A Community College Primer

Without knowledge action is useless and knowledge without action is futile. ~ Abu Bakr

One of the frustrations I have faced throughout my career as a dean, has been how little long-time faculty often know about the way the college works. I understand how this happens, you get hired out of college, or after being an adjunct for a time and suddenly you’re immersed in your classes and department. Perhaps your college offers a new faculty academy experience that gives you an introduction and overview that touches on how the college and system work in your first year. But after four years of a tenure process where you’re fully immersed in your program and not the outer workings of the college, that initial training can easily drift out of memory.

Some faculty who get involved with larger college operating structures like the curriculum committee, academic senate, college governance and finance committees have a much deeper knowledge about these processes. But as a dean it becomes frustrating how much of the college operating basics faculty don’t know. This frustration is only rivaled by the lack of any kind of manual or training for new deans.

I once wrote a Career Technical Education and Workforce Development deans training manual that I passed on to my successor at Cerro Coso Community College. In going back to look at that document recently I realize it’s not generalized enough, it’s far too specifically focused on that particular position. So I’m working on a broader and more generalized academic deans manual. As part of this process and to also address the knowledge deficiency I have seen in faculty, I put together a community college primer.

This primer is meant to address some of the basic concepts and terms that are routinely discussed in effectively operating a community college and are terms that I believe all faculty and administrators should be familiar with. I’m including the information below, please feel free to use it as you see fit, I only ask that if you do, you provide appropriate attribution. I hope you find it helpful.

Finally a couple of disclaimers, this is written from the perspective of a dean, it is most relevant to California Community Colleges, but should be pretty relevant to other community colleges outside California and most colleges in general.

~ Michael Kane


FTEF – Full-time Equivalent faculty.  This is a representation of the amount of a units a faculty member is teaching, 15 lecture units is a full-time faculty load which is equivalent to 1.0 FTEF.  The number of credit units per class is shown in the catalog for each and every class.  Total FTEF is the total FTEF in the department calculated by adding all of the individual FTEF in a department.  Laboratory load per unit is typically less than 1 unit per hour of teaching and is normally established in the faculty contract.

FTES – Full-time Equivalent Student is the equivalent of a full-time load for one student.  This can vary by institution but is typically either 12 or 15 units, at Skyline College it is 12 units.

Faculty load – for full-time faculty, core full-time load is 15 units, which is equivalent to 1.0 FTEF anything beyond 15 units (1.0) would be considered overload.

For Part-time faculty load is calculated in the exact same way as full-time faculty.  However, in California, part-time faculty are limited to 0.67 FTE or a 9 lecture unit maximum load per semester, for Fall and Spring semesters.  Exceeding this load opens up the college to liability, this means that if a part-time faculty member is assigned more than the two semester 1.34 FTE (0.67 x 2) for the year (Fall and Spring semesters) they would have the opportunity to sue for a full-time tenured position at the level of loading that they had taught at in the overloaded year. 

For deans, this is one of the most serious situations they can face and can lead to their dismissal if they make this mistake and fail to meet their responsibility to manage loading appropriately.

Summer Semester Load – loading is typically not regulated in the summer, meaning that faculty load (part or full-time) is not counted toward their annual load and not subjected to normal load limitations such as the 0.67 load maximum for part-time faculty.

Load balancing – some institutions/Districts allow load balancing per the regulations listed in the faculty contract.  This means either for a full-time faculty member balancing their 2.0 FTEF for the year over Fall and Spring Semesters.  For example, if allowed, a faculty member could teach a 0.8 load in the Fall (4 – 3 unit classes) and then a 1.2 load in the Spring (6 – 3 unit classes) and that would lead to a normal load and pay for the year.

For part-timers, where allowed, the total annual (Fall and Spring) load maximum of 1.34 can be balanced over the two semesters.  Meaning that a they could teach a 1.0 full-time load in one semester as long as they don’t exceed a 0.34 load in the other semester.  This process is typically highly discouraged as it highly increases the risk of making a calculation error which leads to exceeding the allowed maximum. 

