As part of our continuing series on Cape Cod Community College, we wanted to hear the faculty’s perspective on where the institution is today and what the future might bring.
We approached Prof. Claudine Barnes, Professor of American History and Government. Prof. Barnes is President of the Cape Cod Community College Association (CCCCA), the union that represents the full-time and part-time faculty and professional staff at the college. It is one of 15 chapters of the Massachusetts Community College Council (MCCC). She graciously accepted our invitation to share faculty views with Cape Cod Today’s readers.
As with all Cape Cod Today virtual interviews, the questions and answers are published exactly as submitted by Professor Barnes. We do not edit, re-order or redact anything. What you see are Prof. Barnes’ own, unfiltered words.
Cape Cod Today: How many full-time 4Cs faculty belong to your association?
Prof. Barnes: The Cape Cod Community College Association will have 65 full-time faculty at the start of the fall semester. This number includes recent retirements and resignations; it does not include any faculty who may be hired as a result of the two currently posted full-time faculty positions.
Note: it is estimated that up to ten full-time faculty members may retire in the next 2-3 years as a result of recent state legislation which will allow faculty to transfer from the ORP (Optional Retirement Plan) into MSERS (Massachusetts State Employee Retirement System). This transfer will enable many to afford to retire.
Cape Cod Today: How many belonged to the association in 2009?
Prof. Barnes: There were 66 full-time faculty members in 2009.
When I began teaching at CCCC in 2001, there were almost ninety (90) full-time faculty. In my own discipline, history, there are currently two full-time faculty members. Years ago, there were six. The staffing at the college has changed dramatically if you look back further than 2009.
Cape Cod Today: Do part-time instructors belong to the association?
Prof. Barnes: Yes, they do.
Part-time instructors work under one of two contracts at CCCC. They may work under the contract known as the Day Contract which governs all full-time faculty and professional staff as well as part-time professional staff and many part-time faculty (including those in nursing and dental hygiene). There are approximately 90 part-time faculty under the Day Contract according to the last seniority lists completed by the college in October 2013. But, the majority of part-time faculty (often referred to as adjunct or contingent faculty) work under the DCE (Division of Continuing Education) Contract. This past spring, approximately 220 adjunct faculty members were teaching at CCCC under the DCE contract.
Cape Cod Today: Some have said that the reduction in full-time faculty at 4Cs has resulted in less student engagement and has created problems with retention. Is this a concern of the association?
Prof. Barnes: Yes, of course it is. When students make connections with faculty and professional staff, retention improves. When students enjoy taking classes with a particular professor, they often take every class that the professor offers at CCCC. When students have people helping them through career and course selection, transfer, financial aid applications, through any of the significant needs and challenges students at CCCC might face, the students are more likely to stay in college and attain their goals.
Cape Cod Today: Are there any state or national statistics that tie a higher percentage of full-time college faculty to better outcomes for the students, especially in terms of retention and degree completion?
Prof. Barnes: Yes. The most recent study that addresses Massachusetts specifically is entitled “Reverse the Course: Changing Staffing and Funding Policies at Massachusetts Community Colleges” published in July 2013 by the Center for Education Policy and Practice, affiliated with the Massachusetts Teacher’s Association. It directly addresses the over-reliance on DCE faculty and how this contributes to student outcomes. The study also discusses the need for more academic advising and student support services; the challenges to retention and graduation rates when more than 50% of community college students statewide need remedial or developmental education at two-year colleges; and the significant funding challenges within Massachusetts institutions of higher education.
Several years ago, JBL Associates, Inc., at the request of the American Federation of Teachers, also did a report on this issue nationally. It was entitled “Reversing Course: The Troubled State of Academic Staffing and a Path Forward.” Several reports produced in recent years by the Boston Foundation also mention these retention issues and encourage a decrease in the reliance on part-time faculty.
Clearly, a significant number of members in the Massachusetts General Court recognize this problem as legislation has been introduced to mandate a change in community college staffing levels to a ratio of 75/25, where 75 percent of courses must be taught by full-time faculty. It remains to be seen what might happen with the legislation. It is an expensive bill. As a result of an antiquated dual funding structure, adjunct taught courses are a significant source of college revenue. All of the tuition and fees generated from those courses are retained by the college whereas only fees from full-time faculty taught courses are retained; tuition is remitted to the state. Full-time salaries are included in the state appropriation to the college but adjunct salaries are not. Nonetheless, depending on the individual college, a 2-year college begins to profit from an adjunct taught course when at least eight students are enrolled. Needless to say, given the concerns over a loss of state support with the new performance based funding models, colleges are reluctant to shift away from adjunct generated revenue.
