Academic Excellence: Why California's Community Colleges Need the 75/25 Full-Time Faculty Standard

Ian Walton, ASCCC Past President

This document is a response to recurring requests from new legislators, new members of the Board of Governors, and others interested in the excellence of California's community college system. Here the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges summarizes the evidence and rationale for the fundamental philosophy that students receive great benefit when colleges are required to maintain significant numbers of full-time faculty. It concludes that, absent major changes in system funding, the current imperfect implementation mechanism must be retained. The views expressed here reflect long-standing positions of the Academic Senate.

Occasionally "why do we need full-time faculty?" is asked as a thoughtful, purposeful question. But often it is asked because the well documented reasons are simply forgotten in the immediate pressure of budget decisions. Most commonly it is asked in the guise of a much more specific question, such as:

  • Why do we need the 75/25 law? or
  • Why 75%? or
  • Why don't we just let the colleges decide for themselves?

This paper does not propose specific changes in implementation or enforcement of California's existing law. Rather its purpose is to increase understanding and support in Sacramento, and the community at large, both for the underlying philosophy of a mandated fulltime faculty requirement and for the political compromises that created the current enforcement mechanism. The Academic Senate supports the existing compromise mechanisms because abandoning them would be harmful.

The Value of Full-time Faculty
It is highly unlikely that anyone would question the claim that "students benefit from good instructors." In the California community colleges, great care is taken to ensure a high quality classroom experience regardless of whether the instructor is full-time or part-time. Minimum qualifications and hiring regulations seek to achieve this.

However, the classroom experience alone is far from sufficient to ensure student success, or institutional success, let alone the subsequent social and economic benefits that accrue to the state of California. It increasingly appears that the crucial trigger of a student's educational success happens in some rich, unscripted series of personal interactions with a full-time, tenured faculty member that take place outside of the formal classroom setting and that may not be confined to any specific course. Readers of this paper can probably pinpoint the individuals and interactions in their own education that produced this profound effect and led to their current success.

Simply put, the reason for increased numbers of full-time, tenured faculty is to raise the likelihood of such life-changing student-faculty encounters.

Part-time faculty simply cannot afford to be on campus long enough to reliably provide such non-classroom, non course-specific encounters with students.

Research and documentation of the value provided to students by full-time faculty can be found in a variety of places, over a long period of time. Here, in historical order, we use the words of others to demonstrate that value. Our own comments are added in brackets.

In 1988, the California Legislature in section 70 of AB17251 (the fundamental California Community College reform bill) found and declared:

Because the quality, quantity and composition of full-time faculty have the most immediate and direct impact on the quality of instruction, overall reform cannot succeed without sufficient numbers of full-time faculty.

[This sweeping declaration lays the foundation that maintenance and improvement of educational quality in the California community colleges rely on full-time faculty.]

In 1989, Vincent Tinto commented (Chronicle of Higher Education2):

Over the past fifteen years, the most consistent finding has been that positive interactions with faculty members has a direct bearing on whether students persist to earn a degree.

[If we want to increase graduation rates, or other outcome measures, maintaining or increasing numbers of full-time faculty is a proven technique. Interestingly, the number of associate degrees awarded in the community college system is a focus of current political attention in California.]

In 2002, Ernst Benjamin wrote (Peer Review3):

Over-reliance on part-time and other "contingent" instructional staff diminishes full-time faculty involvement in undergraduate education.such over-reliance particularly disadvantages the less-well-prepared entering and lower-division students in the non-elite institutions who most need more substantial faculty attention.

[This highlights the additional importance of full-time faculty in addressing current basic skills and equity issues that are priorities for the system.]

In 2002, Arthur Cohen and Florence Brawer listed a significant number of professional and instructional functions important to the health of an institution that are "normally performed either entirely, or in greater measure, by full-time faculty than by part-time faculty" (The American Community College4). Core program and curriculum development is perhaps the most obvious such set of functions.

[All of these functions go far beyond preparation and delivery of a single class and need the ongoing commitment of full-time faculty.]

