Problem Solving Continuing Education Program at Miami Dade College

Introduction

The student to faculty ratio is progressively becoming an important aspect in higher learning (Biggs & Tang, 2011). There is a widespread agreement that the high student to faculty ratio is associated with weak contact between faculty and students, which translates to low instructional quality. In addition, the high faculty to student is not suitable for teaching complex subjects, which is the case with the school of continuing education at Miami Dade College that needs close interaction between students and the teaching staff (MDC, 2015). The underlying inference is that when the student to faculty ratio is high, the needs of students are not only catered for, but students do not participate in research projects initiated by faculty members. The high student to faculty ratio witnessed in colleges and universities can be attributed to the increased use of part time teaching staff and a decline in the instructional spending per full-time teaching staff (Axson, 2010). However, the expenditure on non-education and non-instructional aspects by colleges and universities has increased, which led to an overall drop in the fraction of instructional expenditure channeled towards instructional activities.

According to Shephard (2008), such a state of affairs can be attributed to the fact that institutions are facing the pressure of keeping operating costs low. As a result, they are embarking on the employment of provisional and adjunct faculty members while reducing the fraction of full-time teaching staff. Decline in the number of full-time teaching staff at colleges and universities across the US has been documented by various authors (Richardson, Goldsamt, Simmons, Gilmartin, & Jeffries, 2014; Rutz, Condon, Iverson, Manduca, & Willett, 2012). The same problem is also evident at the School of Continuing Education at MDC, which is the focus of this paper. This report provides an overview of the problem at MDC, and analyzes the problem to make a suitable recommendation addressing the problem.

Overview of the Identified Problem at MDC

MDC has the student to faculty ratio of 25:1, which consequently means that every instructional faculty member is assigned 25 students. This is among the highest student to faculty ratio in the US when compared to the national average of 15:1 (College Factual, 2015). An implication made from this observation is that the number of students assigned per each teaching staff at MDC exceeds the normal average, which affects both students and teaching staff. For students, this translates to larger class sizes coupled with reduced opportunities to interact with their tutors, particularly in introductory courses. For tutors, this means a higher teaching load. The cumulative effect associated with this implication is low teaching quality at MDC (Biggs & Tang, 2011).

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The percentage of full-time teaching staff at MDC is 26%, which is relatively lower when compared to other colleges in the US. Part-time faculty members comprise of 73 percent of teaching staff at MDC. The fraction of part-time teaching staff at MDC is higher than the national average of 48.1 percent (College Factual, 2015); this raises concerns with respect to whether MDC is committed to building strong faculty in the long-term.

It is typical for colleges to utilize graduate assistants and part-time teaching staff for the primary purpose of cost savings amidst the tight budgets. Nevertheless, it remains an issue of controversy (Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, & Whitt, 2011). In the US, colleges employ graduates to provide instructional assistance; however, the case of MDC is a unique one because MDC does not have graduate degree programs, meaning that it does not have graduate assistants. Instead, it extensively uses part-time faculty members at the cost of teaching quality and increasing the teaching load for the full-time teaching staff. The following section analyzes the problem of excessive use of part-time faculty at MDC, including its costs and benefits (Shephard, 2008). This helps in understanding ways through which the costs of the program can be addressed when trying to develop an apt solution to solve the issue.

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Analysis of the Problem and the Need for Solutions

In order to contain costs, universities and colleges have embarked on hiring more part-time faculty than full-time professors. The motivations underlining this trend include lowest costs, flexibility and real world experiences.

With respect to cutting costs, using part time faculty members comes in handy underfunded colleges and institutions. The benefits and salaries associated with tenured faculty are often higher, as compared to that of part-time faculty, who are mostly paid per course using relatively smaller salaries than those demanded by full-time professors (Biggs & Tang, 2011). In addition, part time faculty members are not eligible for benefits, which can result in significant cost savings for the institution (Dooris, Kelley, & Trainer, 2004).

In terms of flexibility, part time faculty members enables MDC to be flexible regarding its scheduling as well as cancelling programs during periods of fluctuations in enrollments. MDC relies significantly on scheduling to meet the needs of its students (Dooris, Kelley, & Trainer, 2004). For instance, part time faculty members are often useful in teaching weekend and nighttime classes that are not preferred by full time faculty members.

