Posted in diversity

Recruitment and Retention of Faculty of Color in Community Colleges

A literature review on the body of knowledge around recruiting and retaining faculty of color, specifically in community colleges.

In fall 2014, 42 percent of all undergraduates were enrolled at a community college and among all students who completed a degree at a four-year institution between 2013-2014, 46 percent had enrolled in a community college in the previous 10 years (Ma & Baum, 2016). This proportion is mirrored in the makeup of the faculty: 43 percent of all faculty members in public, nonprofit higher education institutions teach in public community colleges (Townsend & Twombly, 2007). The role of community colleges in higher education is rich and multifaceted: critical to local workforce development and labor needs, serving a high proportion of older students, veterans, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and first generation college students, community colleges are also important educational, social, and civic anchors in their communities (Robinson, Byrd, Louis, & Bonner, 2013).  It is appropriate then, to focus on the recruitment and retention of faculty of color, specifically at community colleges.  With their “front-line” status as open access institutions, community colleges serve as a crucial entry point to higher education for large portions of the population, making equity and diversity among students, staff, and faculty a top priority.

While community colleges have historically been more likely to employ women and minorities as faculty, the trend has been reversing recently (Manzo, 2000).  This is despite the appeal of the mission of community colleges to faculty of color (Manzo, 2000).  Community colleges are recognized as teaching institutions, with ample opportunities for student interaction and mentoring to underprivileged, underserved populations (Manzo, 2000).  The dearth of faculty of color at community colleges is perhaps more stark, due in part to the growing diversity of the student body and the apparent inability of academic departments to keep up with adequate representation. This literature review surveys the student/faculty racial demographics at community colleges and then discusses the benefits of a diverse faculty, commonly cited barriers to hiring faculty of color, and finally best practices and policy recommendations culled from various studies on community college faculty.

Student/Faculty Demographics

Community colleges have become a destination and launching pad for students of color: 46 percent of all Hispanic students, 45 percent of all American Indian students and 44 percent of African American students were enrolled in community colleges in 2003-04 (Townsend & Twombly, 2007).  Overall, underrepresented minorities make up 39 percent of community college student enrollment (Kayes & Singley, 2010).  Additionally, for the first time ever, in 2014 the majority of the K-12 population was comprised of students of color (Gasman, 2016).  This points to the continued growth of students of color in community colleges in the coming years.  Coupled with free tuition programs and increased awareness of alternatives to the traditional path to bachelor’s degrees, it is likely that the student body of community colleges will soon reflect the majority-minority makeup of K-12 students currently.

On the other hand, the representation of faculty of color at community colleges falls far behind matching student demographics – or even proportions within the national population. The US population is 34 percent people of color (that is, not of the group non-Hispanic white). But faculty of color make up only 16.9 percent of community college faculty (Kayes & Singley, 2010). Historically, the percentage of faculty of color has shown slow to stagnant growth: from 8.7 percent in 1979 to 12.1 percent in 1991 (Nicholas & Oliver, 1994). Disaggregating by race however, shows that Hispanic and Asian Americans have experienced the greatest growth, while the percentage of African American faculty has remained almost constant (Nicholas & Oliver, 1994).  Approximately 1 in 4 African American professors work at community colleges – but they represent only 6.2 percent of community college faculty overall (Manzo, 2000).  This is up from 4.3 percent in 1979 (Nicholas & Oliver, 1994).  This picture of community college faculty presents a decidedly non-diverse faculty, in the face of a changing student demographic and changing attitudes about undergraduate education in general.  Policy and practices around the recruitment and retention of faculty of color are needed to address this disparity in our “last bastions of teaching colleges” (Manzo, 2000).

Diversity and Representation Matter

Adequate representation of faculty of color at community colleges can be seen as crucial to both the mission and the completion agenda of the institution (Robinson et al., 2013).  In fact, the presence of faculty of color can influence the recruitment and retention of students of color, leading to increased student success in key demographics frequently followed by higher education stakeholders.  Faculty of color also provide educational benefits and advantages for undergraduates.  Offering diverse perspectives, outside of the traditional lens of male/white-ness, women and minorities add a richness to both the college curriculum and conversations around campus (Gasman, 2016).  Research by Gurin, Dey, Hurtado, and Gurin (2002) indicates that students benefit from interactions both inside and outside the classroom with diverse peers and experiences.  Institutions that provide supportive environments for disequilibrium and diverse interactions can also help both faculty and students manage conflict in the face of differing points of view (Gurin et al., 2002).  This is important for community colleges, with their focus on economic development, as work-force training now must prepare students for the most diverse workplaces in our history (Kayes & Singley, 2010).