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)5 similarly recognizes the value of full-time faculty in its Standard Three, which states:

The institution maintains a sufficient number of qualified faculty with full-time responsibility to the institution.

[See the section below-Why 75%?-for a discussion of what constitutes "sufficient."]

In 2005, Ronald G. Ehrenberg, director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute stated (Conference presentation reported in Chronicle of Higher Education6):

The increased use of instructors who are not on the tenure track correlates with declining graduation rates, particularly at public comprehensive institutions.

In 2006, Daniel Jacoby and Harry Bridges studied public community colleges in the United States and concluded (nal of Higher Education7:

The principal finding of this study is that community college graduation rates decrease as the proportion of part-time faculty employed increases. The finding is corroborated using three different measures of graduation rates.

[Two different, recent, data-based reaffirmations of Tinto's earlier work linking full-time faculty and student success rates.]

In 2006, Thomas Bailey and colleagues at the Community College Research Center

Teachers College, Columbia University8 conducted a statistical study to measure the institutional characteristics that affect the success of individual community college students. They concluded:

[Second], students in colleges with more part-time faculty also have lower education outcomes.

In 2007 California Community College Chancellor Drummond9 commented on the need for full-time instructors in order for the new, system Basic Skills Initiative to succeed:

None of the Basic Skills Initiative happens without adequate numbers of full-time faculty.

This section has selected results that stress the direct benefits that full-time, tenured faculty provide to students. There are of course many other indirect benefits that arise from their professional commitment to the long-term health of the institution and the design, implementation and evaluation of academic programs and curriculum.

Why 75%?
The above research evidence clearly demonstrates the general value of adequate or sufficient full-time faculty plus the effect on specific outcomes such as graduation rates. This of course raises the question of what is "adequate"-not in any way to be confused with desirable or perfect. In short, why choose 75%?

Interestingly, as recently as 2001, the California Legislature in ACR 7310 urged the trustees of the California State University, the Academic Senate of the California State University, and the California Faculty Association to jointly develop a plan that will raise the percentage of tenured and tenure-track faculty to at least 75%.

The California Community College system has a much longer track record of valuing and attempting to increase the number of full-time, tenured faculty. Perhaps the first was a Board of Governors' policy position adopted in January 197811 that proposed:

Not more than 25% of a district's course hours be taught by those hired for less than 41% of a full-time load.

The first statutory goal was articulated in 1981 and was extended in 1987 by SB 630 which restricted districts from using part-time faculty to teach more than 30% of a district's workload12. This early history is conceptually important because it refutes a popular myth that AB 1725 in 1988 was the first attempt to impose standards for full-time faculty, and that it traded full-time standards for additional funding. In fact the goal of full-time standards long predated both AB1725 and its promise of additional funding.

In 1988 the comprehensive community college reform bill, AB1725, put in place the current system goal regarding full-time faculty standards. In section 35 the legislature stated:

The Legislature wishes to recognize and make efforts to address longstanding policy of the Board of Governors that at least 75 percent of the hours of credit instruction in the California Community Colleges, as a system, should be taught by full-time instructors.

Implementation was initially achieved by Education Code 87482.7 which stated:

(a) The board of governors shall, pursuant to paragraph (6) of subdivision (b) of Section 70901, adopt regulations that establish minimum standards regarding the percentage of hours of credit instruction that shall be taught by full-time instructors.

Subsequently the Board of Governors adopted Title 5 regulations designed to reach the "75% full-time faculty standard." These regulations appear in 51025 and 53300 through 53314.

It was the intent of the Legislature to provide additional funding to ensure that this and other outcomes were achieved. Unfortunately, as happens all too often with California initiatives, while the immediate funding did produce results, the funding was short-lived as other funding priorities soon emerged in subsequent years. However, loss of targeted funding must not negate the intrinsic value of the long-standing goal.

