Academic Exchange Quarterly         Fall 2004: Volume 8, Issue 3


Creating Resources for Community College Staff

Pamela L. Eddy, Central Michigan University

Rebecca Chakraborty, Northwood University

Jeffrey Hancks, Central Michigan University

James Lorenson, Gogebic Community College

Tamara Smythe, Mid-Michigan Community College

Shannon Vautrin Browne, Central Michigan University

Eddy, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in higher education administration at Central Michigan University. Graduate student co-authors include:  Chakraborty, economics faculty, Northwood University; Hancks, Assistant Professor and Public Services Librarian, Clarke Historical Library, CMU; Lorenson, Dean of Instruction, Gogebic Community College; Smythe, adjunct faculty, Mid-Michigan Community College; and Vautrin Browne, transcript specialist, CMU.




High turnover rates in both faculty and leaders at community colleges mean an influx of new personnel who often require training to acclimate to working in a two-year college. Reported here are the outcomes of a graduate class project to create a professional development tool to help orient new community college employees.  The product was the creation of a website reviewing pertinent information regarding community colleges.

Shifts in demographics and retirements have resulted in community colleges witnessing high turnovers in the ranks of both the college presidency and in faculty. In 2001, 21% of all community college presidents were new (Corrigan, 2002), whereas in 1993, 33% of all community college faculty were new (Finkelstein, Seal, & Schuster, 1998). The graying of the professorate and college leaders lays the foundation for continued hiring of new employees in the community college sector.  Weisman and Vaughan (2001) noted that 79% of sitting community college presidents indicated they anticipated retiring in the next 10 years. Similar predictions are made for the academic side of the institution (Finkelstein, Seal, & Schuster, 1998). While some of these new hires may have experiences within the community college context, others are coming to their positions from outside of higher education (Corrigan, 2002; Finkelstein, Seal, & Schuster, 1998). Given this outsider status, it is important to consider how these new employees come to understand their new work contexts within community colleges. Researchers (Gibson-Harman, Rodriguez, & Haworth, 2002; Watts & Hammons, 2002) have documented the need to provide development opportunities for faculty and professional staff, but do not offer prescriptions on how to accomplish this mandate.


Faculty development practices at two-year institutions have included a number of forms (Grant & Keim, 2002), but in general “lack goals—especially goals that are tied to the institutional mission” (Murray, 2002, p. 91).  Murray further argued, “effective faculty development programs have administrative support, are formalized, structured, and goal-directed, make a connection between faculty development and the reward structure, have faculty ownership, and are valued by administrators” (p. 96).  Watts and Hammons (2002) challenge that “those newly hired into a community college over the next decade need to be well trained….and also need to be acclimated to the community college itself” (p. 6).


The information presented in this paper outlines a project created to begin to address the need to provide an understanding of the community college context for new hires. The origins of this project are rooted in a request by a community college president (personal communications D. Burns, January 6, 2004), and supported by the literature, that was fulfilled by students in a graduate course in the Administration of Community Colleges at Central Michigan University. The goal was to create a new employee program that provided a sense of what it means to work at a community college, complete with issues facing community colleges, information on community college students, and a sense of historical location of these institutions within the larger higher education environment. 


Project Design 

The final project emanated from a group class assignment to create resources to aid in acclimating new community college employees to working in a two-year college. The seven students in the graduate seminar included both master’s and doctoral candidates. Some of the students worked at community colleges, whereas others attended a two-year college in their past or had an interest in discovering more about these types of institutions. The assignment of this group project was a first time learning project designed to bring stronger links between classroom learning and community college realities. Students met for the seminar on three consecutive weekends. The collaborative effort of designing aids for professional development was augmented by individual student research on distinct topics of interest to community college faculty and staff.


In designing the final project the graduate students initially brainstormed areas to cover. The first idea session occurred over the first weekend of the course.  On the first evening of class students considered what content was pertinent for new hires at two-year colleges and how best to deliver it. Students used their own experiences as new employees to consider what would be helpful to know and areas on which to have information. The course text and supplemental readings served as a source of information as well. Topics ranged from knowing more about community college students to understanding the links between these colleges and the community to obtaining information on state-by-state differences in two-year college policy and finance. They conceptualized links to individual state sites that would provide connections to all the community colleges and associated resources. During the second weekend class meeting the students refined the original list to make the task of getting the first attempt at the project completed in a reasonable time during the short semester.


