Female STEM faculty in community college have parity and are happy

August 30, 2011 at 8:13 am 7 comments

I would not have guessed this.  I think of community college faculty as driven hard with a huge teaching load.  Women STEM faculty at community colleges are happy, are roughly equal in number to men, and are paid well. Wow — interesting results!

The National Science Foundation is supporting a research project to focus more attention on STEM faculty at community colleges, where men and women are about 50-50 in faculty positions over all, and where women make up 47.7 percent of STEM faculty (compared to about one third at four-year institutions). Researchers who are part of a team at Ohio University studying the issue gave an overview of initial findings here at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

Their major conclusions: Women in STEM faculty positions at community colleges are happy, and it’s not because their jobs are somehow easier than those at four-year institutions (although they are different). The Ohio researchers are combining their national statistical analysis with in-depth interviews with small groups of women on STEM faculties at community colleges — starting with 29 at institutions in Ohio, and then extending to other states. The analysis is complete in Ohio, and early results suggest similar findings coming from other states.

So far, the results suggest a career path that many women find satisfying. “These women are happy, they have pay equity, and there are more of them than at four-year colleges,” said Cynthia Anderson, associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Ohio.

via News: Parity in STEM Faculty – Inside Higher Ed.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , .

Back when women were over a third of computer scientists Software is the modern language of science

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alan Kay  |  August 30, 2011 at 9:37 am

    It would be interesting to know about the value systems in community colleges (if such generalizations can be made).

    For example, one would guess that why a person gets promoted would be different than in a R1 institution.

    One might guess that the attention paid to teaching would be greater, and maybe the quality of teaching might be higher.

    And how does this tradeoff with depth of knowledge of computing between community colleges and other institutions?

    Is there an advantage (or the opposite) to learn computing at a community college, or doesn’t it matter where you go?



    • 2. algebraplusplus  |  August 30, 2011 at 6:01 pm

      I spent the bulk of my career at the community college. I think the general constant (pure emphasis on teaching) nationwide tends to skew the results toward superior teaching. The variables are then: administration, local and state governance. On the one hand, at my first school, that state had more of the junior college system, with biannual articulation conferences to iron out common course content and numbering, etc. between the community colleges and university.

      These same conferences gave us a regular view of the conditions at the other colleges. Not surprisingly, to the degree that it is politicized, a poor administration can create an adversarial environment and even polarize faculty against each other. Rather than H-indices at R1, student evaluations are too commonly and selectively used as deciding factors, even in the presence of objective criteria (say a common course final in mathematics).

      There is not necessarily a trade-off in education quality. Our state tracked the performance of the grads of community colleges, as they completed their final two years at the university. My college’s grads scored highest of all– with a higher GPA than even the ‘natives’, who spent all four years at the university.

  • 3. Rick Adrion  |  August 30, 2011 at 11:54 am

    I cannot comment on community colleges in general since community colleges and community college systems vary substantially across the US. In Massachusetts and in other states where I have experience, community colleges are primarily teaching institutions. Here, community college tenure-track faculty have 5-7 course loads (sections) per semester, however much of the teaching is now done by adjuncts. Course sections are small, but instructors seldom have graders. Service is encouraged. Grants typically are managed by administrators rather than faculty.

    Tenure-track computer science faculty typically have masters degrees. Adjuncts are often people with industry experience, retired or teaching part-time. As tenure-track positions are rare, adjuncts hoping for full-time teaching appointments, often teach at multiple community colleges or a combination of community colleges and private 2- and 4-year colleges.

    I work directly with 9 MA community colleges. Many of the faculty at these colleges, particularly tenure-track faculty, are women. They are great teachers and incredibly dedicated to their students. Somehow they find the time to reach out to high school and middle school students. Why women faculty at community colleges are happier than their colleagues at 4-year and particularly research-extensive colleges and universities is not clear … they seem to love their jobs.

    In Massachusetts (as in many states), community colleges are open enrollment and have extensive developmental courses (and GED programs). A typical community college will have “transfer” programs for students intending to go on to 4-year programs and many “career and technical education” (CTE) programs providing certification and associate-level technical training. Many CTE students do transfer to 4-year programs.