Another common myth is that the 75% was an arbitrary figure plucked from thin air in 1988. It is clear from the history of the previous ten years that discussions of goals and requirements consistently involved figures in the 70-80% range. It also seems likely that 75% was a good practical compromise between the "obviously" too low 50% and the "impractical" 100%. It is interesting that twenty years later the California State University selected the very same figure.

The Current Law /Enforcement
The current enforcement mechanism contained in Title 5 is flawed, but whether it is a success or a failure depends on your point of view. It has completely failed to move the system forward towards the 75% goal; the system-wide average has in fact declined from 63.1% in 1988 to 62.2% in 2004 to 59.2% in 2007. The system has never come close to achieving the 75% goal. On the other hand it has essentially maintained status quo in the face of recurring budget crises and those who would simply abolish both the goal and the enforcement. California stands in favorable contrast to the growing use of contingent faculty nationwide.

The strangest feature of the enforcement mechanism is that, exceptional circumstances aside, the formula does not actually examine a given district's percentage of credit courses taught by full-time faculty.

Instead it annually mandates an absolute number of full-time faculty positions (Faculty Obligation Number or FON13) that a district must fill. In general this number is adjusted up in line with a district's student enrollment increases. This explains the "status quo" effect noted above. But it contains no mechanism to produce a sustained increase in the actual percentage of full-time faculty. Indeed, because it does not control part-time faculty numbers, the percentage in a given district may move up and down by large amounts. In addition, a System Office accounting practice of many years has ratcheted down the full-time faculty requirement as enrollment decreased, but has not restored the requirement when enrollment recovered. Adding this effect to the original historical disparities created by the implementation of AB1725 (and earlier disparities created by the 1978 Proposition 13 property tax initiative) has resulted in enormous variations in different individual district FON requirements. Actual percentages vary, for example, from a high of 75.2% in one district to a low of 45.8% in another in 2004.

The definitions and regulations also contain a large amount of arcane detail about exactly which faculty activities are counted and when. This serves to make planning, implementation and enforcement difficult, and generally leads to considerable frustration at the colleges, the System Office and during the annual Board of Governors' debate on the topic. Further description of these frequently changing details can be found in previous Senate Rostrum articles14 (March 2004 and May 2006) or in the actual Title 5 language. But the details may easily obscure the much more important principle. Full-time faculty are vital to the success of students and institutions.

Possible Alternatives
Contrary to occasional misguided claims, the 75:25 regulations are not a full employment measure for faculty. Rather they are an attempt to preserve the minimum provision of a full-service college environment for students, complete with sufficient rich educational opportunities to promote those life-changing student-faculty interactions. They try to guarantee the presence of that "sufficient" number of full-time faculty cited in all the research. In ideal circumstances there would be no need for such regulations. But in the severely under-funded environment that makes up the past and the foreseeable future of the California community colleges, the regulations are vital to prevent further erosion of educational quality. Let us consider some alternatives that are occasionally proposed:

1. Abolish the regulations and trust that colleges will do the right thing.

This argument is most commonly heard from beleaguered college presidents and lobbyists from Association of California Community College Administrators (ACCCA). Unfortunately it is a dangerous fantasy. We already have the results of a controlled experiment to show exactly what would happen without the regulations. Since 1988, the percentage of full-time faculty teaching noncredit courses has not been regulated. In a 2006 study the Academic Senate determined the system full-time percentage to be 5% - with an astonishing 95% of noncredit courses being taught by part-time Faculty15.

In general there are too many priorities competing for local attention. Many districts received a large windfall of funds in the 2006-07 budget from equalization, noncredit rate enhancement and the general change in funding formula produced by the passage of SB 361 in 2006. But the system-wide percentage of full-time faculty decreased from 62.2% in Fall 2004 to 59.2% in Fall 2007-its sharpest decrease in twenty years. Districts did not choose to "do the right thing."

2. Revise the formula for the Faculty Obligation Number to annually increase the number a small percentage above number obtained by maintaining status quo, and then allow for the effects of time and compounding.

The faculty members of the 2005 system workgroup on 75/25 proposed such a recommendation but it was not adopted by other members of the workgroup. Without such a mathematical mechanism it seems extremely unlikely that the system will ever achieve the 75% goal.