The professor of the course served as a facilitator to help students focus on topics of most interest to a community college audience.  Criteria used to set boundaries on the list of topics included a focus on more general information of interest.  The thought was that subsequent classes could work on revisions and expansion of topics. The final six areas of focus included: providing a history of community colleges; a review of the organizational structure of community colleges and community college leadership; a discussion on issues pertaining to the academic side of the institution; a portrait of community college students; a discussion regarding the community outreach function of two-year schools; and finally a listing of pertinent resources that new staff could access for more information—including national community college associations. Students used course materials, in particular Cohen and Brawer’s (2003), The American Community College, and articles from community college journals (e.g., The Community College Review, and The Community College Journal of Research to Practice), to gather information to include.  


In determining the best form of presentation for the information students considered a number of different venues, including CDs, a website, posters, and brochures, to name a few.  Ultimately, it was decided by group consensus to develop a website containing the compiled information, allowing for easy updates and more access to information via links. This media form was deemed easier to update, lower cost, and more accessible to users. Students compiled information on each of the topics for the website during the remainder of the course. The CMU College of Education’s Webmaster would be responsible for technical assistance in turning the student ideas into reality.  



Community colleges are a unique American phenomenon.  Brick (1994) identified four basic social and economic forces leading to the development of these two year colleges:  “(1) equality of opportunity, (2) use of education to achieve social mobility, (3) technological progress, and (4) acceptance of the concept that education is the producer of social capital” (p. 44).  Indeed, community colleges are commonly referred to today as the “people’s college” (Vaughan, 1997, p. 23).  Early community colleges, originally called junior colleges, were small institutions, concentrating exclusively on providing general liberal arts programs (“The Changing Role,” 2002).  By 1930, there were 450 community colleges spread throughout forty-five states (Brick, 1994). Local officials were instrumental in establishing these early two-year colleges, which focused on local community conditions and interests (Cohen & Brawer, 2003).


A confluence of factors in the mid-20th century aided in forming the framework of community colleges as we know them today.  President Harry Truman’s Commission on Higher Education (President’s Commission on Higher Education, 1947) suggested that students obtain formal education up to grade 14.   Coming on the heels of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act in 1944 (commonly referred to as the GI Bill, which sought to break down the financial barrier for college enrollment for servicemen), the Truman Commission members thought community colleges could provide opportunities for higher education previously unobtainable for large portions of the population.  The Commission report sought to establish a network of publicly supported two-year institutions, newly named community colleges (Vaughan, 1997).  The act of opening up higher education to the masses earned community colleges the moniker of “democracy’s college” (Brick, 1994, p. 9).


The 1960s were a period of explosive growth at community colleges as baby boomers reached college age and financial aid became more available for higher education (McPherson  & Schapiro, 1998).  At one point in the late 60s, one new community college opened each week somewhere in the United States, a rate expansion never seen before (Cohen & Brawer, 2003).  In 1960 there were 590 two-year colleges; the number of these institutions grew to 1833 in 2001—an increase of 211% (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002).  Comparatively, four-year institutions grew by half this rate (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002).  


Current articles on community colleges (Evelyn, 2004; Vaughan, 2004) address several contemporary issues facing two-year colleges and posit that these institutions are at a crossroads.  Pressures from increasing student enrollments, particularly with minority students, come at a time when budgets are being slashed nationwide.  Vaughan (2004) argued that community colleges need to redefine their open access mission and that the final definition should be differ from past interpretations. While the tendency is to enroll students on a first-come-first-serve basis, a plan of focusing on successful programs and admitting only the number of students the college can support, with allowances for keeping spots for late, qualified students open, is more strategic (Vaughan, 2003). How community college leaders address these pressing issues will define community colleges in the future.


Organizational Structure and Leadership

Organizationally, community colleges have operated as bureaucracies (Birnbaum, 1988; Levin, 1998). Bureaucratic organizations rely on leadership hierarchy in their functioning.  The more formal reporting structures of community colleges is not surprising given their structural roots in K-12 schools.  Indeed, many of the first community college leaders and faculty came from pre-collegiate institutions (Cohen & Brawer, 2003). As institutions have become more focused on outcomes, community colleges have increasingly applied quality concepts such as Total Quality Management and the ideals espoused by the authors W. Edward Deming and Malcolm Baldridge (Academic Quality Improvement Program, n.d.).  Accreditation requirements increasingly call for broader internal information sharing and collaborative management systems (Higher Learning Commission [HLC], 2003). An alternative accreditation system, called the Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP), is based on institutional quality and measurement of outcomes (HLC, 2003).


