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Community Colleges

Developing Professionals

When faculty excel, so does the community college
University Business, May 2011
Allowing faculty to guide the creation of professional development programs helps ensure high participation at Delaware County Community College.

Campus excellence begins with the faculty. It's not just about hiring high-quality professors, but also about maintaining their skills through professional development programs. "I tell our students hiring is job one, two, and three," says John Roueche, director of the Community College Leadership Program (CCLP) at The University of Texas at Austin, a graduate program for community college administrators. "But then you have to do something with them to continue to help them grow and keep them committed to the institution."

With state budgets still in flux and the possibility of more furloughs a continuing threat, professional development can be a way to both boost morale and help faculty as well as staff face the challenges before them. "Unfortunately, travel and staff development seems an easy thing to cut," says Roueche. "The bad news is, organizations either get better or worse based on the will to do so."

Grooming the existing talent on campus is equally important. During the most recent "Key Trends Survey" by the League for Innovation in the Community College, 80 percent of responding CEOs from two-year institutions said they expected a significant number of faculty and staff to retire in the next three years. "With that in mind, it would seem that strong professional development programs would be necessary," says Cynthia Wilson, vice president of learning and research.

Leaders see an investment in an employee's skills as an investment in the institution. And while there is always the risk of faculty moving on to another campus, not everyone worries about training someone else's future stars. "The bottom line is, they like where they are and they want to do better here," says Diane Picciani, director of the Center to Promote Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Delaware County Community College.

Having someone explain how to engage students can go a long way toward ensuring success on both sides of the podium.

Community college faculty especially need to be given the tools necessary to deal with the wide variety of educational attainment, technology skills, and age differences they will encounter with their students. "If we don't orient them, we'll lose them," cautions Evelyn Waiwaiole, director of the National Institute for Staff & Organizational Development (NISOD). Having someone explain how to build a syllabus and engage students in the classroom can go a long way toward ensuring success on both sides of the podium.

"With the emphasis on student success, retention, and completion, there is an increased awareness of the role of effective teaching," says Wilson.

"While motivating students is their job, very few [faculty] are prepared to do that," says Roueche. "This is not the time to be reducing efforts to help people get better."

Helping faculty get better is what led DCCC leaders to team with Temple University (Pa.) on a professional development program. At DCCC, there was a desire to provide opportunities to faculty that wouldn't require travel, says Picciani. Meanwhile, leaders at Temple were developing a 'teaching in higher education' certificate for their graduate students, not only to improve their skills while at Temple, but to make them more marketable after they graduate, explains Pamela Barnett, associate vice provost and director of Temple's Teaching & Learning Center.

It was a logical step to convert the certificate program into something that would work for existing faculty and offer it on the DCCC campus. "We wanted to make sure we were covering functional topics that would translate to the classroom," says Picciani, adding that community college issues are a focus.

"Most of us leave grad school without learning about learning," says Barnett. Although the curriculum has been customized to DCCC's needs, Barnett says it covers topics every educator needs, such as dealing with increasing enrollment and making a large class "small." "The goal is to help people learn about how people learn, and promoting student learning by using best teaching practices," she says. "We're getting ready to work with Montgomery County Community College (Pa.) in the fall and they want to look at the scholarship of teaching and learning." Besides improving their teaching skills, participants get to meet people from across campus outside their departments.

"Sixty percent of all community college students are taught by adjuncts," says Waiwaiole, who points out that it's important to provide training and support for adjuncts since it is easier for full-time faculty to build a support network.

At DCCC, "we offer the same programs to them, but we know they have time constraints," says Picciani. Programs are also offered to help them with time management and learning about the college. An adjunct advisory committee ensures administration receives feedback.

Waiwaiole points to Sinclair Community College (Ohio) and Tallahassee Community College (Fla.) as having solid programs to help adjunct faculty get up and running.

In addition to time constraints, adjuncts might come from positions in industry. Many colleges have turned to the online "Getting Results" course from the League to provide skills to these new educators. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the program offers 10-minute segments they can review and then apply in class, explains Wilson.

To help new faculty of any stripe settle in, DCCC orientation programs continue throughout the year, covering issues that may come up after a few months.

Community college leaders are also putting programs in place to train their successors. The American Association of Community Colleges has a new report that shows 83 percent of presidents are at or near retirement age, notes Roueche, who helps colleges with succession planning. "That is going to produce tremendous turnover."

The Leadership Development Academy at El Paso Community College (Texas) is a good example, says Waiwaiole. Track I is a one-year program open to any EPCC employee. Track II is open to employees in leadership positions. The six-year-old program has 347 graduates. "That is a way to grow your own," she says. "Where do you find a chair or dean? Probably from your own shining faculty."

When creating a professional development program, keep the audience in mind. "You have to make the topics relevant so they can quickly implement them," cautions Waiwaiole. "We've already put a lot on their plate." She also suggests holding programs at staggered times and through multiple delivery methods. Focus groups are key, as well. "Our philosophy is that it is faculty driven," says Picciani at DCCC.

Consider that faculty may be unprepared for the large role of advising, mentoring, and coaching, says Waiwaiole.

Barnett suggests creating a robust mentoring program to supplement an existing professional development program. "I'd like to see more centralized support for those efforts."

Of course, programs require financial support, which is certainly not always easy to attain, or maintain. Professional development, Roueche notes, is often "a very small percentage of the budget. You won't solve problems by eliminating it."

"I know some colleagues have had their budgets cut," says Picciani. "We're fortunate that our college and president really support professional development." When the Center to Promote Excellence in Teaching and Learning was created, she developed a five-year plan and was able to bring together professional development funds from disparate departments on campus as well as receive mini-grants from the college's education foundation board. "The idea of looking for extra funding and using our existing funding has kept us above water."

Roueche says monthly webinars offered by the CCLP are always well attended and a good turnout is expected for the NISOD conference this month. "A lot of presidents told us they were going to save professional development money they had to reinforce their faculty and reward their best performers."

When money is tight, homegrown solutions can help bridge the gap. Roueche has heard of colleges having star faculty give presentations and webinars to benefit colleagues. Others have reading groups where a faculty member reports on a relevant book each meeting. "The bottom line is, eliminating travel and staff development is bad, because you'll have nothing left to reward your best and brightest," he says. "We have to keep money in the till to recognize the staff."