Diverse faculty is critically crucial to community colleges, as stated by Marybeth Gasman (2016), “…a diverse faculty also holds the [institution] accountable in ways that uplift people of color and center issues that are important to the large and growing communities of color across the nation.”  For students of color who begin their postsecondary education at community colleges, having role models and mentors of color can make a world of difference in their persistence and success rates (Manzo, 2000).  Both student of color success and intercultural knowledge increase when all students learn from a diverse faculty (Kayes & Singley, 2010).

Commonly Cited Barriers to Diversity

According to a recent HERI Faculty Survey, 65 percent of undergraduate faculty “feel that their campus has effective hiring practices and policies that increase faculty diversity” (Eagan et al., 2014).  However, when compared with the clear lack of racial diversity, it is apparent that there are blind spots in the majority white faculty regarding recruiting faculty of color.  Examining reasons why faculty of color continue to be underrepresented in community colleges often leads to two opposing conclusions: structural barriers and attitudinal barriers (Opp & Smith, 1994, Nicholas & Oliver, 1994).  Those who claim structural barriers refer to the lack of minority applicants and the desire to hire the best candidates, regardless of race (Nicholas & Oliver, 1994, Gasman, 2016).  At the community college, these arguments are particularly problematic.  Faculty of color are drawn to community colleges, both for their missions of access and also the growing numbers of students of color (Manzo, 2000, Robinson et al., 2013).  Further, 27.2 percent of Master’s degrees –  the minimum academic credential required to teach at community colleges – awarded in 2009-10 went to minorities, up from 20.1 percent in 1999-2000 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2012).  It is difficult, then, to justify the stagnant rate of faculty of color – most recently 16.9 percent – at community colleges, solely on the lack of applicants.  Several studies (Manzo, 2000, Nicholas & Oliver, 1994, Gasman, 2016) have pointed out apparent anomalies of institutions: places where numbers of faculty of color have flourished, making up over 90 percent of the faculty in some places.  These schools have made concerted efforts, sometimes over decades, to attract faculty of color (Manzo, 2000, Nicholas & Oliver, 1994).  Specific recommendations and best practices will be discussed in the next section.

The other oft cited barrier of “quality” is equally troubling: it seems to imply an inherent lack of quality among minority applicants, as defined by staunch hiring committees (Gasman, 2016, Nicholas & Oliver, 1994).  However, quality teaching, the primary function of community college faculty, is poorly socialized for all graduate students (Austin, 2002) and all other factors being equal, should not be as disproportionately represented in terms of race.  The structural barrier argument can be made, however, in the case of community colleges that hire faculty according to misaligned reward structures, valuing faculty who pursue domains of scholarship, as defined by Boyer (such as the traditional scholarship of discovery) over domains more conducive to the mission of the college (including the scholarships of teaching and application) (Braxton, Luckey & Helland, 2002).  In this instance however, the barrier is less race-related and more institutional.  Fujimoto (2012) analyzes the so-called structural barriers to hiring faculty of color through an ethical, philosophical lens.  Search committees and hiring managers claim the desire to be color-blind – to make hiring decision irrespective of race.  However, this can actually lead to decisions that maintain a status quo of inequality (Fujimoto, 2012).  Unconscious bias, the tendency to trust and empathize more with individuals who are similar in background and experience, can lead to ethically ambiguous hiring decisions (Fujimoto, 2012).

Recommendations and Best Practices

Recognizing that a diverse faculty is a tremendous asset to community colleges, specifically in terms of role modeling, mentoring, and teaching (Robinson et al., 2013), how can institutions make concerted, productive efforts to recruit and retain faculty of color?  The following recommendations fall under two main thrusts: recruiting faculty of color to the community college, and retaining faculty of color once hired.  Addressing both will maximize the numbers of minorities, and work to diversify the community college faculty.