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Another benefit associated with using part time faculty members is their real world experiences that academically trained faculty members cannot offer (Biggs & Tang, 2011). This is especially important for job-oriented and vocational courses, which are core aspects of MDC. Majority of part-time faculty members at MDC are working professions teaching part-time; as a result, they bring with them diverse experiences that can enable students to gain important insights regarding real world practice (MDC, 2015). The School of Continuing Education and Professional Development offers job-oriented courses and vocational programs, which implies that part-time faculty members play an important instructional role. Courses such as childcare training, GED preparation, real estate course, music programs and insurance courses require students to be taught by professionals having firsthand experience in the field in order for their learning to be meaningful. The only way MDC can ensure this is through reliance on part time professionals. The rare curriculum needs of MDC School of Continuing Education and Professional Development can be satisfied using expert part time teaching staff.

Despite the aforementioned advantages associated with the use of part-time faculty members at MDC, they pose a number of challenges for MDC. The problem of high student to faculty ratio at MDC stems from its excessive dependence on part-time faculty (College Factual, 2015). At MDC, depending too much on part-time faculty far surpasses the level necessary to offer curricular needs requiring specialized work experience. The issue is that, with the majority of the teaching staff being part time, they are not usually readily available to and accessible by students. The cost-driven utilization of part-time faculty by MDC surpasses its flexibility requirements. Essentially, MDC should strive to balance its flexible needs with the needs of students. Part-time faculty members spend less time with respect to class preparation, hold lesser office hours, do not attend the curriculum-development meetings, and are seldom involved in advising students. Biggs and Tang (2011) argue that greater reliance of part-time faculty compromises the effectiveness of teaching and learning despite the cost savings.

According to Biggs and Tang (2011), short-term cost savings, achieved by the extensive use of part time faculty members, are counterbalanced by the lessened involvement of the faculty with students, as well as the absence of coherent programs. Most part time faculty members, including those at MDC, access inadequate facilities and get limited professional support; as a result, they experience structural barriers that put them at a disadvantage (Dooris, Kelley, & Trainer, 2004). In addition, narrow time and contractual commitment, associated with part time work, implies that contingent faculty members work are not subject to the renewal and revision of curriculum by the department and institution. There is no doubt that educational programs need higher involvement from tenured faculty members through college governance in order to ensure that they sustain and revise the curricular that provides students with educational opportunities (Kuh et al., 2011). The presence of tenured faculty members is important in ensuring the development of courses, researching emerging trends, setting course requirements, and designing general courses, programs and majors. In addition, tenured faculty members are required to supervise the operations associated with recruiting and promoting, in order to ensure that quality of the institution is high. Therefore, relying heavily on the part-time faculty members robs the MDC School of Continuing Education the qualified personnel needed in undertaking this critical functions. At the same time, it increases the burden on the existing tenured faculty members in terms of course load (Rutz et al., 2012).

Another issue with over reliance of part time teaching staff at MDC is that they lack collegial involvement, meaning that there is a lack of coherence in sequential and core course when part time teaching staff are used (Biggs & Tang, 2011). When analyzing the incremental trends in the percentage of part time teaching staff at MDC, it can be observed that their increase has been accompanied by non-renewal of the tenure of full time faculty members having qualifications that surpass those of temporary teaching staff. Cost savings achieved by using part-time teaching staff at MDC are based on a payment per course format, which does not adequately reward part-time faculty members. In addition, this system fails to satisfactorily encourage part-time faculty members to engage in classroom preparation, encourage interaction with students, collegial involvement, and professional development (Dooris, Kelley, & Trainer, 2004). The underlying observation is that it creates a system characterized by disparate policies as well as contractual arrangements for teaching staff resulting in a multi-tier faculty that is divided. The working environment for part-time faculty members often discourages them from embarking on measures that can help enhance their instructional effectiveness. Moreover, the fact that part-time faculty members have no career prospects implies that they are not motivated to work towards the achievement of MDC’s mission and vision. The overall impact is that the working environment for both part-time and full-time faculty members is degraded, professional development for faculty members is diminished and students are denied the opportunity to access high quality instruction (Kuh et al., 2011). According to Biggs and Tang (2011), colleges and universities either need to develop alternative compensation systems for part-time and full-time faculty members, or look for ways of balancing in the inequalities existing between part-time and full-time faculty members.

