Tulsa Community College Struggles With Faculty Shortage
College Trims Course Offerings as Adjunct Supply Dwindles
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A growing shortage of part-time professors resulted in Tulsa Community College’s turning away students this fall.
Officials say the lack of adjunct faculty members has gotten so severe that many classes don’t have enough room for all the students who want to enroll, and the college can’t create new course sections to meet the demand because there aren’t enough professors to teach them.
There were 99 fewer sections in core general education courses from fall 2017 to 2018. One student reportedly wanted to take at least 12 credit hours in a recent semester but could enroll in only three hours due to lack of options.
“There are students who are unable to take the courses that they need,” Tracy Skopek, dean of liberal arts and communications at TCC, told the Tulsa World . “We aren’t offering sections that they need, or in some cases, they can’t get a full schedule at one campus. Having to drive from campus to campus can really take it out of a student, especially if they’re a nontraditional student who works full time or even part time.”
TCC employed 485 adjunct faculty members in the fall semester, compared to 492 in fall 2017. Fall 2016 had 534 adjunct faculty, while fall 2015 had 650.
One reason for the steady decline, Skopek said, is a difficulty in keeping pace with the attrition caused by a surge of retirements. With a low unemployment rate, she said, people aren’t necessarily looking for part-time jobs as they have in the past.
And those who are may not be willing to teach during the timeslots with the biggest demand. Adjunct professors often have full-time jobs during the day.
“Most of our need that we have a problem filling happens to be at 8 in the morning or prime time during the day,” Skopek said. “We do OK in the evenings because people who do want part-time jobs can work in the evening. So that’s part of the problem.”
In the past, Skopek said, she has relied on her professors’ connections to their earlier graduate programs to find potential adjunct hires.
Those connections are drying up as people get full-time jobs elsewhere.
“We consistently have our adjuncts leave us right before the semester starts because they’ve been hired elsewhere at a full-time position,” she said. “We can’t compete with that. We don’t have the ability to hire everyone as full-time.”
Another issue is that TCC’s accreditors made a policy change a few years ago requiring the credentials for adjunct faculty to be the same as those for full-time professors, said Lyn Kent, dean of science and mathematics.
“So as we have implemented that, we have lost adjuncts who didn’t have the graduate degrees that were needed to teach the courses, and it has also become harder to find people who have those credentials to replace them and to replace the ongoing loss of adjuncts who find full-time jobs,” Kent said.
In the past when a course filled up, Kent could quickly find an adjunct to hire and add a new section for students, she said.
She didn’t have that flexibility this year. The dean has not received any applications from credentialed adjuncts for physics and math since August. There has been only a handful for biology and chemistry.
As TCC continues to struggle with finding people to teach classes, Kent said students will keep struggling to maintain their timelines to complete their degrees.
“A lot of the students are on a plan to transfer to a university or nursing program,” she said. “If they can’t get the classes they need in a semester, it throws everything off because sometimes those are prerequisites for the next classes.
“For example, we’re running out of seats in developmental math. You can’t go on to your college-level math until you have the prerequisite math, and then that gets delayed.”
Kent said other colleges also have experienced adjunct shortages.
“This is not just a TCC problem,” she said. “We call other institutions and ask if they have any extra adjuncts that would like to teach. They’re calling us and saying, ‘Hey, do you have any other adjuncts?’ It’s something that we’re at least seeing in this region in Oklahoma.”
David Hamby, spokesman for Rogers State University, said recruiting qualified adjunct faculty is a perennial issue for higher-education institutions.
But “in response to substantial higher-education funding cuts in recent history, RSU has reduced the number of class sections, and that has resulted in RSU needing fewer adjunct faculty,” Hamby said in a statement. “While attracting well-qualified adjunct faculty remains an ongoing challenge for every school, RSU continues to be able to secure well-qualified adjuncts for its classes.”
Skopek said TCC is looking at creative ways to recruit more adjunct professors, such as creating partnerships with local graduate schools that could provide doctoral students to teach in their fields.
However, she fears that people are losing interest in earning graduate degrees, in part because of the high cost. Master’s degrees in liberal arts are losing popularity due to their limitations following graduation, she added.
Additionally, there’s a shortage of people with graduate degrees in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) because they’re generally not needed to find a good job, Kent said.
Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com