Full time Faculty, Yet Again—Building the Noncredit Case

Basic Skills/Noncredit Committee
Basic Skills/Noncredit Committee

Have you ever been a part time or temporary employee? Did that status affect your capacity in that job? What example is set for students when most of their teachers are conveniently disposable employees?

Resolution 19.02 F07 “Benefits of Full time Faculty in Noncredit” tasked the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges to “urge local senates to educate their faculty, staff, administrators, and trustees who may not be familiar with this issue, about the need for an appropriate number of full-time noncredit faculty and how their college and students benefit.” This resolution is still timely given the 2011 Student Success Task Force draft recommendations (September 30, 2011) which, by intent, would impact noncredit, in significant ways.

The case for full-time noncredit faculty is usually built on two foundations: quality of instruction and parity or equality. For noncredit education, these issues seem insufficient when put into the context of current events. The number of colleges offering noncredit instruction grew from 53 in 2005-06 to 71 in 2009-10. This change is likely due to the increased need for more basic skills courses and the enhanced funding for certain noncredit areas (SB 361, 2006). According to aggregated Chancellor’s Office Data, for most, if not all, of the growth, the full- to part-time ratios have stayed well below 20:80 in spite of the enhanced funding. This is true for basic skills programs as well as vocational programs. The percentage is even more dismal in other noncredit areas. Mirroring the trends for credit enrollment, the past few years have shown a dramatic surge in noncredit enrollment due in part to the collapsing economy. During this same period districts have coped with fewer fiscal resources through hiring freezes and early retirement incentive programs, among other activities, that have resulted in unfilled vacancies. These factors have exacerbated the already existing problem of an over-reliance on part-time noncredit faculty. These trends cannot continue without inevitably hitting critical regulatory and accreditation compliance thresholds which are intended to support institutional development and improvement.

In order to be functional and effective, a college requires a sensible and thoughtful balance of part- and full-time employees based on the needs of the institution and students. The importance of this standard is part of the eligibility requirements to become accredited: “The institution has a substantial core of qualified faculty with full time responsibility to the institution. The core is sufficient in size and experience to support all of the institution’s educational programs” (Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges and Western Association of Schools and Colleges1. The requirement for “full-time responsibility to the institution” imparts the point that faculty members play a central and critical role in running the institution extending far beyond classroom activities. This implies that both the quality of the institution and quality of the classroom experience can be seriously impacted if there is not “a substantial core of qualified faculty.”

The long list of non-classroom activities typically performed by full-time faculty may go undone without them. Generally, compensation for work outside the classroom is not built into an adjunct’s load. Attempts to ensure that the minimum is done may place a financial burden on an already underfunded institution, or part-time faculty may feel pressured into doing the work without commensurate pay. Worst of all, the work may be shifted to administrators, including tasks in those areas where faculty should or are required to have primacy.

Where contracts do exist, the burden of these duties falls heavily on a few. Over years this has led to faculty burnout which in turn makes effective participation difficult. Basically, noncredit providers may be forced into “creative” ways to comply with mandatory activities outside instructional time, which also puts the basic tenant espoused by the Academic Senate at risk: that of faculty participation.

What about in the classroom? Most would agree that a good teacher is a good teacher and it doesn’t matter how many classes he or she teaches. Full-time faculty have teaching loads that are less than the hours their salary encompasses, allowing additional time for the inexhaustible list of classroom-related tasks, such as thoughtful class planning, curriculum development, and course research. Often, noncredit instructors get paid less per class, and part-time faculty have further limitations on the number of hours they can teach in one district, so part timers often work in multiple districts. Is it possible for part-time faculty to perform effectively under these conditions? Yes, if they add 36 hours to the day and work without compensation. The more seasoned part timers often caution their less experienced peers that doing essential work for free in hopes of a contract is fruitless. Even so, the ranks of quality faculty who are committed to working with noncredit students and who still dream of the “golden ring” persist, which is a stellar testament to their caliber as human beings.

Noncredit faculty contracts often require more hours in the class for a given load as compared to their credit counterparts. And contract-to-adjunct ratio guidelines are nonexistent. This practice may have stemmed from the early differences between credit and noncredit courses as cited in the Report on the Credit/Noncredit Policy (ASCCC, 1980). The minimum standards for credit courses were described as follows: “being of appropriate rigor,” “teaches toward a set of instructional goals common to all students enrolled,” “grants units based on performance criteria,” and “are offered as described in an outline that has set specifications.” In contrast, noncredit courses were described as treating subject matter and using resource materials “with teaching methods, and standards of attendance and achievement appropriate for students eligible to attend” and “conducted in accordance with a course outline.” It is important to note that the noncredit course criterion did not include appropriate rigor, set instructional goals, performance criteria, nor outlines with set specifications. However, over the years noncredit courses have changed through good practice, or by mandate, and now include most of the previously missing pedagogical requirements.

Many factors have contributed to the changes made in noncredit. In larger programs where there are multiple levels of ESL and basic skills, it was natural for faculty to create student assessment for determining advancement to the next level. This was a faculty-driven desire for academic excellence. Transformations were also made through accreditation and program review, the ever-increasing demands for accountability, and changes to guidelines. And now there is the drive to align basic skills and ESL curriculum and assessment for a smooth transition to credit. While the differences between credit and noncredit are shrinking, especially in CDCP (Career Development and College Preparation), the inequities for faculty have stayed the same over the past three decades.

However, the discussion about improving the number of full-time faculty at the colleges is not new. Dating back to 1974, the Academic Senate was concerned with the over utilization of part-time faculty. The issue continued into the late 90s when a resolution called for a paper to focus on part- time issues, Part-time Faculty: A Principled Perspective (2002). But the call for parity and equality appears to pertain only to credit faculty. Perhaps noncredit’s early history has led to an uncertainty about the quality of instruction in noncredit. And in turn, this makes the high reliance on part timers a low priority. Yet, while important differences do exist, noncredit courses and expectations of faculty continue to evolve, moving noncredit closer to credit standards.

As a campus leader, please consider this article the next time you are in a resource allocation or governance meeting; consider sharing it with your administration and Board; use it to advocate for your noncredit colleagues and for our students, even if they are not your students yet. Ask yourself this: what are we going to do about these inequities? Are the standards of justice and of sound academic practices different for noncredit and credit?

1 Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. (2011). Eligibility requirements for accreditation, p. 3, http://www.accjc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Eligibility-Requirement…