The Career Pathways of Community College STEM Faculty: Results of the CIRTL INCLUDES Pilot Study

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The preparation of faculty in effective teaching practices is a major means of improving the quality of undergraduate STEM education. Most studies and initiatives concentrate on four-year institutions, despite the transformative role community colleges (CCs) can play. We conducted a study of more than 3,000 CC STEM faculty members from 11 institutions as part of the CIRTL INCLUDES pilot to learn about their educational and career pathways, where they earned their degrees and worked prior to beginning their first community college positions, participation in teaching development, and interest in two-year faculty careers. We received a 13.6% response rate overall (410 faculty members) from across the three regional collaboratives. We wished to test the validity of a regional collaborative (RC) model for developing faculty pathways, training current and future faculty on inclusive teaching practices, and creating institutional partnerships that would ultimately improve undergraduate STEM outcomes through enhanced teaching, mentoring, and advising practices.

Key Findings

About half of respondents (52.6%) earned a master’s as their highest degree before moving into their first CC position; about one-quarter (25.9%) earned a doctoral degree.

  • Slightly more than half of all master’s recipients worked between degree attainment and their first CC position.
  • A smaller proportion of doctoral recipients went straight to CC positions.
  • Few differences were found between the part-time and full-time faculty pathway.

The regional collaborative model was well-supported by these pilot data.

  • A majority of respondents in each RC earned their highest degree within their RC state.
  • If respondents worked between highest degree and first CC position, most do so within RC state.
  • Half of part-time faculty members did not consider their CC position to be their primary employment; many of these part-time faculty members worked concurrently in other organizations.

Half (51.0%) of all respondents participated in teaching development programs or activities during their highest degree program.

  • Master’s and doctoral recipients participated at equivalent rates; unsurprisingly, participation was lower among associate’s and bachelor’s recipients
  • Participation was rarely compulsory; motivation to participate instead included desire to improve teaching knowledge, skills, ability; job marketability.
  • Barriers included classic features of time, prioritization, and awareness of programs.
  • Doctoral degree recipients were more likely to say they were discouraged from participation, and that teaching development was a lower priority but the proportion of respondents was low (less than 30%). This finding contrasts with the common narrative of doctoral program cultures suppressing participation in teaching development.

About one-third of respondents (34.7%) said a faculty position at a 2-year institution was their primary career goal during their highest degree program. Many (58.0%) respondents said some kind of faculty position was their primary goal during their highest degree program, indicating a clear interest in faculty positions that may have some teaching responsibilities.

  • Master’s degree holders reported interest in obtaining 2-year faculty careers in higher proportion than doctoral degree recipients (45.6% vs. 23.3%).
  • Full-time faculty respondents reported wanting 2-year careers in higher proportion than part-time faculty (41.6% vs. 22.8%), during their highest degree program.