Point of View:
Wilmington Star, Wilmington, Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Wilmington Star News
Barbara Morrison, contributed
Underpaid at community colleges
Last year I retired after teaching 17 years at a community college. I am serving the system as Vice President for Internal Affairs of the North Carolina Community College Faculty Association. In that role, I have visited 42 of the 58 campuses in North Carolina, thus I can share one concern troubling the 6,000 plus full time faculty.
It took the Legislature six years to meet their commitment to bring public school teachers’ salaries to near their national average. It was a commendable accomplishment.
In 2004, the Legislature stated its interest in raising community college faculty to their national average in five years.
Yet in the past three years, we have only moved from 47th of 49 systems to 44th. Current salaries are 81% of the national average.
It would take huge raises to provide the 2009 national average by 2009. But because there are so few community college faculty; the required appropriation would total many millions less than were needed for the public school effort.
The community college system budget request for dollars to achieve the promised increases provides a reasonable way for the legislature to raise salaries for faculty and professional staff (also well below their national average) to their 2007 national averages by 2010.
This is not what the House budget recommendation indicates can be expected. It is an indication that the legislature not only isn’t planning to honor its commitment, it is an indication that the quality education provided by North Carolina community colleges isn’t valued.
Average community college faculty salaries are about $12,000 a year below their national average, about $2,000 a year below public school teacher averages and more than $22,000 a year below university faculty averages.
A further comparison: universities serve 189,000+ students a year with professors teaching a maximum of 3 classes a semester. Community colleges serve 801,000-plus people annually with instructors averaging 6 or more courses per semester.
The original mission of community colleges was to provide technical and vocational education beyond high school and within 35 miles of all citizens. We do that. But the community colleges do much more.
Community colleges teach high school students. Last year, community colleges awarded 16,000 high school diplomas, taught thousands more high school students in tech-prep (job skills), dual enrollment (college courses during senior year), early college (four years of high school and two years of college in five years) and Huskins classes ( college courses not normally available in high school).
Community colleges provide safety and health care workers. They train over 85% of health care workers (dental technicians, nurses, and hospital technicians). They train, certify and update 90% of emergency responders (police, firemen, paramedics, etc.). They even train funeral directors.
Continuing Education divisions have classes to help you learn just about anything—reading, computer skills, flower arranging, CPR, job skills, etc. Community colleges train and retrain workers specific job skills and provide information for citizens wanting to start and succeed in small businesses.
College Transfer programs teach hundreds of students entering North Carolina’s UNC system. College classes at community colleges are usually smaller and are taught by instructors who know students’ names.
What the faculty wants to know is, how can the Legislature ask us to do more and more each year and not value the dedication with which we do that enough to consider us worthy of our national average?
Community college faculty members are educated, experienced and dedicated. They have families to support, children to finance through college and mortgages to pay. They also have questions about legislative support.
There is much frustration among faculty because they want to work in the community colleges, but also must be reasonable when it comes to supporting their families. Public schools, universities and the private sector are all offering higher incomes than the community colleges. Workloads are heavy. We cannot maintain our experienced instructors or hire adequate replacements with non-competitive salaries.
This issue will not affect me, personally, but it will affect the future of education in this state and that, in turn, will affect all aspects of North Carolina’s future. We cannot hock our children’s, grandchildren’s and state’s future with continued inadequate pay levels for community college faculty.
And our Legislators need to understand that.
Barbara Morrison lives in Lake Waccamaw