Additionally, part-time faculty are typically not loaded right up to the maximum, because if they are and then unknown to the dean were to substitute, be a guest speaker in a class or perform any other loadable activity they may end up exceeding the maximum.

Credit units – the number of unit hours for a class, each lecture unit hour equals eighteen hours of lecture.  The typical allowance for a lecture hour is 16-18 hours.  So this means a typical 3 unit lecture class is scheduled at 48 to 54 hours.  A class that doesn’t meet for the minimum allowable scheduled hours is at risk, if caught in an audit, of having the credit invalidated for the entire class.

Lab hours are calculated at various rates dependent upon the discipline.

The 10 + 1 – is shorthand for the 11 areas under Title 5, Section 53200 that outline the areas of faculty responsibility in the California Community College System.

Title 5 § 53200 (b): Academic Senate means an organization whose primary function is to make recommendations with respect to academic and professional matters. In Sections 53200 (c), “Academic and professional matters” mean the following policy development and implementation matters

  1. Curriculum including establishing prerequisites and placing courses within disciplines
  2. Degree and certificate requirements
  3. Grading policies
  4. Educational program development
  5. Standards or policies regarding student preparation and success
  6. District and college governance structures, as related to faculty roles
  7. Faculty roles and involvement in accreditation processes, including self-study and annual reports
  8. Policies for faculty professional development activities
  9. Processes for program review
  10. Processes for institutional planning and budget development 
  11. Other academic and professional matters as are mutually agreed upon between the governing board and the academic senate.

Academic Freedom

From Inside Higher Ed, https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2010/12/21/defining-academic-freedom this article presents a concise and complete explanation of what Academic Freedom means by showing what rights it does and does not confer.

PART 1: What it does do

1. Academic freedom means that both faculty members and students can engage in intellectual debate without fear of censorship or retaliation.

2. Academic freedom establishes a faculty member’s right to remain true to his or her pedagogical philosophy and intellectual commitments. It preserves the intellectual integrity of our educational system and thus serves the public good.

3. Academic freedom in teaching means that both faculty members and students can make comparisons and contrasts between subjects taught in a course and any field of human knowledge or period of history.

4. Academic freedom gives both students and faculty the right to express their views — in speech, writing, and through electronic communication, both on and off campus — without fear of sanction, unless the manner of expression substantially impairs the rights of others or, in the case of faculty members, those views demonstrate that they are professionally ignorant, incompetent, or dishonest with regard to their discipline or fields of expertise.

5. Academic freedom gives both students and faculty the right to study and do research on the topics they choose and to draw what conclusions they find consistent with their research, though it does not prevent others from judging whether their work is valuable and their conclusions sound. To protect academic freedom, universities should oppose efforts by corporate or government sponsors to block dissemination of any research findings.

6. Academic freedom means that the political, religious, or philosophical beliefs of politicians, administrators, and members of the public cannot be imposed on students or faculty.

7. Academic freedom gives faculty members and students the right to seek redress or request a hearing if they believe their rights have been violated.

8. Academic freedom protects faculty members and students from reprisals for disagreeing with administrative policies or proposals.

9. Academic freedom gives faculty members and students the right to challenge one another’s views, but not to penalize them for holding them.

10. Academic freedom protects a faculty member’s authority to assign grades to students, so long as the grades are not capricious or unjustly punitive. More broadly, academic freedom encompasses both the individual and institutional right to maintain academic standards.

11. Academic freedom gives faculty members substantial latitude in deciding how to teach the courses for which they are responsible.

12. Academic freedom guarantees that serious charges against a faculty member will be heard before a committee of his or her peers. It provides faculty members the right to due process, including the assumption that the burden of proof lies with those who brought the charges, that faculty have the right to present counter-evidence and confront their accusers, and be assisted by an attorney in serious cases if they choose.

PART 2: What Academic Freedom Doesn’t Do

1. Academic freedom does not mean a faculty member can harass, threaten, intimidate, ridicule, or impose his or her views on students.

