I was interested to see IHE's recent report that professors at Community Colleges are more satisfied with their jobs than those at four-year colleges and universities.
Reporter Doug Lederman wrote that "professors at two-year institutions are more satisfied with their jobs than are their peers at four-year colleges, according to a survey of faculty attitudes by a research center at the University of California at Los Angeles."
Among full-time Community College profs, 81.5% said they were "very satisfied" or "satisfied" with their jobs, compared to 76.8% of four-year profs. Almost three quarters (73%) of CC profs said that they "experienced joy in their work" "to a great extent", compared with 67% of the four-year folks.
Lederman's summary of the UCLA study implies that CC profs' satisfaction is due, at least in part, to their commitment to teaching less advantaged students. He writes: "Community college faculty members are far likelier than those at four-year institutions to believe that their students are under-prepared for college work," however, 80% believe that their institutions take responsibility for educating these under-prepared students. Only 60% of profs at 4 year colleges and universities believe that under-prepared students are well served at their institutions.
In addition, two-year-college instructors were more likely than those at four-year colleges to say that their “values are congruent with the dominant institutional values” where they worked..."
What does this study mean? At first I was surprised by the findings -- given that most Community College professors have higher teaching loads and lower salaries than peers located at more prestigious institutions.
Perhaps these findings reflect the satisfaction we feel as teachers when we are able to help students who are dedicated to learning despite limited resources.
My own experiences resonate with these findings. I remember, as a graduate student, teaching "Child Development" and "Abnormal Psychology" to undergraduates at The City College of New York, located in Spanish Harlem. It was the late 80's, crime was at its peak in New York City, but by the time I started teaching I was inured to the crack addicts who stood with hands outstretched as I emerged from the subway station and walked up the hill to a campus where elevators were usually broken and stairwells smelled of urine.
CCNY is a 4-year University, and once had more Nobel Prize winners among its alumni than any other university - including Harvard and MIT. However, an open enrollment program had been started in the 70's and when I taught there almost anyone with a high school degree could enroll. That fact, along with very low tuition, meant that the academic skills and income level of most students were much lower than most college students.
The majority of students enrolled in my classes were minorities. The few white students were often recent immigrants, as were many of the students of color. Most of my students were older than the average undergrad. Many had young children and thus eagerly soaked up information about child development. These students, especially the many non-native speakers, had great difficulty writing papers and struggled with the reading and tests. Often, life crises made it hard for them to get to class, or hand in assignments on time. Most worked full time jobs and still struggled to pay tuition. Despite challenges, they were eager learners and motivated to be in class. They were appreciative of my novice teaching efforts. Unlike undergrads at more prestigious institutions, the CCNY students never acted like entitled consumers. Unlike their more privileged counterparts, the CCNY students rarely complained or disdained.
I was honored to teach these students. In many ways it was the most gratifying teaching experience I've ever had.
Is this the kind of student body and teaching experience that makes community college professors more likely to be satisfied and gratified than their 4 year counterparts? Probably so.
On the other hand, I wonder whether the relative contentment of CC profs is correlated with less pressure to get grants, conduct research and publish? Probably so.
I welcome your thoughts (and hope that the our favorite Community College Dean will weigh in on this issue.)
Postscript: Dean Dad has written about his thoughts on satisfied cc profs. He thinks that it has to do with clarity of mission. Be sure to read his great post and the thought-provoking comments of readers. Interesting thoughts include those from Ancarett, Adjunct Kait, Dr. Crazy, New Kid and more....