Publisher's note: The author of this post is Harry Painter, who is a contributor for the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.
Community colleges may start acting more like universities
RALEIGH — A new faculty promotion system at one of North Carolina's largest community colleges could increase the school's focus on education. On the other hand, it could be a sign of "mission creep," as the college joins a recent trend of community colleges striving to look and act like universities.
Until this year, Wake Technical Community College — like nearly all community colleges in North Carolina and many in the nation — had a "flat" faculty structure: All teachers were called instructors and pay was based on their longevity and academic degrees. But the school recently announced that instructors could apply for promotions to various professorial levels, with commensurate raises — and 196 instructors became professors in a February ceremony. That's about 35 percent of the total faculty.
Before the change, there was no way for faculty to move up other than by entering administration. To earn more money, instructors had to leave teaching.
"In part, what we're trying to do is recognize that we have high-quality people that hold their own very well" when compared with faculty at four-year colleges, said Bryan Ryan, the senior vice president of curriculum education. "When you think of community colleges, they're often overlooked and undervalued; in some cases it's because of the perspective and terminology we use."
The system has four tiers of promotion. Instructors with at least three years of full-time experience can apply for the rank of assistant professor. Five years makes one eligible for associate professor; seven, for full professor; and 12, for senior professor. A peer review committee decides whether to promote each individual.
Each promotion comes with a 3 percent raise, with raises capped at 6 percent. Requirements for promotion vary, Ryan said. Professors in academic fields might merit promotion for getting published in journals, presenting at conferences, and joining statewide associations and committees. Professors in more technical fields might warrant a new title for getting licensed, getting advanced degrees, or contributing to the employment of their students.
The new ranking system is not universally popular, however. A former instructor who was at Wake Tech when the discussions started told the Pope Center, "There was a lot of resistance from mostly folks who either a) did not qualify [for a promotion]; or b) they just flat-out wanted an egalitarian-type system." Some of the leadership in the wider community college system also resisted, he said.
The introduction of ranks comes at a time when some community colleges are signaling that they want to move away from their work force training roots and become more like universities. States such as Michigan and Florida are allowing community colleges to offer bachelor's degrees, and California is considering it.
Kelly Markson, who has been promoted to full professor of business administration at Wake Tech, said in an email, "Wake Tech is a leader among the community colleges in N.C., and I wouldn't be surprised if others followed suit." At a recent community college seminar, she said, "several instructors from other schools asked me about it. So, I know the word has spread, and there is a buzz about it."
But other colleges may not have the resources to create new rankings, at least if they intend to back them with raises. Wake Tech's size makes resources more plentiful than at smaller colleges like Nash Community College in nearby Nash County. Charlotte's Central Piedmont Community College, Wake Tech's rival for the largest community college in the state, has not adopted a rank upgrade system.
Wake Tech includes additional pay only when it can afford it. High enrollment numbers last year made raises possible this year, but Wake Tech President Stephen Scott and Ryan both have said that faculty members are aware that the funds are not guaranteed. Even if the funds are not there, however, the honorary rankings will remain.