Solution

For MDC, the use of part-time faculty staff is indispensable for its functioning. It is imperative to acknowledge the important role that part time faculty members play, and the fact that part time faculty member is a permanent feature of MDC. Therefore, any solutions to address the problem of student to faculty ratio should not be geared towards eliminating part time faculty members, but ensuring that the institution develops measures aimed efficient and effective use of its part time faculty (Kuh et al., 2011). The issue of concern for MDC is to ensure that part-time appointments should not be exceedingly large to reach a level that could compromise its ability to achieve its mission.

Based on the analysis of the issue of a low student to faculty ratio at MDC as a result of its over dependence on part time faculty members, the recommendation to address the problem should involve adopting best practices aimed at ensuring that MDC efficiently used its part-time staff (Biggs & Tang, 2011). As aforementioned, MDC should focus on looking for ways through which it should engage its part-time faculty members in order to ensure that they are engaged as their full-time counterparts. Owing to the fact that the nature of MDC programs requires part-time faculty members, employing more permanent faculty members is not the solution; instead, MDC should focus on eliminating the inequality between part-time and full-time faculty members, which will help in ensuring that they are engaged and work towards the achievement of MDC vision and mission. This will also help in ensuing the collegial involvement of part-time faculty (Kuh et al., 2011).

There are various recommendations in the literature that colleges and universities can adopt in addressing the issue of high student-to-faculty ratio through enhancing the engagement of part-time faculty members. The first recommendation for MDC is to ensure that part-time faculty members have fair and equal opportunities for professional development as their tenured counterparts (Kuh et al., 2011). Most part-time teaching staff are disengaged with the vision and mission of the college because of their perceived inequality and disparate system; as a result, they are less likely to be involved in initiatives undertaken by the institution such as curriculum development. The second recommendation to address the problem is through long-term planning in order to cater for extended appointment terms for part-time faculty members (Rutz et al., 2012). This will guarantee their job security. Long term planning should be consistent with the needs of MDC. Rather than using the current pay-per-course structure, MDC should consider providing part-time teaching staff with extended contractual agreements. This will be helpful in encouraging them to be involved with colleagues and students. Third, it is important for MDCto carefully consider its practices, needs and mission. Kuh et al. (2011) point out that no fixed ratio of part-time to full-time faculty members exists that is applicable to all circumstances. To this end, the administration of MDC should conduct a systematic review of its practices concerning part-time faculty with regard its specific circumstances. The ultimate goal is to make sure that the use of part-time faculty is consistent with its educational goals rather than just economic reasons (Biggs & Tang, 2011).

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It is also imperative for MDC to ensure that part-time teaching staff are provided with clear contractual expectations regarding in-class teaching and responsibilities such as advising students, preparation of courses, and office hours among others (Shephard, 2008). of part-time teaching staff practice should be explicitly outlined in the contractual agreement. Some authors have recommended providing part-time faculty members with adequate support, professional development t opportunities, mentoring and orientation in order to ensure that they are motivated to work towards vision and mission of MDC. Examples of such opportunities could include supporting them to present their work in professional conferences, supporting them to be involved in research activities and offering them access to grant programs offered at the institution (Dooris, Kelley, & Trainer, 2004). Kuh et al. (2011) recommended providing part time faculty members with suitable working conditions to allow them to accomplish their assigned roles and responsibilities. Such working conditions could involving ensuring that they have access to office spaces, office equipment, access to library services, and parking permits among others. Other measures that MDC can adopt include providing them with an opportunity to express their grievances and offering part-time teaching staff with opportunities to develop professionally such as promotion and merit pay increases (Biggs & Tang, 2011).

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Conclusion

In conclusion, a faculty to student ration affects the quality of education offered at institutions. At MDC, a student to faculty ratio is one of the highest in the US, which can be attributed to the fact that institution overly relies on part-time teaching staff. Part-time teaching faculty are disengaged because of the perceived inequalities in the working environment relative to their full-time counterparts. As a result, they are not committed to working with students to achieve the educational goals of MDC. In order to address this problem, it is recommended that MDC looks for ways that can help eliminate the perceived inequality between part-time and full-time faculty in order to enhance their engagement. The measures recommended include ensuring that part-time faculty members have fair and equal opportunities for professional development as their tenured counterparts; long-term planning in order to accommodate extended appointment terms for part-time faculty members; ensure that part-time teaching staff are provided with clear contractual expectations regarding in-class teaching and responsibilities; providing part-time faculty members with adequate support, professional development opportunities, mentoring and orientation; and lastly, providing part time faculty members with suitable working conditions to allow them to accomplish their assigned roles and responsibilities.

 

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