  • Invest in the professional development of faculty of color (Robinson et al., 2013). Community colleges can increase the retention of faculty of color by offering meaningful, relevant professional development and socialization to the culture of the institution.  By investing in the development of newly hired faculty of color, institutions can reduce the “revolving door” aspect of faculty of color, and diminish the anti-diversity argument of “fit.”
  • Ensure ethical, race-conscious, mission-based decision making (Fujimoto, 2012). During the interview/search process, hiring committees can make ethically ambiguous decisions that lead to reinforcement of the status quo through unconscious bias.  By reinforcing ethical hiring practices such as training on equal employment opportunities (EEO), appointing an EEO officer to serve on all hiring committees, and ensuring that preferred qualifications are not used as minimum qualifications, community colleges can work towards removing bias and subsequently hiring more diverse, well-qualified candidates.
  • Develop awareness and engage in dialogue (Nicholas & Oliver, 1994). Through institutional leadership, conversations about diversity and its benefits are the first step towards increasing diversity in the faculty.  While awareness is not an overnight phenomenon, it is important for the institution to create and commit to action plans and ways to move forward that are specific to the culture of the institution.
  • Reach out to departments with great diversity and ask how they attract and retain a diverse faculty (Gasman, 2016). Several community colleges have already attained a high level of racial diversity in their faculties.  These schools have both high numbers and high percentages of faculty of color.  Institutions committed to increasing diversity should model their practices after those who have already achieved success in recruiting and retaining faculty of color.  Examples of community colleges with the highest numbers of faculty of color include City Colleges of Chicago- Kennedy-King College, City Colleges of Chicago- Malcolm X College, and Miami Dade Community College.  Community Colleges with the highest percentage of faculty of color include Lawson State Community College, Lewis College of Business, and Atlanta Metropolitan College (Manzo, 2000).
  • Supplement removing structural barriers with eliminating attitudinal factors as well, by hiring minorities to visible leadership positions (Opp & Smith, 1994). Having an African American, Mexican American, or American Indian VP of academic affairs is a positive indicator for both the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority faculty.  Additionally, minorities serving on an institution’s board of trustees is another positive indicator.  By placing people of color in these types of visible leadership positions, the likelihood of successful diversity efforts increases.
  • Align hiring criteria (and subsequent reward structures) to the domains of scholarship most conducive to the community college mission – teaching and application. According to Boyer’s conceptualization of scholarship domains, the mission of the community college is best suited by the scholarships of teaching and of application.  This reflects the dedication to undergraduate education and community involvement of many community colleges.  To that end, hiring criteria should place higher value on potential in these areas of scholarship – as opposed to the traditionally valued scholarship of discovery.  Further, because faculty of color tend to work in scholarly disciplines with nontraditional venues for publication (Thompson, 2008), using published journal articles/book chapters as the metric for scholarship production will lead to skewed representations (Braxton & Lyken-Segosebe, 2015) and possibly even delayed or denied tenure decisions for faculty of color.
  • “Grow your own” faculty of color, or create pipelines with other institutions (Gasman, Kim & Nguyen, 2011). Institutions can proactively address diversity concerns by harnessing the burgeoning diversity in the student body and creating the pipelines for future faculty of color.  By partnering with local universities, community colleges can provide teaching experience and socialization for graduate students, as well as recruit students of color to join the faculty.


Community colleges do not have sufficient diversity among their faculty ranks.  When compared to the trending growth of students of color, and the overall increase of students of all races enrolling in community college at some point in their postsecondary career, this lack of diversity can be detrimental.  The benefits of a diverse faculty are reaped by white students, students of color, the institution, and the community at large.  There is no doubt that diversity is a top cited priority of many institutions, however actually achieving diversity can be challenging.  Best practices around recruit and retaining faculty of color focus on removing both structural and attitudinal barriers.  Structural barriers refer to issues that “can’t be helped,” such as a lack of qualified candidates.  Attitudinal barriers refer to inherent racism and biases that prevent search communities to see minority candidates as viable options.  Removing (or debunking) structural barriers is necessary but not sufficient to increase overall diversity among faculty at community colleges.  Placing minorities in visible leadership positions, developing and mentoring existing faculty of color, and aligning hiring criteria and reward structures are examples of recommendations to increase faculty of color at community colleges.  These recommendations address both the structural (hiring criteria and reward structures) and the attitudinal (minorities as institutional leaders will lead to more minorities on campus).  However, it is important that issues of recruitment and retention are also addressed in tandem, otherwise faculty can be made to feel unwelcome and unsupported on campus and subsequently leave, undermining diversity efforts to that point.

