Revamping use of part-time faculty may help California Community Colleges recover.

The reliance on minimally supported adjunct faculty in the community college system of the United States traces back to the 1970s during the neoliberal reform era, which witnessed the defunding of public education and the initiation of the corporatization of higher education. Numerous studies have highlighted how this overdependence on part-time faculty correlates directly with diminishing student success rates.

When faculty members receive fair compensation, it enables them to offer enhanced student-faculty interactions both inside and outside the classroom, resulting in significantly improved student outcomes.

Over the previous four decades, only 30% of faculty in the California Community Colleges have been hired as full-time staff, while the remaining 70% have been employed as adjunct part-time staff who handle the majority of the courses in the system. Despite possessing equivalent qualifications and teaching the same material and students, part-time faculty members lack job security, often teach at multiple institutions, struggle with inadequate wages, and are not equally compensated compared to their full-time counterparts.

Part-time faculty members’ uncertain employment status, the need to teach at various locales, low salaries, absence of payment for office hours, and unequal compensation for similar work in comparison to full-time instructors have perpetuated a two-tiered employment structure that was not intended to be permanent. This model has deprived both students and colleges of fully supported faculty, remaining largely concealed from public view.

The California Community Colleges system faces the imperative task of addressing the underlying contradictions within its educational institutions that have resulted in decades of disinvestment in faculty and, consequently, students. Transitioning from a dual-tier to a unified faculty model is vital for better serving students, colleges, and the state of California. Central to the unified faculty concept is the elimination of the two-tiered employment system, unifying part-time and full-time positions.

A unified faculty model focuses on fostering unity among faculty members and across colleges to replace the current fragmented system that provides unequal services to students and yields stagnant or declining educational outcomes. Examples like the K-12 system and Vancouver model signify the effectiveness of structuring educational systems around a unified faculty model.

The implementation of a unified faculty model is poised to overhaul student success rates and enhance operational efficiency within the California Community Colleges by highlighting student-faculty engagement, ensuring academic freedom, increasing faculty involvement in governance and institutional processes, fulfilling civic engagement missions, and improving fiscal stability systemwide.

Despite the goal established in California’s AB 1725 in 1988 to have 75% of credit instruction delivered by full-time faculty, the system has been unable to achieve this target due to overdependence on inadequately supported part-time staff. Enhancements in part-time faculty working conditions, coupled with periodic budget increases, indicate California’s recognition of the issue and willingness to address the disparities inherent in the two-tiered model.

Aligned with the Vancouver model, stakeholders and partners of the California Community Colleges system are gearing up to transition towards a unified faculty model. While legislative support could bolster this shift, such legislation is not mandatory to initiate the transition at the college level. Some colleges could pioneer a unified model to showcase its efficacy without requiring statewide legislation.

A statewide transition to a unified faculty model necessitates the fostering of leadership and coalitions among faculty unions, academic senates, the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, the Chancellor’s Office, and other stakeholder groups across California.

Over the past twenty years, the California Community Colleges system has undergone significant reforms that have restricted students’ educational options and dwindled the student population by more than 1 million students. Courses like remedial programs, ESL courses, and lifelong learning opportunities have been curtailed or eliminated without adequate discourse. Despite purported reform efforts, student outcomes continue to decline or show meager improvements, with unmet transfer, employment, and equity goals over the past five years.

By investing in a unified faculty model, the California Community College system can rectify the challenges encountered in attracting back millions of disengaged students. Prioritizing the crucial role of faculty in students’ lives, California has the opportunity to establish an inclusive and equitable educational model that empowers students to contribute positively to California’s economy and political landscape and beyond.

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Debbie Klein is an anthropology professor at Gavilan College in Gilroy and a former president of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges.

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