Research in community colleges?


The base teaching load at community colleges is typically five lecture courses per semester. They teach nearly as much as K-12 teachers (who have the most challenging and most important job ever).

Faculty in community colleges aren’t expected to do research.

That doesn’t stop some community college faculty members from doing some research. Heck, there’s a book about it that you can read online.

As a “best practice” in undergraduate education, engaging students in research in the context of the curriculum is thought to be a very effective teaching tool. It’s much better than assigning a term paper, or doing a cookbook lab, or having a classroom discussion. Having students engage in original investigations to learn something new about the world actually helps them learn more of the information that they’re supposed to learn in their courses.

Some community college faculty have moved into the job sideways even though they were pursuing job at a 4-year campus that includes research. I know a number of faculty members that, after a postdoc, and then years of adjuncting as freeway flyers from one teaching gig to another, took a full-time position at a community college. They did this for financial and personal stability, and (I surely hope) because they like teaching. But they didn’t give up research by choice. They just wanted a steady gig and were tired of the postdoc/adjunct turntable. So, it makes sense that they’d pick up a permanent teaching slot, so if they could, especially if it was beneficial for the students.

While some research-interested faculty end up at community college, most in this profession actively chose it as a passion. These folks, if they do research within the curriculum, have the primary purpose of enhancing student learning, I would think.

I’m thrilled about the idea, if only because we get so many transfers to my university from excellent community colleges. I’d love for students to be exposed to research before arriving to us, to help us identify the ones to work with more closely.

Here’s something else to chew on. The teaching load at community colleges is a 5/5. On my campus, it’s a 4/4. That’s not really that different from a community college. This makes you wonder how our university can reasonably expect substantial scholarship from its faculty if they’re teaching nearly as much as faculty who have no such expectations of them at schools just next door. (And those campuses have more technicians running things, with bigger budgets, too.) Are public comprehensives with a 4/4 load not that different from community colleges? Well, with respect to teaching loads, sure, that does seem to be the case. The philosophy, approach, facilities and acceptability of research might vary, and these differences might make or break research programs in the long run.

2 thoughts on “Research in community colleges?

  1. We’re starting an undergrad research program at my community college. I currently teach 18 contact hours on normal load (and I often overload to 24), plus service etc., so, yeah, there’s not much time. However, we took a bunch of students out frog catching on Friday, and it was incredible to get them involved and hands on like that.

    We don’t expect that we will be publishing papers in journals, except maybe state or local ones, on our research, but our students will do enough work to present at conferences and they will learn the basics of how research happens, which is important.

    I originally thought I’d be a a more research oriented school, but quit that life to teach more by choice than anything else (the high-powered lab and the publishing world were not my happiest places to be), however, I still love the idea of discovery by doing, so getting that experience to them is my main goal.

    • This is wonderful! I agree that the engagement in original work is critical for building students. It’d be great for everyone if it gets written up, but the activity itself as an educational practice is, um “high-impact” to use the catchphrase of the decade. Thanks for sharing.

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