American Sociological Association

Study Explores What Draws Sociology Faculty to Teach in Community Colleges


October 13, 2016

Community college faculty who teach sociology are drawn to their positions for reasons that are personal and meaningful to them, including serving a diverse and underserved population and advancing social justice principles. This is despite the oftentimes challenging work conditions faced at community colleges, according to a new study by members of the American Sociological Association (ASA) Task Force on Community College Faculty in Sociology.

The article, “Teaching for Social Justice: Motivations of Community College Faculty in Sociology,” is featured in a recently published special issue of the journal Teaching Sociology that focuses on teaching sociology at community colleges. Using data from a first-of-its-kind national survey of faculty teaching sociology at community colleges, the authors explored respondents’ motivations and sources of satisfaction.

Given the higher teaching loads and lower salaries of community college faculty compared to those at four-year institutions, the authors wanted to better understand what drives faculty to teach at community colleges. In particular, they explored whether those faculty feel “pushed” into teaching by outside factors such as limited job opportunities or not having a terminal degree, or “pulled” into teaching by internal motivations such as a commitment to educating disadvantaged students or a broader sense of promoting social justice through education.

As part of an extensive survey with closed- and open-ended responses, professors were asked to self-report both the reasons that led them to teach at a community college and what they found most satisfying about their jobs as community college faculty. Of 712 survey respondents, 634 provided qualitative responses to one or both of those questions, and the authors coded the responses into themes for analysis.

The majority of respondents indicated pull factors, such as preferring teaching over research, planning to teach at a community college until retirement, and choosing to teach at a community college if they “had it to do over again.” Almost half of respondents described their motivations and satisfactions in terms that were consistent with a social justice orientation. Two examples of respondent comments include:

From a social justice perspective I wanted to fight for equity and justice through a sociological imagination.

I am committed to social justice and access to higher education and I see my work at the community college as related to that commitment.

The study findings demonstrate the importance of the community college as a space for underserved and disadvantaged students to receive instruction from dedicated faculty who are there for reasons beyond self-interest—those who choose to be there and feel an obligation to students, of whom many must overcome barriers just to be present in the classroom each day. They also underscore how the “sociological imagination” can be sparked in the classroom, where education becomes a liberating force for students. However, given the finding that most respondents felt that they are not well respected by their colleagues at four-year institutions, the findings also point to a need for a greater focus on the role of the community college and community college faculty in preparing students for the future. The authors conclude that “teaching sociology in a community college is a vitally needed form of organic pubic sociology; it should be recognized as important in its own right with its own rewards and be supported as such.”

Reference and link to article text/abstract

"Teaching for Social Justice: Motivations of Community College Faculty in Sociology"

Sonia Brown, Stacye Blount, Charles A. Dickinson, Alison Better, Margaret Weigers Vitullo, Deidre Tyler, and Michael Kisielewski

Teaching Sociology

2016, Vol. 44(4) 244–255


Link to ASA Task Force on Community College Faculty in Sociology

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