2. Student academic freedom does not deny faculty members the right to require students to master course material and the fundamentals of the disciplines that faculty teach.

3. Neither academic freedom nor tenure protects an incompetent teacher from losing his or her job. Academic freedom thus does not grant an unqualified guarantee of lifetime employment.

4. Academic freedom does not protect faculty members from colleague or student challenges to or disagreement with their educational philosophy and practices.

5. Academic freedom does not protect faculty members from non-university penalties if they break the law.

6. Academic freedom does not give students or faculty the right to ignore college or university regulations, though it does give faculty and students the right to criticize regulations they believe are unfair.

7. Academic freedom does not protect students or faculty from disciplinary action, but it does require that they receive fair treatment and due process.

8. Academic freedom does not protect faculty members from sanctions for professional misconduct, though sanctions require clear proof established through due process.

9. Neither academic freedom nor tenure protects a faculty member from various sanctions — from denial of merit raises, to denial of sabbatical requests, to the loss of desirable teaching and committee assignments — for poor performance, though such sanctions are regulated by local agreements and by faculty handbooks. If minor, sanctions should be grievable; if major, they must be preceded by an appropriate hearing.

10. Neither academic freedom nor tenure protects a faculty member who repeatedly skips class or refuses to teach the classes or subject matter assigned.

11. Though briefly interrupting an invited speaker may be compatible with academic freedom, actually preventing a talk or a performance from continuing is not.

12. Academic freedom does not protect a faculty member from investigations into allegations of scientific misconduct or violations of sound university policies, nor from appropriate penalties should such charges be sustained in a hearing of record before an elected faculty body.

Curriculum process (classes, certificates and degrees)

As a 10+1 item, curriculum is the purview of the faculty.  The creation of courses, certificates and degrees is done by faculty with the consensus of the academic department within which they reside.  Once department consensus is achieved the course, certificate or degree is then moved into the college curriculum process.  This process typically includes a review by the dean, the chief academic officer of the division, to make sure that it aligns with college and district priorities as well as to assist with any regulations that may be impacted by the curriculum.

Every California Community College campus has a curriculum handbook created and managed by the college curriculum committee, as an example, I’ve linked Skyline College’s curriculum handbook shown below:

Local vs statewide certificates and degrees

Certificates as a 10+1 item are the responsibility of the faculty for creation and the decision as to what courses need to be included.  This is a collaborative process of consensus within departments and not the purview of lone faculty members unless of course, they are a one person faculty department.  The process flows through the college curriculum committee.  All certificates, local or state approved can only be offered at the college where the courses are offered and by that college in accordance with college curriculum processes.

Local certificates are certificates that don’t meet the minimum credit hour requirements to need to be approved by the state, which means they are less than 15 units.  These certificates also do not show up on student transcripts. 

State certificates are certificates that are approved by the state, and can be submitted for any certificate that is at 12 units or higher.  So certificates between 12 and 14 units can be either local or state level certificates. Statewide certificates do show up on a student’s transcript.

 There are no such things as unofficial departmental certificates or degrees, all certificates or degrees should be college certificates or degrees that are conferred by the college and created and approved through the curriculum committee.  No department should be printing and offering certificates that they create within their department that have not been through that process as they are not valid and may confuse students, colleges or employers when students present this unofficial credentials to them.

Course Load Efficiency  is a calculation of how effectively we are using our scheduling and financial resources.  The simplest way of looking at it, is that it is a reflection of class fill rates.  Details of the calculation for those numerically inclined are below.

