Every industry or business that has an employee base has a rate at which their employees come and go, and Laramie County Community College is no exception.
In the last five years, 79 new faculty members were hired and 79 faculty members have left the college. Also within the past five years, the cohort sizes of newly hired faculty members ranges from 14 in the 2014-15 academic year to 20 in the 2018-19 academic year.
There are a plethora of reasons as to why a faculty member would make the decision to leave the college, and Vice President of Academic Affairs Clark Harris said that most faculty have legitimate reasons as to why they’re leaving.
“If I have a doctorate in a degree or in an area, then I’m also thinking maybe I want to take a chance at a university,” Harris said. “I might want to do research, I might want to have that more, full experience that they might perceive because they went through that when they got their doctorate.”
Harris also said that in addition to other job opportunities, the desire to go back to graduate school with the potential for an assistantship, as well as retirements, account for a few faculty members leaving every year.
Within the realm of other job opportunities, the prospect of making more money practicing a trade or profession has the potential to pull faculty members back into their field rather than being in a lecture hall.
“If you look at our health professionals and if you also look at some of the trades like welding, people can make a lot more money out in the field,” Harris said. “ … I’ve had people who’ve said ‘I just got a job offer for twice as much as I’m making’ and it’s like, that’s a hard decision that you’re going to have to make if you want to go back in the field and do that.”
The area of study at LCCC that sees the most turnover is Health Sciences and Wellness with a 21.89 percent turnover rate for faculty.
“It’s a little bit higher than that (national) average and we think that that is because, in those areas, there’s other job opportunities,” Director of Human Resources Tammy Maas said. “So, they can go out and work in their profession. So sometimes, there’s a draw for that.”
A factor that many people may consider when taking a teaching position at the college, as Harris described, is the pay.
Within the last year, a new compensation model has been implemented that reclassified the pay of faculty based off of the market value of their area.
“This was something that the employees requested; they wanted to have compensation on longevity and on what their market value is,” Harris said. “… So, if you look at some of the health professionals as an example, out on the market, their pay would be considerably higher than some of the other folks.”
Maas said that she thinks that this reclassification of compensation did help with retention of faculty, though it may be premature to tell considering that the college is barely a year into the new scale.
Harris said that this shift in compensation is something that the college is doing to improve on recruitment and retainment of faculty members.
“We’re trying to move people up on the scale and that’s continually going on,” Harris said. “… We’re getting their base pay up a little bit and we’ve been able to do that for the last couple years and so hopefully that will continue for the next two or three years.”
Along with the adjusted pay scale, Harris also said that the college has new faculty trainings that it does well with.
“We’re actually changing all that (trainings) as part of our Guided Pathways model,” Harris said. “We’re developing what we’re calling ‘teaching and faculty competencies,’ and as we develop these, then we’re going to develop the framework to help the faculty gain those skills.”
Delving deeper into the decision between being in the field or teaching, there’s the question of someone’s ability to teach a trade or profession that they’ve achieved highly in and whether their merit can be translated into lessons.
“It’s a real challenge when somebody comes out of their profession, whether I’m in business, whether I’m in nursing, whether I’m an electrician,” Harris said. “Teaching is very different and so for them, they might be great at their technical skill … but are you really good at teaching? So what we really want to do is continue to improve our process to help them through that.”
Maas said that a potential reason for provisional faculty leaving is that same idea that Harris described above; a person will leave the profession they’ve performed well in to teach but they might not be able to teach it.
“If I had to put my finger on it, it would maybe be that they came from a profession, a work environment to higher education,” Maas said. “And sometimes people can perform their jobs very well but they can’t teach it. So, that would be the most likely reason.”
Director of Vocal Music Beth Kean echoed this sentiment of a faculty member potentially not being the right fit for the position.
“You do your best with who applies and sometimes you take a shot at somebody and then that person just doesn’t end up fitting either in the community or in the institution itself,” Kean said.
Kean also said that she thinks some people use community college positions as stepping stones as their initial exposure to collegiate-level teaching, and that’s a potential reason for leaving.
“They use this kind of as a resume builder, which is great for them, it gives them experience, but our students kind of lose out on some of the continuity,” Kean said.
With these rationales for choosing to continue on in higher education at LCCC or to leave the college, there’s a mix of both relatively new and veteran faculty members with 48.7 percent of faculty at the college having five or more years at LCCC and 31.6 percent of faculty having 10 or more years at the college.
Harris said there’s benefit in having both new and well-seasoned faculty at the college.
“I think there’s real value in having that continuity of faculty, but then there’s also some value, and I mean, I don’t want it to come off wrong but, in any institution, whether it’s a college or some other business, to bring in new people with new ideas … there is value in having some of the history and knowledge,” Harris said.
From the perspective of the longest-serving professor of 40 years at the college, English and philosophy instructor Dave Zwonitzer said that he knows fewer and fewer people at the college every year.
“Now part of that is, it’s going to happen anywhere but it seems like there’s an extraordinary amount of people that I don’t know here that are faculty, which might be an indication that the faculty rates, turnover rates are increasing,” Zwonitzer said.
Zwonitzer said that he’s had concerns about his job, as he thinks many faculty members do mainly because of declining enrollment rates.
“In the last five years or so, I am much more concerned about having enough classes to keep my job, so to speak, because enrollments are so much lower now than they used to be,” Zwonitzer said. “Now, I’m not saying that I have ever thought my job was really in jeopardy on that point, but it is a concern. In the past 45 years of teaching, there’s always times where enrollments were way up and sometimes they would be lower, so you sweat those things as a teacher.”
Even with a few concerns over his continuity at the college, Zwonitzer said that he thinks his boss would go to great lengths to find a place for him if some of his classes are canceled because of low enrollment.
Zwonitzer also said through pure personal observation and speaking with multiple colleagues, he’s never seen morale lower than it is now.
“People have all kinds of negative feelings about working here, from fear of not having a job to frustrations to all kinds of things,” Zwonitzer said.
Zwonitzer said that these issues aren’t talked about mainly due to the fact that faculty members are afraid to speak out.
“That tells you something right there about morale. If people are so afraid to even say something as an adult, especially if we’re supposed to be in a free country, for fear of losing their job, what kind of morale is that?” Zwonitzer said.