Kay McClenney

Kay McClenney, a College of Education professor and director of the Center, speaks about the downsides to hiring part-time faculty in community colleges, on Wednesday. Colleges are only tied to part-time faculty for the current academic year, providing less motivation for teachers to put in extra effort with students beyond required class time.   

Photo Credit: Claire Trammel | Daily Texan Staff

Community colleges’ increasing use of part-time faculty to teach courses may have a negative impact on students, according to a report published Monday by UT’s Center for Community College Student Engagement.

According to the report, to deal with declines in state funding while remaining affordable to students, community colleges have increasingly moved to hiring part-time faculty because the colleges have no fiscal obligation to them beyond the current academic term. The report said part-time faculty, often known as contingent faculty, typically have lower pay levels and fewer, if any, benefits than full-time faculty.

This low transactional relationship between institutions and part-time faculty creates few incentives for teachers to help students beyond their designated class times, according to Kay McClenney, a College of Education professor and director of the center. McClenney said contingent faculty also lack the resources or room space needed to hold office hours.

“Student-faculty interaction is extremely important to students,” McClenney said. “If [faculty] are marginalized in some ways, their students are going to be short-changed as well.”

Courtney Adkins, adjunct professor at Austin Community College and assistant director of the center, said one of the biggest challenges she has faced as a part-time faculty member has been limited accessibility to her students.

“I think relationships are central to a community college student’s success,” Adkins said. “Because I normally only teach in the evenings, I don’t feel that I make as strong of a connection to students as I could if I were on campus more.”

Adkins said ACC has created a mentor program between newer adjuncts and long-term adjunct faculty to make it easier for part-time faculty to be aware of the resources the community college offers.

“There have been times over the years when I knew a student needed assistance out of the classroom, whether it be with tutoring services, financial aid services, advising services, etc., and I haven’t always known where to direct him or her,” Adkins said. “Having a name of someone I could contact to ask those sorts of questions is a great help.”

Nicholas Ward, a history senior who has attended both Lone Star Community College in Houston and ACC, said he did not need to attend office hours until coming to UT.

“At Lonestar, 90 percent of the classes were about the equivalent of a high school level class,” Ward said. “You could usually talk to [professors] after class if you had a question.”

According to McClenney, close to two-thirds of the the students who enter community colleges are not prepared to succeed academically. McClenney said institutions need to expect effective teaching practices from faculty to enable students to excel in college.

“Higher expectations need to be part of the job description,” McClenney said. “No one rises to low expectations.”

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

Community college students undergo a fundamentally different experience from students who attend traditional universities; they are often older and must balance commitments to work and family. A study conducted by UT researchers investigates ways two-year institutions can better retain these students.

According to graduation statistics provided by Austin Community College, 4 percent of full-time students entering the college receive a certificate or degree by the end of four years. Earning an associate’s degree is expected to take two. According to UT, 52 percent of students entering the University graduate with a bachelor’s degree by the end of four years.

Kay McClenney, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement, said that colleges can reverse this trend by actively engaging the students. McClenney refers to active engagement as the amount of time and effort that students give for purposeful educational activity.

The study found that a curriculum oriented toward active learning, collaboration and provision of supplemental education, along with mandatory attendance and advising, are found to improve student success.

“These types of educational practices need to be a typical practice instead of the experience of a fortunate few,” McClenney said. “The question isn’t funding; the question is, are colleges and universities going to insist that their faculty learn about these techniques and implement them more.” 

The center released its most recent study, “A Matter of Degrees,” which seeks to help community college administrators achieve their goals by assessing the impact of various practices. It is the second entry in a three-part series.

McClenney said her research is based on data collected from surveys and focus groups, then interpreted to provide constructive advice for more than 900 community colleges across the country.

McClenney said the center works particularly closely with ACC, which would like to increase the amount of students who transfer to UT after receiving their associate’s degrees.

“There are efforts they are taking under their own operations and also through a partnership with UT,” McClenney said.

ACC student Koji Kiuchi said he hopes to eventually transfer to UT and double major in English and Japanese. Kiuchi said he has a difficult time making ends meet while also going to school full-time.

“My plan is to eventually transfer to UT, and go through financial aid and use that money to study abroad in Japan,” Kiuchi said.

McClenney said college administrators are in a novel situation because of demographic shifts in America.

“The nature of college-going students is changing because the nature of America is changing,” McClenney said. “For example, you have part-time students paying tuition while working a job or two or three. The thing to know is that students are far more likely to be from diverse backgrounds, to be people of color, to be working, to have families and to be commuting to school every day.”

McClenney said administrators need to adapt their curriculum to suit these changes.

“A lot of community colleges are designed as though they could be traditional institutions for higher education, where students are going to school full-time, and will start immediately after high school, and will go straight through to graduate,” McClenney said. “In fact, one in six graduates fits that description.”

Kiuchi said he is posed with the competing obligations of work and school.

“Trying to deal with the high cost of living in Austin while making shit-pay at a part-time job and also taking classes at the same time and trying to do well is hard,” Kiuchi said.

Latino graduation rates and college engagement will be a new focus of the College of Education after The Kresge Foundation and the Greater Texas Foundation awarded the program two grants totaling $437,000. 

The research will aim to develop an action plan to address the low transfer-rate of Latino students from community colleges to four-year universities and the challenges Latino students face when they transfer. The research will be conducted by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Administration and will analyze data from CCCSE surveys and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).

Kay McClenney, the director of the CCCSE, said all students face challenges when they transfer from community colleges to four-year universities but those challenges are “exacerbated with subgroups of students who are more likely to be first-generation college students, more likely to have graduated from high schools with inadequate counseling support, [and] more likely to rely on financial aid.”

McClenney also said Latinos face additional problems when they transfer to universities that are less ethnically diverse than their community colleges.
“Attention needs to be paid to matters involving cultural heritage and identity, so that students can quickly come to feel that they are socially, as well as educationally, connected with their college,” McClenney said. 

While the CCCSE and the NSSE have been providing universities and community colleges with data for years on these issues, this latest project increases the emphasis on pairs of universities and community colleges between which many students transfer.
Angela Valenzuela, a professor in the College of Education and the director of the Texas Center for Education Policy, said it is important to identify the achievement gap as an “opportunity gap” rooted in underpriviledged circumstances. Valenzuela and McClenney both identified financial circumstances and poor schools earlier in Latino students’ lives as causes for this gap. 

Biology senior Daniel McFarlane, Transfer Student Association president, said the transition to the University is a “complete culture shock” for transfer students.

“It’s like going from 13th grade to an entirely different world,” McFarlane said. 

McClenney emphasized the importance of the research saying that the issue needed serious attention. 

“In Texas, our future — in terms of both fiscal prosperity and societal health — truly depends on our commitment to ensure that much larger numbers of Latino students progress successfully through the public school system, through the community colleges and on to completion of a baccalaureate degree,” McClenney said.