American Sociological Association

Teaching in the Community College Context: A Special Issue of Teaching Sociology

September 21, 2016

The idea for this special issue was suggested by Katherine Rowell (Sinclair Community College) and Margaret Weigers Vitullo (American Sociological Association) as a means to help draw attention to the ongoing work of the American Sociological Association’s Task Force on Community College Faculty in Sociology. I am very pleased that Teaching Sociology has received the opportunity to publish important research performed by members of this task force as well as by others with expertise in instruction in the community college context.

As outlined in an American Sociological Association memorandum on the objectives of the task force, there are many compelling reasons to focus on community college instruction, including the following facts:

  • Over 7 million undergraduates currently take credit-bearing courses in community colleges.
  • Nearly one in two American undergraduates is enrolled in a community college.
  • Community college enrollment is a pathway for many students to enter four-year institutions.
  • One in five doctoral recipients attended a community college at some point in his or her educational career.

The sheer volume of the teaching performed by community college faculty is astounding, as are the contributions of disseminating sociological perspectives to diversities of students who are underrepresented in four-year colleges and universities. And yet, to date, the journal Teaching Sociology has published relatively few contributions that focus specifically on community college students or community college instruction. By my estimate (based on a keyword search in SocIndex), fewer than one in twenty manuscripts published in this journal focus on sociology education in the community college context. Clearly, much more work on the scholarship of teaching and learning, as applied to sociology instruction in community colleges, needs to be performed.

As discussed in the articles included in this issue, the limited research on sociological instruction that occurs in community colleges can be attributed to a number of factors, not least of which are resource limitations. It is evident that community college instruction invokes heavy demands on faculty, which in turn affects professional priorities. Community college faculty commonly teach more classes than their counterparts in four-year institutions and universities, as well as service students who often require additional time and effort. Community college faculty also tend to have less institutional support for scholarship and receive fewer incentives to engage in research. These factors can sap the time and energy needed to write about teaching experiences and strategies.

Given the volume and importance of the work performed by community college faculty, the valuation of their work is not nearly as strong as it should be with respect to wages, benefits, and security. And yet, the challenges of teaching in a community college (particularly, instructing economically disadvantaged and first-generation college students) can be sources of great reward. Counter to a commonly held assumption, employment in community colleges is not fallback position for many faculty, accepted simply because prospects of employment elsewhere are closed. As discussed in the research in this issue, a typical community college sociology faculty member views his or her work as a calling and as a pathway to advancing social justice. For these reasons, many community college sociology instructors would not want to work elsewhere, even if the opportunity was present.

There is much that can be learned by studying sociology instruction at the community college level as well as much that needs to be learned. I hope this special issue on sociology teaching in the community college context helps illuminate the many rewards, challenges, and contributions of the work involved by this understudied and underappreciated segment of the teaching and learning community.

Stephen Sweet

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