Finally, race represents but one possible dimension of diversity among faculty at community colleges.  While the literature on women in academia and faculty of color has grown over the past three decades, the intersectionality of identities (gender, race, politics, religion, orientation) has become an important part of the discourse of representation.  Ultimately, diversity must become less of a buzzword or “box to check” in higher education, and more of a way of doing business day-to-day.


Austin, A.E. (2002). Preparing the next generation of faculty: Graduate school as socialization to the academic career. The Journal of Higher Education, 73(1), 94-122.

Braxton, J.M., Luckey, W., & Helland, P. (2002). Institutionalizing a Broader View of Scholarship Through Boyer’s Four Domains. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Braxton, J.M., & Lyken-Segosebe, D. (2015). Community college faculty engagement in Boyer’s domains of scholarship. New Directions for Community Colleges, 171, 7-14. DOI: 10.1002/cc

Eagan, M.K., Stolzenberg, E.B., Berdan Lozano, J., Aragon, M.C., Suchard, M.R., & Hurtado, S. (2014). Undergraduate teaching faculty: The 2013-2014 HERI Faculty Survey. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA.

Fujimoto, E.O. (2012). Hiring diverse faculty members in community colleges: A case study in ethical decision making. Community College Review, 40(3), 255-274. DOI: 10.1177/0091552112450069

Gasman, M. (2016, September 20). The five things no one will tell you about why colleges don’t hire more faculty of color. The Hechinger Report.  Retrieved from

Gasman, M., Kim, J., Nguyen, T. (2011). Effectively recruiting faculty of color at highly selective institutions: A school of education case study. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 4(4), 212-222. DOI: 10.1037/a0025130

Gurin, P., Dey, E. L., Hurtado, S., & Gurin, G. (2002). Diversity and higher education: Theory and impact on educational outcomes. Harvard Educational Review, 72(3), 330-366.

Kayes, P. E., & Singley, Y. (2010, September 30). Time for Community Colleges to Lead on Diversifying Faculty. Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

Ma, J., & Baum, S. (2016). Trends in community colleges: Enrollment, prices, student debt, and completion. New York, NY: The College Board.

Manzo, K.K. (2000). Community College Faculty. Black Issues in Higher Education, 17(13), 54-57.

Nicholas, F.W., & Oliver, A.R. (1994). Achieving diversity among community college faculty. New Directions for Community Colleges, 1994(87), 35-42. DOI: 10.1002/cc.36819948706

Opp, R.D., & Smith, A.B. (1994). Effective strategies for enhancing minority faculty recruitment and retention. New Directions for Community Colleges, 1994(87), 43-55.

Robinson, P.A., Byrd, D., Louis, D.A., & Bonner, F.A. (2013). Enhancing Faculty Diversity at Community Colleges: A Practical Solution for Advancing the Completion Agenda. FOCUS on Colleges, Universities and Schools, 7(1), 1-11.

Stanley, C.A. (2006). Coloring the Academic Landscape: Faculty of Color Breaking the Silence in Predominantly White Colleges and Universities. American Educational Research Journal, 43(4), 701-736. DOI: 10.3102/00028312043004701

Taylor, O., Apprey, C.B., Hill, G., McGrann, L., & Wang, J. (2010). Diversifying the Faculty. Peer Review, 12(3).

Thompson, C.Q. (2008). Recruitment, retention, and mentoring of faculty of color: The chronicle continues. New Directions for Higher Education, 143, 47-54. DOI: 10.1002/he.312

Townsend, B. K., & Twombly, S. B. (2007). Community college faculty: Overlooked and undervalued. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Trower, C.A., & Chait, R.P. (2002). Faculty diversity: Too little for too long. Harvard Magazine, 104, 33-37 and 98.

National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2012). The Condition of Education 2012 (NCES 2012-045), Table A-47-2.