College classes cut for lack of space, teachers

Students fill a classroom at Metro State in Denver in 2009. Photo

More students are enrolling in the state’s community colleges to learn new skills or polish up old ones as the economy continues to sputter.

But they’re finding certain courses aren’t available due to a lack of qualified instructors or classroom space.

CCCOnline, the online network of the state’s community college course offerings, had to cap enrollment in more than 80 courses in art, biology, chemistry, English, math, literature, philosophy and psychology. The network has been unable to find enough adjunct faculty trained in online teaching methods to fill additional course sections.

The Community College of Denver, which experienced a 33 percent enrollment spike this year, could not offer 51 course sections it wanted to due to a lack of space. The Metropolitan State College of Denver could not staff all its sections because it couldn’t find the teachers it needed. Red Rocks Community College couldn’t offer all its science classes due to a dearth of laboratory space.

“Our enrollment for spring over spring is up 19 percent,” Colorado Community College System President Nancy McCallin said. “It has been a challenge when we’ve got decreased state funding to sustain educational opportunity.”

Biggest challenges online

McCallin said the challenges are especially great in the world of online course offerings since faculty members need to be specifically trained in digital teaching methods. For some faculty, it’s a challenge not working with students face-to-face.

“We have been cutting off sections in cases where we haven’t had qualified professors,” she said. “In an online environment, you have them go through specialized training. If, all of a sudden, the growth in students is greater than expected, we aren’t going to be ready.”

The community college system is cranking up the pace of training programs for instructors of online courses so the schools are ready for the student onslaught next fall.

There are now 85,547 students taking at least one course at a community college in the system, though only 25,227 students taking the equivalent of a full course load. Still, the growth has been dramatic.

While it may be difficult to find properly trained online instructors, McCallin said the overall quality of adjuncts available for hire is top-notch thanks to the economic meltdown, which bumped talented professionals out of work and into the classroom.

“You can get some really high quality people who otherwise would not be available to teach within your classes,” she said.

Stats on adjuncts

About half of the community college system’s courses are taught by part-time – or adjunct – faculty who make up 67 percent of the system’s teaching staff. They’re generally cheap, easy to shuffle and bring valuable real-world experience to the classroom.

Nationwide, some experts estimate two-thirds of all college faculty are adjuncts. After a major surge in the hiring of part-time faculty, colleges are focusing again on hiring of full-time, tenure-track faculty – or at least they’re talking about it. Studies have shown that colleges are better able to retain students when they have a solid connection with tenured faculty who have office hours and time to chat with students.

McCallin said the community college system was focusing on hiring more full-time faculty – until the last round of budget cuts.

“With the cuts in state funding,” she said, “we have not been able to do that.”

The Metropolitan State College of Denver, which is not a community college but still relies heavily on adjuncts as a four-year undergraduate institution, is continuing a push started by President Stephen Jordan to hire more full-time, tenure-track faculty after about a decade of the widespread hiring of adjuncts.

Metro is hiring between 25 and 40 tenure-track faculty each year, many of whom are replacing retired faculty or visiting scholars, said Provost Vicki Golich.

Still, adjuncts continue to play a vital role at Metro, Golich said. Metro currently has about 500 full-time professors and 600 part-time faculty.

Golich said it has been a mad scramble to hire enough people to fill an increasing number of course sections, and not all of them got filled this year.

“We were surprised a little bit by order of magnitude by the (enrollment) increase,” she said. “At the end of the day, I think we did not staff everything we would have liked to.”

Golich said she hopes the adjunct hiring process goes more smoothly next year when a hard and fast student application deadline is imposed.

“That is going to give us the ability to really be able to do a little more careful planning in a timely fashion,” she said. “Hopefully, some of that last-minute scurrying should be minimal in the future.”

Red Rocks runs out of space

At Red Rocks Community College and the Community College of Denver, the issue has been more about space limitations than the adjunct pool – at least at the bricks-and-mortar level.

“We could probably teach science classes up the yin yang,” Red Rocks President Michele Haney said. “It’s not an issue of faculty. We don’t have the space or a time that a classroom is available to offer that section.”

Haney agreed that staffing for online courses is a different story and is not keeping pace with burgeoning student demand.

Diana Doyle, executive vice president for learning and student affairs at CCD, said the school is not noticing any new trends with adjunct faculty. The same areas that have always been hard to staff are still tough, such as nursing.

“They’re usually working in a hospital or health care facility,” she said. “They get paid more at those facilities than they do on campus. (And to teach) they have to be master’s prepared.”

As far as the general pool of adjunct instructors is concerned, Doyle said more adjuncts are teaching a full course load – or 12 credits – this semester.

“I will say we have maxed out our course numbers with our adjunct instructors,” she said. “More are teaching a full adjunct load than ever before.”

Colorado Mountain College, which offers two-year academic programs in 11 mostly mountainous locations such as Aspen, Breckenridge, Dillon and Steamboat Springs, is experiencing the most growth in its online offerings.

The number of students enrolled in online programs increased 39.5 percent from 1,115 last spring to 1,414 this year. So far, it hasn’t been too difficult to hire teachers, college spokeswoman Debbie Crawford said.

The campuses in ski towns, meanwhile, have built-in, highly qualified adjuncts: retirees with big degrees and impressive professional resumes from all over the country. And some of the colleges are finding it easier to find adjuncts in the current economic climate.

There is an abundance of unemployed people in construction, for instance, who are now available to pick up a few classes to teach, Crawford said. The overall number of adjunct faculty at Colorado Mountain College campuses increased 11.8 percent between fall 2008 and fall 2009, from 703 to 786.

“Some campuses are finding it easier to find specific adjunct faculty,” Crawford said.

Julie Poppen can be reached at

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”