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Friday Fragments

In response to the query earlier this week about trying to square internal salary scales with external job markets when recruiting faculty in high-demand areas, several readers wrote with variations on “we have two separate scales.” They have one salary scale for most faculty positions, and a second (higher) one for faculty in fields like computer science and engineering, where colleges are competing with private industry gigs that pay a lot better.

Others responded with what we do, which is to have one scale, but to hire at the second rank rather than the first when necessary.

I was struck, though, by how many responded with variations on “here’s how we fight salary compression.” Salary compression is the obverse of the issue; it only happens if the efforts to recruit new people are successful. Where it happens, it’s a real concern — it’s rough on morale, among other things — but I was struck by how many people moved from the question at hand to its obverse.

If nothing else, it was reassuring to know that other colleges are dealing with this, too.

Thanks, too, to the folks who responded about dual enrollment. It seems that the variability in definitions I mentioned isn’t unique to my context. Some folks mentioned that they’ve used the term “dual enrollment” to refer to students who are matriculated at four-year schools but who pick up a few courses at a community college, usually in the summer. We refer to students who do that as “visiting” students, rather than dual enrollment, but I can see the logic.

Based on feedback, it sounds like some regional accreditors and/or states are much more prescriptive about dual enrollment than mine. Prescriptive rules can be a mixed blessing, but when you combine robust home rule (we have over 60 public school districts in my county alone) with relatively underdeveloped rules, things get complicated quickly. Prescriptive rules may be overreach, but some parameters might be useful.

When I mentioned that enrollments this year have been on an unprecedented cycle — summer up, fall down, winter up, spring down — several people responded that theirs are moving the same way. It doesn’t appear to be a local quirk. Which raises the question of why many community colleges are suddenly experiencing sine-wave enrollments.

My best guess is that summer and winter sessions have more “visiting” students than fall and spring do, and those “visiting” students are visiting from the sector that hasn’t experienced enrollment drops. Put differently, the disparate impact of the pandemic across lines of race and class plays out for us in seasonal swings. Our core constituency is suffering, so our enrollments are suffering, too. But the folks who drop by for a class or two are doing well, so the sessions that cater to them are doing well, too.

Every so often, I comment that community colleges are struggling because they’re designed to build a middle class for a country that no longer wants one. It’s just a bit jarring to see that play out seasonally.

Finally, this is what happens when it’s the fifth Zoom meeting of the day, and it’s Thursday afternoon:

A colleague inadvertently spoke the title of the next great country/pop ballad.

“The robot doesn’t come out in the rain.”

The thing practically writes itself. A heartbroken man likens himself to a robot, denying the pain while working hard; the video features a sad robot in a bar, gazing wistfully into the mirror and watching the rain through the window …

Readers who write music, this one’s a gift. A line that good can’t go to waste. It’s even in iambic pentameter!

You’re welcome, America.

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Advice Newsletter publication dates: 
Thursday, December 10, 2020
Diversity Newsletter publication date: 
Thursday, December 10, 2020