Community colleges range in size and governance structures. “Most public colleges in the nation are organized within single districts” (Cohen & Brawer, 2003, p. 107), with policy formation resting with a locally elected or appointed board of trustees. Some states have coordinating boards for all public community colleges, whereas others allow community colleges to operate more autonomously. For instance, community colleges in Michigan have been granted self-governance under the State Constitution, and have been designated as governmental entities with delegated powers and authorities by state legislation, the Community college act of 1966, as amended (Michigan, 2001).


The development of a clear, understandable, and outcomes oriented mission statement stating why a particular community college exists sets the tone for institutional leadership and decision-making; the mission statement steers the actions of the loosely-coupled organization, and those of its constituent bureaucratic subunits, toward common outcomes (Calder, 2002). Currently, the Carnegie Foundation offers only one classification scheme that puts all community colleges in one category. Given the range in sizes of community colleges, locations, and mission foci, strong arguments are being made to develop a more refined mechanism of classification for two-year colleges (Katsinas, 2003; McCormick & Cox, 2003).


Organizationally, community college faculty are the most unionized of all in institutions of higher education (Cohen & Brawer, 2003).  Collective bargaining served to draw sharp distinctions between the faculty ranks and administration, allowing less autocratic control by leadership and more of a faculty voice in decision-making.  Shared governance implies shared decision making in all matters relating to community college governance. However, often shared governance participants have concerns over the applicability of shared decision-making to functions such as layoffs, disciplinary matters, and workload assignments (Trites & Weeger, 2003). Unlike the State of California which legislatively mandates the use of shared governance in community colleges as a way to provide for joint decision-making (Cohen & Brawer, 2003), many community colleges have moved to what can more accurately be termed a shared leadership system, wherein staff become involved in planning for the future, determining how to become better educators, and determining how to better serve students and the college’s community (Trites & Weeger, 2003).


Leadership in community colleges has transitioned over time. Twombly (1995) identified four eras of community college leaders, including the period from 1900-1930s in which the “great man” theory was dominated; the 1940s-1950s in which leaders sought to become independent from secondary schools and forge an identity of their own; 1960s-1970s in which the present day version of the community college was born with strong, dominate leadership necessary during these pioneering days; and the 1980s-2000 where attention to resource issues was more necessary, with models from business used to create leaders emphasizing efficiency and strategic planning (Rowley & Sherman, 2001).  The projected turnover in college leadership in the new 21st century poises community colleges for yet another era of leadership—one rooted in transformation and change.


Traditionally, White males led institutions of higher education, including community colleges.      In 1991 89% of community college presidents were males and 11% were minorities; a decade later this percentage has shifted to now include 28% women presidents and 14% presidents of color (Weisman & Vaughan, 2001). Community colleges employ the highest percentage of women and individuals of color in the presidency (Glazer-Raymo, 1999).


Given the projections of turnover in the community college presidency (Weisman & Vaughan, 2001), the American Association of Community College is focusing attention on how best to prepare future leaders in its Leading Forward initiative (Ottenritter, 2004).  Recent research investigates how community college leaders learn (Amey, 2004), calling on these leaders to be cognitively complex thinkers who understand how to learn during times of changes; challenging leaders to move beyond traditional hierarchies to more collaborative teams (Bensimon & Neumann, 1993).



Faculty working at community colleges look markedly different than at four-year institution.  In four-year institutions research productivity provides professional currency and job status, whereas at two-year colleges faculty do little research, instead focusing on higher teaching loads and more hours of direct contact with students.  Working with community college students who posses less directness in their studies and who often require remedial assistance lends to a challenging work environment.  Given the community college’s roots in the K-12 system, many of the norms for teaching faculty are common, including “mandated hours for faculty, assigned teaching schedules, textbooks selected by committees, and obligatory attendance at college events” (Cohen & Brawer, 2003, p. 75).


Another distinction of community college faculty are the high percentages of part-time teaching staff.  Even in the early years of their existence large numbers of the faculty were part-time, often coming from the local high schools. Part-time faculty percentages have grown from 48% of the total faculty in 1953 to 62% of the total faculty in 1998 (Cohen & Brawer, 2003).  In 1998, women comprised 49.9% of full time faculty and 48.2% of part time faculty.  Comparably, women make up only 29.9% of full time faculty and 36.3% of part-time faculty at public research institutions (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002). Higher numbers of women in the faculty ranks is critical to providing a career path to leadership positions in the institution since 70% of community college presidents come from within the institution (Corrigan, 2002).


