Fresh off the first ever White House Summit on Community College — spearheaded by Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, and attended by the likes of President Barack Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Melinda Gates — El Paso Community College President Richard Rhodes senses a new era dawning.
“To see the support, the commitment, and to feel the sincerity of their respect for the job that we do was overwhelming,” Rhodes says. “I believe community colleges are really in the spotlight.”
As they should be: About 60 percent of Texas students who continue their education after high school start out at community colleges, which are among the largest government employers in their communities. So today we’re adding many of them to our database of public employee salaries, which has been updated to include the payrolls of seven Texas community colleges and college districts: Houston Community College, Dallas County Community College District, Alamo Colleges, Lone Star College, Austin Community College, Collin College and Tarrant County College. In all, Texas boasts 50 community college districts with 74 campuses.
While the median salaries at community colleges are comparable to those of state universities, dramatic differences can be seen at the margins. Unlike their counterparts in four-year institutions, where top professors regularly make in the high six figures (some are even among the top 25 highest-paid state employees), community college professors in the Tribune's database max out at a high of $122,743 — an honor that belongs to Nancy Glass, a health science professor at ACC. While the salaries of administrators are not too shabby (ACC President Stephen Kinslow’s is the lowest at the six entities at $245,000, while Tarrant County College President Erma C. Johnson Hadley’s is the highest at $365,000), they hardly compares to the $750,000 paid to University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa.
|Agency||Maximum Salary||Median Salary||Number of Positions|
|Houston Community College||$323,410||$9,075||7134|
|Dallas County Community College District||$270,825||$43,317||3293|
|Lone Star College||$322,400||$50,583||2100|
|Austin Community College||$245,000||$46,456||1910|
|Tarrant County College||$365,000||$46,613||1902|
Richard Moore, the executive director of the Texas Community College Teachers Association, which has been surveying community college pay across the state for 34 years, says that the mission and motivation of community college instructors differs from that of university professors. “At universities,” Moore explains, “the emphasis of where their time is spent, and also how they’re rewarded in terms of tenure and promotion, has to do with publishing or research.” Community college faculty, he says, focus on one thing: teaching.
“Our members want to know they are being taken care of and treated fairly,” Moore says, “but money is not the primary motivator.” He says community college faculty are more likely to respond to incentives like professional development and a seat at the decision-making table.
Moore says community college teachers buy into the mission of their institutions, which typically cater to the less-privileged, non-traditional and minority populations that are crucial to the state’s goal to close the achievement gaps between Texas and other states by 2015. “We are the grassroots providers of higher education,” Rhodes explains. “We are the economic engine, the driver to recovery for the economy.”
That engine, important as it is, may need a kick start. While the majority of Texas students start at a community college, whether they finish is a different matter. Students often enter unprepared, and most fail to leave with a degree. According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, 45.1 percent of first-time students entering public community colleges in fall 2005 did not meet state standards in math, while 30.7 percent were underprepared in reading and 19.4 percent were underprepared in writing. Meanwhile, just three out of 10 full-time community college students manage to earn any credential — including professional certificates — after six years. Unless schools can turn themselves around, as many are trying in earnest to do, a bleak picture of Texas’ future workforce emerges.
Making matters worse is the state’s impending budget shortfall, which prognosticators say could be as much as $21 billion. The governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House have already asked state agencies to cut 5 percent in this biennium and 10 percent in the next biennium. Some are doubtful that academic output can be improved as budgets are slashed.
“We don’t think that’s going to be realistic,” Moore says. “They can’t happen simultaneously.”