Faculty in High-Demand Fields: Readers Respond


Thursday’s post, about trying to attract faculty in high-demand fields who would have to take pay cuts to move into academia, was an attempt to find out if anyone had found sustainable workarounds.

The answer: barely.

Several responded, with some snark, that the answer was simply to pay them more. Of course, if that were an option, we would have done that years ago. The Harvards of the world can throw money at people; community colleges generally can’t.

A few responded with variations on “sponsor their labs.” Again, that might make sense in the context of a research university, but that’s really not the community college model. And we don’t necessarily need people on the cutting edge of hot fields; we need people who can teach the first couple of years of the hot field before sending the student on to the kinds of places that are actually doing the research.

The most thoughtful response I received was this:

“Several approaches to use when there are salary level restrictions by either unions or the structure/culture/financial reality of an institution: 1. Allow and facilitate those faculty members in high demand fields (like accounting, finance, nursing , data science/security) to spend time on providing consulting services. Local experts seeking more of your students will likely understand and could help make that occur. 2. Summer support related to translational research which enhances the potential to create IP that can create added funds to both the individual faculty member and the school. 3. Using Shared Gains (marginal discretionary surplus to be shared with faculty, the Department, and the full institution) as an incentive for those faculty members to help build new online programs in high demand fields that can be taken to your unique definition of scale. Shared gains is an often an overlooked part of genuine and valued shared governance.”

Point two doesn’t really work here, and point three needs to be translated. (For “marginal discretionary surplus,” substitute “grant funding.”) But the first point may have something to it. To the extent that local employers are clamoring for students with certain skill sets, it may behoove those employers to put some skin in the game, whether in the form of employee time or institutional funding. We already do that with local hospitals: they provide clinical experiences for our students because they need our graduates. A similar model might apply in, say, IT.

The model would need tweaking, of course. Although they prefer the B.S.N. degree, hospitals and other sites routinely hire A.D.N. nurses and give them time to finish the B.S.N. while they’re working. In fields like cybersecurity, employment may be more scattered among different employers, and the employers may require a bachelor’s or higher before they start working. The closer the link between the college and the job, the easier it is to ask for help. When years of bachelor’s (or higher) study have to come first, it’s a harder sell. But the basic idea makes sense: if employers are serious about wanting graduates in these fields, they should be prepared to step up to help make that happen.

In many ways, it already does. Community colleges have had industry partnerships for decades. Every Perkins program, for instance, has an industry advisory board comprised of local folks from the relevant industry. They help to ensure that the programs remain relevant and current as technologies and practices evolve. For that matter, apprenticeships are industry partnerships at the highest level. Those tend to be concentrated in occupations that have been around for a long time, like plumbing and HVAC. Cybersecurity isn’t like that, at least for now.

If someone out there has a terrific idea, please don’t feel like you’ve missed the deadline—I’d love to see it! Judging by the responses from other community college people, this challenge is widespread; any realistic and sustainable solutions are welcome.

Program note: We’ll be heading to parents’ orientation at UMD early next week to get a sense of what our new Terp will be doing. The blog will return later in the week.


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