Increases in part-time faculty at community colleges resulted in the decrease in percentage of faculty holding tenure.  In 1980 75.2% of faculty at public two-year colleges held tenure; by 2000 this percentage decreased to 69.8% (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002).  More part-time faculty on campus has pushed for the formation of unions to address needs and issues of adjuncts (Smallwood, 2003). Despite these shifts in status over time, “part-timers in community colleges look more like full-time faculty than is sometimes assumed” (Leslie & Gappa, 2002, p. 62).  Adjuncts have similar educational backgrounds and approach teaching with similar attitudes to their full-time colleagues.  Part-timers, on the other hand, do tend to stick to more conventional teaching practices (Leslie & Gappa, 2002).  Thus, professional development for this large contingent of teaching staff would result in making better use of this integral college resource.


Preparation for community college faculty positions is not always purposeful.  Fugate and Amey (2000) found the community college faculty in their study did not foresee an academic career as they entered higher education, rather came to teaching in conjunction with another career.  Given this lack of intentionality in joining the faculty ranks, faculty development during early career stages becomes more critical. As more faculty near retirement age, community college administrators must begin to think how to replace and train new teaching staff—again highlighting the importance of providing information on community colleges to the newest employees.



Approximately 5.5 million individuals call themselves community college students (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002). During peak periods of enrollment growth community colleges witnessed as much as 15% growth per year (Cohen & Brawer, 2003).  A number of reasons attributed to this large expansion including population expansions in the college age students—particularly in the 1960s, adults returning to school or attending for the first time, and increases in both women and students of color due to perceived accessibility to schooling at the community college (Cohen & Brawer, 2003; Hutcheson, 1999).  Increased availability of financial aid, coupled with the availability of part time attendance also aided increases in enrollment.  The availability of remedial services, indeed the mandate for remediation at two-year colleges versus four-year colleges in some states (Healy, 1998), increased attendance by low ability students. When these under prepared students arrive on campus, 40% require remediation (Shults, 2000).  


In 1997, 44% of all students starting at a post-secondary institution after high school did so at a community college (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002).  Of those students 30 or older the number beginning at two-year colleges jumps to 60%.  The majority of students at community colleges are enrolled part-time.  Given the options for evening, weekend, and on-line courses, working students find the community college easier to fit into their busy work-life schedules. 


The definition of what defines a typical two-year college student has shifted over time.  A traditional definition would show a community college student as 18-19 years of age and enrolling full time in a post-secondary higher education institution.  Now community college students’ average age is 29 years old, with most enrolled on a part-time basis (Cohen & Brawer, 2003).  More recently a “third wave” of students is hitting states such as California, Texas, and Florida.  The third wave includes students who are immigrants and non-English speakers. These states have areas with majority of minority students.  The community college often provides these students with their only option for entry to higher education.


Community college students represent a diverse population. In 1997, Community Colleges, which enrolled 38% of total higher education students, were enrolling 46% of the ethnic minority students (Cohen & Brawer, 2003). Clearly, minority students are finding their way into higher education more often through the doors of community colleges.  The patterns of minority enrollment change based on geography.  For instance, more minority students are enrolled in states with larger minority populations in states such as California, Texas, and Florida.


According to Cohen and Brawer (2003), retrospective studies indicate than 30-60% of people obtaining baccalaureate degrees have some community college courses on their record. Estimates for transfer range from 20% to 30% depending on the data set used for analysis, the time frame of reference, and the definitions of the transfer variable (Grubb, 1991).  Some authors argue that that students who begin at community colleges are less likely to complete a baccalaureate degree than those who begin at four-year colleges (Christie & Hutcheson, 2003; Clark, 1994; Grubb, 1991).  Clark (1994) dubbed this phenomenon the “cooling out” function of community colleges.  Clark argued that students opting to initially attend a two-year served to cool their initial aspirations of more education.  In The Diverted Dream, Brint and Karabel (1989) further posited that few students holding the goal of transferring and graduating with four-year degrees were successful, despite the use of resources to fulfill the central characteristic mission of transfer for community colleges. 