Calculating LOAD (Efficiency) at Skyline College

Great resource


The calculations below are for weekly census classes only, for daily census or positive attendance see the link above. Weekly census courses are full-term, regularly scheduled courses

WSCH = #students x number of contact hours per week

i.e. Business 100 = 3 contact hours per week

Business 100 WSCH for 39 students is 3 * 39 = 117

To calculate FTES at Skyline our Term Length Multiplier is 17.5

FTES = WSCH* Term Length Multiplier (17.5) and the sum divided by 525

i.e. Counseling 100 117*17.5 = 3.9 FTES

To calculate FTE(F) at Skyline

There is typically no need to calculate FTEF or as we list it on our enrollment reports FTE as it is always already calculated in the course.  However, for information purposes, for the most straightforward case where no labs are involved.  The calculation is simply the number of units for the class divided by a full-time contractual teaching load (15 units).

i.e. Business 100 FTE(F) = 3 units for the course / 15 unit contractual full-time load = 0.2 FTE(F)

To calculate LOAD (Efficiency) at Skyline

LOAD (Efficiency) = WSCH/FTE(F)

i.e. for Business 100 = 117/0.2= 585

Fully fleshed out this would be (39 students * 3 contact hours)/ [(3 units for the course)/(15 full-time contractual units)] = LOAD (efficiency) for the course

Right of Assignment is one of the few actual authorities that deans have, the dean has the right to assign instructors to the sections, location, time and modality that they feel is in the best interest of the students within the division.

College/district funding is typically determined by a state formula based upon the total FTES that a college has.  That is a slight oversimplification but does fairly accurately describe an enrollment driven college.  Some districts/colleges, like SMCCD/Skyline College, are community-based district/colleges.  This means that their funding is determined by the property taxes paid within the service areas for the college/district.  Colleges in this category have several advantages including being typically better funded, seeing less extreme funding fluctuations, fewer layoffs and not being held to the statewide 50% law.  Not being under this law, is one of the things that allows Skyline to have such a rich amount of student support services.

Overload contract is the contract that full-time faculty receive every fall and spring semester showing the portion of their courses that exceed their contractual 15-unit (1.0) load.  This contract ONLY shows the overload class and portions of classes considered overload.  It does not, has not, nor likely will ever show your full set of classes.

Course Modality – includes hybrid, face to face, online (synchronous vs asynchronous).  Face to face means an on-campus face to face class meeting course with no required online component.  A hybrid course is a course with both face to face and required online components.  An online class means there are no face to face, on campus class meetings.  A course can be synchronous, meaning there is a set time to meet online via a platform like Zoom, this is only recommended in rare, non-emergency circumstances.  An asynchronous course means that there is not set time for students to meet online, that all required coursework occurs whenever students decide to work on their class as long as they meet their assignment deadlines.

Class Duration is the number of weeks a course meets, so full-term, 8-week etc…

Board submissions (MOU’s, position requests) including any contract or agreement between any entity attached to the college/district (i.e. departments, service areas, etc…) are required to be approved by the board as all such agreements are technically agreements with SMCCD.  All hiring processes and employee position change matters, college budgets and much more also have to be approved by the board.  The board submission process currently requires that something is submitted 3-6 weeks prior to the board meeting date it will appear.  There are multiple approvals before any item makes the board agenda, as such things should be submitted as early as possible.

Work absences must be submitted to your supervisor.  Technically, if your supervisor is not aware of your absence you are absent without approval which can lead to anything from an unpaid day to disciplinary action.  It is the responsibility of the employee to notify their supervisor of their absence, except in cases of extreme emergency when they are unable.  In this division that is almost always the dean and or the division assistant who should be directly notified by the employee.

For vacation requests, requests should be made at least two weeks in advance of the days off.  For employees who don’t monitor their vacation time and end up at the maximum, the same request rules apply.  Additionally, it is the employee’s responsibility to monitor, plan and keep their time under the limit.

Service Area is the term for the geographic area that a college serves.  College’s are not allowed to advertise, recruit students directly or offer classes in the service area of another college without written permission of the other college.  Within district, this agreement occurs between presidents, across districts there typically is a written agreement between the board of trustees of the two districts.

Know your contract!  It is imperative that you know and understand how your own contract works, so please have a copy handy, read it and consult it first, before asking questions of your supervisor that are clearly detailed in your contract.

Published by Michael Kane

Michael Kane is a writer, photographer, educator, speaker, adventurer and a general sampler of life. His books on hiking and poetry are available in soft cover and Kindle on Amazon.

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