Community Colleges May Be a Good Fit for You
After working at two prestigious four-year institutions, Reginald Nichols has spent the past 15 years at Middlesex Community College in Lowell, Massachusetts, where he is currently the Assistant Director of HR Talent & Compliance/AAO/ADA/504/Deputy Title IX Coordinator.
Middlesex may not have the name recognition of his previous employers, but Nichols thinks that community colleges may actually be a better fit for many job seekers.
Here are some of the benefits and challenges of working at two-year institutions:
A broader variety of students
In his previous role as an academic counselor at Middlesex, Nichols worked with a wide range of students. Some come to campus straight out of high school, but others are well into adulthood. Many are already in the workforce and are juggling family responsibilities, including raising children.
In general, community college students are more reflective of the communities they’re situated in that four-year schools, and more likely to be the first in their families to attend college. In total, staff and faculty have a chance to interact with a more diverse student body.
More chances for advancement
After working in the banking industry, Nichols started at Middlesex in the admissions office before switching over to advising. Some of his colleagues started in teaching and then became deans. Education and work experience are important, but because community colleges are teaching and learning institutions, one of the advantages of working in one is that it prepares employees to take advantage of better opportunities.
Less susceptible to economic changes
Nichols started at Middlesex right before the Great Recession in 2008, and of course is working there during the current pandemic. Drops in enrollment and economic challenges during both periods led to layoffs and furloughs at many institutions of higher ed, but Nichols said community colleges weren’t as impacted. Commuter schools like Middlesex have much cheaper tuition and aren’t reliant on room and board, so financial instability and campus closures don’t hurt the bottom line as much as they would at many four-year schools.
Multitasking is critical
There are aspects of working at a community college that could be a challenge or an opportunity, depending on the individual. Nichols said that community colleges tend to be fast-paced organizations, and his day doesn’t always go according to plan. Many community colleges have smaller staffs than four-year institutions, so community college staff may have a larger assortment of duties (for example, re-read Nichols job title). Flexibility is key.
Keys for applying
If working at a community college sounds appealing, Nichols has some tips for job seekers. First, don’t be discouraged if you don’t have previous experience in higher ed – much like the students themselves, staff come from all kinds of backgrounds. Along with educational credentials, community college value real-world experience, so highlight previous professional opportunities and why those skills will transfer over.
While the specific skill sets required will vary by position, attention to detail, dedication, and communication skills will always be important. Take advantage of free trainings through sites like LinkedIn Learning or Coursera. And reach out to human resources employees like Nichols for informational interviews to learn more.
About the Author: Harold Gutmann is the director of brand and marketing strategy at Santa Clara University. He is a longtime writer and editor who is proud to work in higher education, and encourages all job seekers to consider it.