Thursday, August 24, 2006

Question for the internets: does an MA have a rat's chance in hell?

Update: Thanks everyone for the really helpful comments! As I said in my response, I think my students who want to work in CCs really need to do their research and find out what search committees at local CCs are looking for, and talk to our own composition people about the job market in the field in general.

Original Post
OK, my post title is rather cheeky and vague. Here's my real question (which I also e-mailed to Dean Dad*, who doesn't read this blog as far as I know):

How much of a chance does a person with an MA only have of forging a stable career in teaching composition and literature at the community college level? Emphasis on "stable" and "career" -- I'm not talking about contingent, temporary labor.

Many of our graduate students are under the impression that they can be "college professors" in composition or literature (but especially the former) at the community college level with an MA. I think they're thinking full time, stable jobs, and not adjuncting and part time work when they use the phrase "college professor." My understanding -- but my experience is limited -- is that while once upon a time the community college market didn't require a Ph.D., they are now preferring or even requiring Ph.D.s at CCs since they can get them because of the state of the market in higher ed in general. Am I right?

I want to be sure my students are thinking realistically.

*Dean Dad's current post goes a long way towards answering my question, but I'd like to hear more.


medieval woman said...

This isn't exactly about composition or literature positions, but my dad just made full professor (in about 8 years right out of grad school) in the Biology department of his community college in southern Maryland with only a master's - I know that a few of the people at his school have Ph.D.s, but the majority - even in English - do not. I think it's because they assume those people will not want to teach the extreme loads that some of them do. My father is all about teaching - no research whatsoever. Most of the faculty there are the same (that I know of).

Just my two cents!

Dr. Virago said...

That is still helpful information, MW. But I wonder: do they hire *new* MAs. We also have a lot of permanent lecturers with MAs, but they were hired by the CC we merged with some time ago (both the hiring and the merging were awhile ago).

Perhaps I should say that students should talk to local community college dept. chairs or look at job listings this year to get a sense of what's possible. But perhaps they should keep in mind that in many places it's a changing market?

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Shelly at Modern UFO just got a permanent job (starting now!) at a CC with a year-old MA (she adjuncted there and at various other places for a year? or so). I think a lot of it depends on where you are - I think in my general neck of the woods it would be possible, mostly because there aren't a ton of Ph.D. granting institutions around (which I think is the case where Shelly is too). There are two people I know from grad school who got jobs/tenure at CCs with MAs (one went on to finish his Ph.D.) - this would have been late-90s-ish (and in history, of course). I suspect that in regions where there are high concentrations of Ph.D.-granting institutions, there may be a greater interest in hiring Ph.Ds than in other parts of the country.

The one thing that really seems to have made a difference for everyone I know who's been hired at a CC (or almost - one of the history MAs is an exception) has been getting quite a lot of experience teaching at a CC (probably on an adjunct basis) before getting hired into a full-time stable position - which is not to say that adjuncting at a CC is going to get you a job at *that* CC (a la Dead Dad's recent post), but PhDs I know who've extended their TT-job searches to CCs have had pretty much no response, unless they have CC backgrounds somehow. Whereas those I know who've been able/willing to adjunct at CCs don't seem to have found it hard to pick up a class or two. But it seems like you have to have that class-or-two of experience before you can get the full-time gig. (Hope this isn't too rambling....)

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Oh, and I meant to add (amidst the rambling...) that this is all purely anecdotal evidence...

medieval woman said...

I think that's spot on - a lot of CCs I've heard of actually balk at Ph.D.s just coming out of grad school - especially if they went to school at places that emphasize the more traditional t-t jobs at 4-year colleges, etc. I just saw a job ad in the Chronicle for a CC that stated very clearly that they wanted someone with a few years experience teaching in a CC.

And I think that the climate might very well be a-changin' even at my dad's school, which was very keen on hiring primarily MAs less than 10 years ago - it's just getting tougher and tougher for Ph.D.s to find permanent jobs!

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I think an MA in Comp has a better chance than an MA who wants to teach Lit. Most of the places I've been (I've taught at 4 CCs), the Lit classes go tot the senior, established faculty, and writing courses are the ones farmed out to adjuncts, etc. But there is a PhD glut. I think that, if the student is willing to adjunct for experience, and is not place-bound, she has a better chance. She might also be smart to position herself as "will eventually be getting a PhD, but is committed to the mission of the CCs" Either that or talk about pedagogical programs she's interested in.

Dr. Virago said...

Hey, thanks everyone for your advice. I think the big problem my MAs will have is that they're getting MAs in *literature* and not only are there Ph.D. programs in Rhet-Comp in the region within commuting distance, but there's an MA in Rhet-Comp right up the road. So some of them take our Rhet-Comp theory courses and think that will get them a comp job, but meanwhile, they're pretty unprepared for the MA exam in *literature*. In the future, I need to advise prospective students about this and in the meantime I've told our current students that they need to do some research -- find out what the local community college ask for in their job announcements and talk to our Rhet-Comp directors about the market. And they need to be aware that it's a tricky job market in general, and that it may take some adjuncting time before they get the permanent job -- *if* they get the permanent job.