    One of the problems community colleges face is to match their transfer programs to the very wide range of 4-year college CS curricula. In my experience, students coming from CS transfer programs are somewhat weaker in math and often have had fewer sophomore-level courses (due to the problem of aligning with differing 4-year college curricula). Transfer students often have to take 75 credits (60 would be required for an AA/AS) at the community to have some hope of completing a 4-year program in 4 additional semesters. Students from CTE community college programs face a major hurdle, perhaps except where 4-year colleges offer technology-oriented programs or have bridging programs.

    As to whether community colleges are a good option, the advantages are lower cost, smaller classes, more personal attention, closer to home, tolerant of students who must work significant hours, … Transfer students face “transfer shock” moving to four-year colleges, where classes are larger, where the student body is often younger, where their community college education misaligns in content and emphasis, where the infrastructure might not be supportive of students with jobs and families … In states where community colleges are more like junior colleges or where there is a state or regional articulation process, the pathways are smoother. Where community colleges are serving the broadest set of constituencies — developmental, GED, adult education, CTE, community-based enrichment and transfer — with limited resources, it is a challenge.

    The alliance I direct (CAITE = Commonwealth Alliance for IT Education) is trying to smooth the pathways for transfer students through advising, better information, curricula alignment, etc. Community colleges are the gateways for underserved communities into an information economy. Given the diversity of the students and the community colleges and the different roles of 2-year colleges in different states and state systems, there is no one size fits all approach to helping community college students succeed. With good support, community college transfer students are often among the best students.

    Rick Adrion
    Professor CS UMass Amherst

  • 4. Alfred Thompson  |  August 30, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    My experience is that tenure-track faculty at community colleges are pretty happy. Adjunct faculty not as much. At the community colleges I know the emphasis is just about all on teaching – not much research at all. Grants, when they come at all, are for teaching projects such as new majors, minors or concentrations. Tenure track faculty have many of the benefits of four year colleges but without the pressure to publish and get grants. Adjuncts have a rough life bereft of benefits (often) and job security. It often takes appointments at several schools to make a living teaching as an adjunct.
    Another thing I have noticed at community colleges is that women become department chairs more often than at four year schools. Is this just a function of the greater equality in numbers? Perhaps but I have no data.
    Alan Kay asks an interesting question about “And how does this tradeoff with depth of knowledge of computing between community colleges and other institutions?” Again I wish I had data but my perception is that there are several reasons people wind up at community colleges. One of them is a life style decision – location, teaching over research, etc – and in those cases I suspect you see some faculty who would easily qualify to teach at even R1 schools. In other cases the depth of knowledge may not be as great as that of faculty at R1 schools. Community colleges are, it seems, all over the map in terms of quality of instruction. And of students as well.

  • 5. Barry Brown  |  September 10, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    Women may not find the intense, competitive, publish-or-perish tenure process at major universities very palatable. A community college, where the focus is on teaching, may be the perfect place to make a difference in the lives and futures of the students.

    A lot of men probably feel that way, too.

    Regarding depth of knowledge, which I presume refers the PhD that most university faculty possess: if one is teaching at an undergraduate institution, how important is it that the faculty have highly specialized knowledge in particular niche research fields? I would argue that breadth of knowledge across the discipline will of more benefit to the students, particularly the first and second year ones who don’t really know what they want to study yet.

    • 6. Alan Kay  |  September 11, 2011 at 5:17 pm

      Hi Barry,

      Nope, I was not thinking about whether PhDs or not, but just the phrase I used “depth of knowledge”, and what is the state of that?



    • 7. Algebra++  |  September 12, 2011 at 4:23 pm

      “…breadth of knowledge across the discipline”… Not just ‘the discipline’. Across disciplines. The scale is much smaller than many expect. The number of faculty of various fields tends to be few, so to there are generally no ‘departments’. (I could claim to be chair of the physics department…but I was the only physicist.) Typically, there is for example, a Natural Science Division, or Department of Math and Science, etc. The beauty is that it can foster a great interdisciplinary environment. I can walk down the hall, and ask my biology/chemist/engineer colleague “Why did this boil over?”, “Hey, a nursing student was wondering…” Faculty meetings: “Did you hear about the research in…?”

      The faculty themselves tend to be multidisciplinary, and the teaching is highly cross-fertilized. Our PhD biologist, had her first degree in communication. Our geologist had his first degree in nursing (so he also taught psychology). I taught engineering, and our engineer taught physics. One old friend is a community college CS instructor that has her second degree in entomology (good joke there). As Barry said, this is wonderful for students early in their college progression, where they are often still deciding on a field.


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