Cape Cod Today: Is there an educational advantage to using professionals “working in the industry” as part-time instructors versus professional educators whose entire job is to teach the students?
Prof. Barnes: Yes and no. Professionals can be wonderful, bringing real world experience and cutting edge knowledge in certain industries to the classroom. In STEM fields in particular, this knowledge can be invaluable. BUT, those professionals must also be able to teach. If you can’t engage a student, translate your professional knowledge into an educational setting, and appropriately assess students, it doesn’t work. Professionals, who always are employed as adjunct faculty, may need guidance and I believe the college needs to improve in this area. In addition, there is an ongoing problem with hiring adjunct faculty only a few days before the semester begins. All faculty, whether they are professionals “working in industry” or professional educators, need time to prepare their courses. The CCCCA has been pushing back against this trend for several years.
Cape Cod Today: Massachusetts is switching to a performance-based funding model for community colleges. According to recent press reports, as much as 50% of 4Cs' existing budget might soon be tied to student achievement and outcomes. What is the association’s feeling on this topic?
Prof. Barnes: In short, we believe it is a terrible mistake. The logic of rewarding high performing schools with more money and punishing underperforming schools with less money baffles most of us. At CCCC’s most recent meeting of its Board of Trustees, there was great concern expressed about how this funding formula will negatively impact the college budget starting in 2015. This funding gap will mean many budgetary cuts.
This performance based funding model is supposedly a way to better fund the community colleges. However, if you look back at long term funding trends, the community colleges are currently receiving about the same level of state funding as they received in 2001. Community colleges have about 50% of Massachusetts’ students in public higher education yet community colleges receive only 25% of the state’s higher education budget. It’s fairly simple math that is required to see the problem: chronic underfunding.
Cape Cod Today: Many people have told us that 4Cs is very different from other Massachusetts community colleges, both because of its small size and the Cape’s unique demographics. Do you agree with that? What makes 4Cs unique? Is it far to measure 4Cs on the same performance based model as other community colleges in the state?
Prof. Barnes: CCCC shares many characteristics with some of the smaller schools in the community college system like Berkshire and Greenfield but our demographics and economy are unique. As we all know, our local economy is heavily based on tourism and is quite seasonal. The largest areas of employment are health care, education, and service related industries. Although there are many emerging businesses on the Cape and the economy is changing, our economy is still unique compared to the service areas of the community colleges. We are also seeing significant trends in demographics unlike the other community colleges. Most significantly, high school graduating classes are getting smaller and this directly impacts our enrollment.
CCCC is unique in that we have been the only institution of higher education in the region. This, in my opinion, has created a unique relationship between the college and the community. This relationship is an area that the college and the community can further develop.
As for the applicability of the performance based funding formula, I do not believe it is fair to hold all of the colleges to the same standards. There is some language in the formula that held schools harmless for the first few years to account for some of the differences between the schools but this ends in 2015. It is hard to predict the specific outcomes for each of the community colleges once the formula is fully functional but it is obvious several schools will take a big funding hit.
Cape Cod Today: We are hearing a general buzz that 4Cs' better days are behind it – that the college has become a bit out-of-date and is losing students to other institutions, especially to those that are more active with online learning. How does the association feel on 4Cs' current status and where the school is headed?
Prof. Barnes: The college infrastructure is certainly out-of-date; there is no hiding the 1970s campus and all of its problems relating to deferred maintenance. But our faculty are top-notch educators. Our staff overall is comprised of highly educated, very dedicated people who are committed to the college and its students.
I have not heard of or seen any data that suggests that CCCC is losing students to other schools with more online learning. So I can’t comment on that specifically.
As far as the association’s opinion on the current status of CCCC and its current direction, we have not developed a formal position on the college’s status and direction but many members would tell you there are concerns about morale and the relationship between administrators and staff. There is support for more workforce education but there are concerns about balancing the needs of our transfer programs and workforce education. There are concerns about staffing numbers and the role of faculty in governance. There are concerns about transparency. There is, for good reason as cited above, concern about the budget.
Cape Cod Today: Is the proposed South Yarmouth satellite campus for Bridgewater State University a competitive threat to 4Cs?
Prof. Barnes: Maybe. If BSU teaches upper division courses at the proposed South Yarmouth campus and if CCCC can develop 2+2 programs with BSU then BSU should not be a competitive threat. CCCC is a great deal for the money and I am confident that if students can pay for 2 years at CCCC and then easily transfer to BSU via MassTransfer or a 2+2 program to complete their four-year degree, they will.
However, if BSU begins teaching first and second year courses including many general education requirements, then BSU could be a competitive threat. Although BSU has stated they plan to teach upper division courses, many of us would feel more comfortable seeing that in a written agreement. I strongly encourage the Department of Higher Education and CCCC to insist upon language that would limit the course offerings of BSU on Cape to specifically eliminate competition.
