Community colleges continue to see a drop in academic staffing
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In fall 2021, the academic workforce at community colleges in the U.S. reached its lowest point in nearly two decades, according to a new analysis of federal data out Wednesday from the American Association of University Professors.
The last two years have seen particularly steep declines, as enrollment levels at schools have wavered and community colleges face increased competition for instructors.
Alberto Urbina is now an educator, who worked as a welder in Houston for 5 years. When he’s talking to students who are thinking about it as a career, he likes to point out all the smokestacks he’s helped build around the city.
“One of the coolest things that I did was to be able to get on a crane and be hoisted up close to 300 feet to go all the way to the top to make a weld,” he said.
Urbina is now Dean of Material Science and Smart Manufacturing at Houston Community College — which means he hires people to teach welding. He’s looking for instructors who don’t mind teaching classes on weekends or late at night.
Like, super late at night. “From 10 at night to 1 in the morning,” he said.
That’s to accommodate the many community college students who also work full-time. Thing is, most people qualified to teach welding could make more money working on smokestacks.
“When there’s a labor market shortage, the premiums for professionals in those fields is also higher,” said Josh Wyner with the Aspen Institute.
Community colleges are also competing with four-year universities for faculty, who can teach subjects like English and calculus. Those schools can generally offer higher wages, lighter teaching workloads and more full-time jobs.
“In community colleges, the faculty are more likely to be hired on a part-time basis,” said Glenn Colby with the American Association of University Professors. “And they’re less likely to have the opportunity for tenure.”
Fewer instructors mean it’s harder for students to get into certain classes.
Wyner of the Aspen Institute points out it can then take longer for them to finish, or “they may drop out altogether. They have to go out and into the world of work. So it either delays graduation or prevents graduation altogether.”
Back in Houston, Alberto Urbina works with local builders and manufacturers to help him recruit part-time instructors.
“To train the next generation,” he said. “Otherwise, there’s going to continue to be a shortage of skilled workers.”
His pitch to them: If you want more workers — give me some of your workers to train the new ones.
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