Community Outreach

As the name community college implies, the role of the local community contributes an integral part in creating the essence of identity for two-year colleges. The inception of the land-grant movement in the late 1800s (Rudolf, 1990) and the corresponding increased demands for education to meet the needs of business and industry, set the stage for links between colleges and the surrounding community.  “Growing numbers of adults sought learning of all kinds. Education was conceived as a continuing process in which the junior college was seen to be especially qualified to render services” (Brick, 1994, p. 51).  


As previously noted, initially, colleges providing the first two-years of post-secondary education were commonly called junior colleges. The shift to the current naming of community colleges is attributed to report of the President’s Commission on Higher Education (1947).  In part, the report stated:

Whatever form the community college takes its purpose is educational service to the entire community, and this purpose requires of it a variety of functions and programs.  It will provide college education for the youth of the community certainly, so as to remove geographic and economic barriers to educational opportunities and discover and develop individual talents at low cost and easy assess.  But, in addition, the community college will serve as an active center of adult education.  It will attempt to meet the total post high school needs of its community! (pp. 67-68).

Historically, community colleges fulfilled an integral niche within the communities they serve. Harlacher and Gallattscheck (1978) argued, a community college should be a "vital participant in the total renewal process of the community...dedicated to the continual growth and development of its citizens” (p. 7). The culture of community colleges being embedded in the communities they serve and quickly reacting to community needs, results in uniquely tailored outreach programs dependant upon the community needs.


Vaughan (1997) cites the publication of The Community Dimensions of the Community College (1960) by Ervin Harlacher, as one of the first books dedicated to describing the community services movement of two-year colleges.  That same year, Vaughan notes, Gunder Myran (1969), “suggested that the college should focus some of its resources on working cooperatively with community organizations, agencies, and other institutions to improve the physical, economic, social, and political environments of the community ( p. 15).  By the 1970s the community service role of community colleges was accepted as part of the two-year college mission. 


The 1988 report of the Commission on the Future of Community Colleges marked a shift in the traditional views of community services as merely reacting to community needs.  Instead, “the Commission called for the community college to form partnerships with other community organizations based upon shared values and common goals” (Vaughan, 1997, p. 34).  Thus, the community college was now to take a leadership role, and act as a catalyst, in long-range planning for community development. The Academy for Community College Leadership Advancement, Innovation, and Modeling (ACCLAIM) program was developed to help meet the leadership challenge of community colleges during the shift to a more integrated community-based programming and development (Boone, 1997).  The ACCLAIM program posits a series of 15 tasks for community college leaders and staff to follow to lead to success community-based programming (Boone, 1997).  Successful examples of community colleges following the ACCLAIM model are presented in Community-based Programming in Action:  The Experiences of Five Community Colleges (1998).    


New conceptions of the catalyst role community colleges hold in their community regarding programming and development expand traditional definitions of community service.  In light of current economic conditions, declining governmental support of community colleges, and shifts in demographics, community colleges are pulled as they attempt to meet their multi-faceted missions.  How individual colleges help bolster local economic development and provide needed community service support provides a crucial point for their communities.       



The coverage of the background material presented here to aid professional development of new community college personnel is critical in enabling these professionals in acclimating to their new jobs. Indeed, as Amey (2004) noted, developing cognitively complex learners is an imperative for the future in which one must continue learning as they lead. Given the large amount of transition in two-year college faculty and leadership, it is important to discover ways in which these newest employees can achieve an understanding of their new environment. The project outlined here begins to highlight for these new employees the context in which they are working and gives them bearings to aid their understanding regarding the community college environment and enhance their learning.


In creating the resources to include on the website, students had an opportunity to consider what they felt was most important in what they learned about community colleges during the course.  Students who are current community college employees had an opportunity to reflect on how the course readings and discussions intersected with their lived experiences, and importantly, discovered more about areas outside of their own work sector. One of the most positive outcomes was the testing, and ultimate discarding, of assumptions students held about community colleges, students, and their faculty. The largest difficulty encountered in the creation of the website was the limits of time inherent in a weekend course offering.  Having the same project developed over an entire semester of weekly class meetings would provide for more feedback and the ability to tap into a greater pool of references and resources.  


The test website resulting from this project becomes available in the October, 2004.  Access can be obtained via the Educational Administration and Community Leadership departmental website at Central Michigan University ( An e-mail link is provided on the site for suggestions on improvement and areas of interest for inclusion to help in developing new community college staff. 


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