Cape Cod Today: Some students have told us the 4Cs small number of online courses are not as well-staged as those offered by other colleges. We understand that the college just upgraded their content delivery system to address some of that – is this true?
Prof. Barnes: We have been using Moodle as our online course delivery platform for a several years. This is a common platform used across the country. There are frequent upgrades to Moodle.
I am not going to comment on a vague and unsubstantiated criticism comparing online courses. The college is currently in the process of employing an outside company, Eduventures, to assess and provide strategies for more online course development.
Cape Cod Today: How many regular, full-time faculty are teaching online courses? Do they receive special training in effective online teaching methods or are they left on their own to deliver a digital version of their classroom course?
Prof. Barnes: Approximately one-third of the full-time faculty have courses that are either fully online or hybrid, the specific numbers vary by semester. Faculty do have special training available; we have faculty mentors who provide training sessions, online assistance, and one-on-one assistance to those teaching online. In addition, CCCC’s has a Teaching and Learning Center which offers many workshops related to online teaching and new technology.
Cape Cod Today: When will 4Cs offer 100% on-line degree programs? Is the faculty association for or against offering 100% on-line degrees – and why?
Prof. Barnes: CCCC already has several programs that can be taken entirely online. For example, you can take all of the courses required for one of the business degrees online.
CCCCA has never discussed fully online degrees. I doubt there would be opposition to fully online programs. But, there is a difference between a fully online program and a full-time faculty member whose entire teaching load is online. If the college ever sought to have full-time faculty teach entirely online, there would need to be negotiated contract language to support that significant change in workload. It might be very challenging to accomplish this. For example, the MCCC, which negotiates for all of the 15 community colleges, has twice tried at the negotiation table to get contractual recognition of online office hours for those teaching courses online and management has refused. I was on both of those negotiating teams.
Cape Cod Today: Some people say that resistance by the faculty is the single biggest impediment to 4Cs modernizing its course offerings and on-line education. Others say that the administration’s increased reliance on part-time faculty is degrading the quality of instruction at 4Cs and is impeding student engagement. It has also been said that the institution fell behind because of the previous administration’s over-engagement with non-academic projects. How does the faculty association respond to this?
Prof. Barnes: Some people say that resistance by the faculty is the single biggest impediment to 4Cs modernizing its course offerings and on-line education. I think that whoever said this is either not talking to the faculty or not listening to the faculty. We just had an instance this semester where a faculty member got department approval to teach an online course and was told by an administrator that it could not be developed because there was no online course development funds left (by contract, faculty receive a stipend for developing an online course). Once the CCCCA began investigating, it was learned that there were indeed funds for the development but somewhere along the line, someone had incorrect information or didn’t tell the truth. It was not the faculty member that stymied development in this case.
As far as modernizing course offerings, it certainly happens. Just a few examples: in the past year there was a major overhaul of developmental math; in my area, we overhauled the history concentrations and retired many older courses; information technology was overhauled a few years ago; and, the Curriculum and Programs Committee is one of the busiest committees on campus, evidence of frequent submissions to change and update curriculum.
Others say that the administration’s increased reliance on part-time faculty is degrading the quality of instruction at 4Cs and is impeding student engagement. I have addressed much of this issue previously. But let me add that the quality of instruction at CCCC is generally very high. But, it is never good to hire an instructor less than a week before the class begins. And, at the last round of bargaining for the DCE contract, the union asked for higher qualifications and more stringent hiring practices for adjuncts in exchange for qualified adjuncts receiving more than one course assignment in a semester. Management refused.
We have many wonderful part-time instructors but they are not paid to have office hours, engage in advising, serve on committees, or participate in governance – they are not paid to do many of the services which aid in retention. And, we should never expect people to do work that they are not paid to do.
It has also been said that the institution fell behind because of the previous administration’s over-engagement with non-academic projects. I am not certain what the non-academic projects being referred to are but I think that academics must always be the priority of Cape Cod Community College.
Cape Cod Today: What does the faculty association think is the best “way forward” for Cape Cod Community College at this time?
Prof. Barnes: These are a few suggestions. Having not asked the question of my chapter specifically, I can only put together a list of applicable topics that, in my opinion, relate to the question.
Cape Cod Today: Is the administration listening to the faculty on these topics?
Prof. Barnes: Sometimes. Communication varies from administrator to administrator. Generally, the administration, higher levels of college governance in particular, leans heavily toward the Administration and Finance side rather than the academic side of CCCC. In my opinion, more academic administrators and department chairs need to be a part of the decision making.