with California-style commutes making just about every one of their positions de facto full time (if not in pay and benefits).

Of the part timers surveyed, 69 percent were regularly teaching at two institutions, including 32 percent who teach at three or more institutions.

The coming transition, the authors write, is a chance for community colleges to attract new talent (including those already teaching part time) into full-time positions, and to do so in a more intentional way.

"It appears that the pipeline to full-time teaching at the community college is indirect, a career of choice after-the-fact. Unlike many other professions where candidates identify their career trajectory in high school or college (I want to be a lawyer, doctor, teacher, police officer, etc.), 82.4 percent realized that teaching at the community college was a viable career while in graduate studies or employed elsewhere," the paper says.

"It was while on a different career trajectory that most current faculty exited to pursue a career at the community college, suggesting, as with students, community colleges are the diverted dream, albeit a good dream, for a large percentage of the faculty. When asked why teaching at a community college was not an initial career choice, the common theme was that participants did not know the option existed."


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