I never intended to be a community college professional. Prior to my first day of work at a two-year institution, my only relationship to these schools came from a short-session math course to cover a requirement for my bachelor’s degree. My time at two year schools was supposed to be a short one, a stopover between graduating college and returning to my flagship alma mater where I would be guiding students like me through a college experience I was familiar with. That was eight years and a number of positions ago.
What lead to me staying put at a type of institution I had very little connection to? A number of factors are to credit for this, like amazing colleagues and great benefits. However, these things aren’t exclusive to two year schools. Some reflection has allowed me to identify three things that make these places truly unique and wonderful places to make your professional home.
1) Being at an open admissions institution means that you have the pleasure to work with everyone who steps on your campus. This provides a wonderful opportunity to interact with a real cross-section of the community. In my time I have worked with traditional age students, parents returning for a career change, the elderly wanting to learn new skills, veterans returning to civilian life, refugees settling in to a new country, and many others. This allows professionals to see the different ways students access higher educations and how to help with the different challenges they face.
2) Because community colleges receive much of their funding from their established service areas (either in a municipally, county, or multi-county), they do not have the same infrastructure as larger flagship universities. That means professionals have the opportunity to work across offices to develop skills and become a hands-on part of the mission at their institutions. In my own position of academic coaching and advising, I have had the additional opportunity to develop curriculum for first-year seminar classes, lead campus tours, speak at new student orientation, and assist with career fairs. Far from being part of the dreaded “other duties as assigned”, this work has allowed me to make connections and develop relationships with other colleagues that turn into better referrals and services for the students that pass through my office.
3) This structural overlap has also allowed me to come into my own as a professional. While I do not think that supportive work environments are unique to community colleges, the ability that I have had to work on many different projects in different areas of the college has allowed for growth. I have been allowed to try out new projects, test their results, and be a part of determining whether they remain as a campus service. These opportunities for success, failure, and reflection have expedited my own professional development.
As I write this post, I know that many graduate students are in the midst of their job search, so it is my hope that those of who have not considered looking at two year institutions give them a look, and those who have will not see these schools as placeholders for a larger goal but as a place where one can truly develop and thrive as a student affairs professional.
This post is part of our #comm_college series, which aims to explore experiences developing community college policies and processes that impact the recruitment, retention, and completion of community college students. What human interest stories do you have of community college student resilience, persistence, and success? What about a stories of transition, challenge, or transformation? A variety of SA pros working in student affairs at a community college will share their insights. For more information, please see Kim Irland’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Chris Conzen on Community Colleges