Observer Forum

Forgotten Community Colleges?

To the Editor:
Buskist’s & Irons’ review of employment advertisements in the APS Observer and APA Monitor (Observer, September 2006) contains major sampling error, namely their failure to include in their survey advertisements for teaching position openings in community colleges and other fully accredited two-year post-secondary institutions. After reading it, I said to myself, “So what am I? Chopped liver?”

In my career as a community college teaching psychologist, I teach the same basic undergraduate curriculum in psychology that one finds at any accredited four-year college or research university. My stock-in-trade is the introductory course, in which I use a textbook adopted by dozens of two-year and four-year institutions across the country. I also regularly teach a life span developmental course, and my colleagues at our three-campus school offer other courses in the standard undergraduate psychology curriculum. While I am not required to have a research program, i.e. I am not paid to do research, I have done some and could have done more if I so desired, with the possibility of external support.

Community colleges, and other two-year, post-secondary institutions, are a large and significant part of the vast world of higher education, and should be considered by prospective college teachers of psychology on the same level as they might think of baccalaureate and graduate degree-granting institutions. Besides numerous tenure-track openings, there are even more temporary and adjunct teaching opportunities that can provide aspiring teachers with critically important – and rewarding – early college teaching experiences.

Publicly funded community colleges, or their equivalents, are found in all 50 states and all 10 provinces of Canada. They serve many thousands of full- and part-time students of all ages between about 18 and the elderly. Most credits transfer easily to accredited four-year schools. As a teaching psychologist for the past 27 years, I have been the first, if not only, psychologist many of my students have ever met in person. Overall, I have introduced psychology as a scientific discipline to many thousands of people from a mosaic of cultures. How many researchers and therapists can say that they have done that?

Kenneth B. LeSure,
Cuyahoga Community College


Buskist Responds:
I thank Professor LeSure for pointing up the important role that community colleges and other two-year institutions play in educating many thousands of students year in and year out. He also is absolutely correct in noting that, taken as a whole, community colleges represent a potentially sizeable portion of the job market in higher education for new psychology PhDs.

Unfortunately, there is a major barrier to gathering data on the parameters of the community college job market: Unlike most four-year, master’s, and doctoral level institutions, community colleges do not use a central outlet to advertise position openings at their institutions. How often does a job ad for an open community college position appear in APS Observer or APA Monitor, the two primary outlets for listing psychology position openings? The answer is extremely rarely.

Where then do community colleges place their advertisements for position openings? To bird dog this question just a bit, I e-mailed four colleagues in three different states who teach at the community college level and have done so for many years. Each of these individuals is well-known at the national level and has been vigorously involved in promoting high quality teaching at the community college level. Collectively, they reinforced my suspicion that there is in fact no central outlet. They noted that job advertisements for community college psychology openings sometimes appear in the APA Monitor, Chronicle of Higher Education, the PT@CC listserv (see http://www.apa.org/ed/pt@cc_update.html), Higheredjobs.com, and Career Builder online. More often than not, though, community college position openings are advertised locally within their school districts through individual human resources offices.

Thus to track nationwide trends in the community college market would have required contacting dozens if not hundreds of individual school districts and required an extraordinary amount of time and effort. Our article was not intended to imply that community colleges are unimportant in educating our students; indeed, we believe just the opposite. What I am saying is that the time and effort involved in collecting such data was not practical for the primary point of our article: that at four-year, master’s, and doctoral institutions, teaching matters, and as such, we should do a better job preparing our graduate students to become teachers. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that teaching matters at the community college level, but there has been considerable doubt about how important teaching is at these other types of institutions. And that doubt will remain in full force until we produce a new generation of teacher-scholars who value and practice good teaching as much as they do high quality research.

So, to sum, I do not think Professor LeSure is chopped liver. Community colleges play a vital role in our higher education system in preparing hundreds of thousands of students for the work force, more higher education, or both. We omitted data on community college job advertisements simply because of the impracticality of collecting such data and the fact that such data were not directly relevant to our main argument. I leave it to Professor LeSure to put his money where his mouth is and to provide the data he chided us for not collecting.

William Buskist
Auburn University

Observer Vol.20, No.1 January, 2007

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