Community College Faculty: Retrenchment Repercussions

by Amanda Rea Corso, ASA Graduate Intern

I experienced my first four years of higher education within the walls of a community college. I first enrolled as part of a dual enrollment program that allowed me to take classes I otherwise would not have access to as a homeschooled high schooler. Despite not recognizing the importance of college or not knowing what I wanted to do for my career as a first-generation student, I continued full-time as a community college student after I graduated high school. Now, over ten years later as a Ph.D. student researching higher education, I look back at my time at these institutions with a profound sense of gratitude.

Community colleges are often noted as pillars of the local community, providing unique training and programs that reflect local needs. Despite their important mission, community colleges struggle with enrollment and funding. On behalf of the National Education Association, ASA recently investigated the potential causes of retrenchment that impact community colleges today. Generally, retrenchment is explained as the “reduction in programs and/or services which results in the termination of employment due to financial exigency.” It can also mean “changes in institutional missions, substantial program changes, or major reallocations of resources for academic or support services.”

Keeping both of these retrenchment definitions in mind, ASA identified 17 community colleges across the country that recently experienced a retrenchment event and found the following reasons cited:

• Tightened funding
• Severe enrollment declines
• Program realignment

While all these reasons are alarming, the additional collateral damage that resulted – the loss of faculty and staff – is quite concerning. Born and raised in the Bay Area, I find the City College of San Francisco’s laying off of 38 faculty, cutting 163 faculty roles, and not rehiring 150 part-time staff to be especially heart-wrenching.

While some colleges cited minimal layoffs in their restructuring, several reported more significant numbers. Articles that cited a retrenchment event also brought to light the frustrated and disappointed voices of the local community. This ranged from the faculty, staff, and students who were directly impacted, to members of the larger community – such as alumni and county residents – who valued the programs that were cut.

One of the biggest reasons I succeeded in and beyond community college was because of the relationships I formed with some of the most undervalued faculty. To this day, I keep a letter from one music instructor whose encouraging words motivated me to persist during some of my most challenging college experiences. I cannot imagine what my trajectory would have looked like had I not encountered individuals like her during the most formative years of my higher education experience.

Among the colleges we researched, sadly, college leaders made it clear they felt there were no other options to laying off faculty. However, faculty felt they could have been more involved in discussions and planning for the changes. While tightened funding and declining enrollment can be outside the control of institutions when facing retrenchment, administrative leaders should consider ways of partnering with faculty. This could provide opportunities for faculty to lend their expertise to restructuring programs, potentially circumventing any need for layoffs. While restricting programs and courses may make sense in some cases, at the same time, college leaders should think of creative ways to retain the individuals who often have the most direct impact on retaining students.

Read the report