Such an annual increase could receive targeted additional funding or could be accommodated within the regular apportionment. The 2007 system budget request included a line item for additional full-time faculty, but it was not funded.

3. Remove financial incentives to hire part-time faculty.

If it were finally to happen that part-time instructors were treated the same as full-time instructors in terms of salary, benefits and college infrastructure it might be possible to envision circumstances where decisions are made purely on educational value. Consequently, not only the 75:25 regulations, but also the somewhat related 50% law (instructional expenditures) and 60% law (part-time faculty load) might prove unnecessary. If there were no financial incentive to hire part-time faculty just because they're cheap, then it might be acceptable to trust local colleges to use their governance mechanism to agree on the correct educational course of action. This is potentially the best long-term solution, but it seems unlikely to come about in the near future.

4. Keep the current mechanism.

Until the current financial incentive to hire part-time faculty is eliminated, the necessity for regulatory enforcement to ensure the presence of sufficient full-time faculty will remain. The implementation mechanism of the current 75:25 regulation is far from perfect and some of its details might be successfully adjusted. But its elimination would be a disaster for the educational quality of our institutions and for the success of the wide variety of students they serve.

In reaching these conclusions, the Academic Senate is not adopting any new positions. Rather the intent is to widely share this document so that the history and research cited above can be used to explain and reinforce its existing adopted positions that support the fundamental value of full-time faculty.

Unless system funding dramatically improves, the current flawed enforcement mechanism (Title 5 Regulations on Faculty Obligation Number) may be the best that can pragmatically be achieved-apart perhaps from minor changes in implementation details.

As long as the status quo is the best we can do, calls from groups as diverse as legislators seeking increased "accountability", accrediting commissions, Nancy Shulock's Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy, or the Legislative Analyst's Office for significant qualitative improvement in system performance are likely to remain unachievable. No one expects K12 schools to be able to educate students with teachers who come for part of a school day and then leave. No one expects the research mission of the University of California to be met by parttime researchers with no benefits or job security. Why anyone would imagine that California's most diverse student population can be educated at qualitatively higher rates by a workforce where 40% are paid a substandard wage and enjoy no benefits or job security is hard to comprehend. On the other hand, the costs to the state of California of not doing better are even more troubling to imagine.

There is compelling evidence that students directly benefit from the educational quality provided by "sufficient" numbers of full-time faculty. At the very least, therefore, preserving the current systemwide percentage of credit courses taught by full-time faculty is essential to prevent a slide into educational mediocrity. The California community college system has long defined "sufficient" in terms of the 75% system goal but actual performance has never come close to this goal.

In general, it is likely that increasing the systemwide percentage of full-time faculty would result in the increased student success and completion cited in the research literature-particularly for under-prepared and underrepresented students. In addition, as noncredit funding increases, noncredit courses should no longer be exempt from the comparable credit standards for the percentage of full-time faculty. Noncredit students deserve the same opportunities for success as credit students.

The Academic Senate believes that the fundamental value of full-time faculty cannot be overstated, and strongly supports targeted budget requests to increase the systemwide percentage of full-time faculty to achieve the longstanding goal of 75%.

1 Chaptered language and intent are available at

2 Vincent Tinto. "Sense and Nonsense in Student Retention." Chronicle of Higher Education, 36. September 6, 1989.

3 Ernst Benjamin. "How Over-Reliance on Contingent Appointments Diminishes Faculty Involvement in Student Learning." Peer Review. Fall 2002.

4 Arthur Cohen and Florence Brawer. The American Community College, 4/e. 2002. Jossey Bass.

5 ACCJC Standards are available at

6 Karin Fischer. Chronicle of Higher Education. November 7, 2005. Article reporting a conference presentation by Ronald Ehrenberg entitled "Growing Use of Adjunct Professors May Mean Poorer Education for Students, Says Conference Speaker."

7 Daniel Jacoby and Harry Bridges. "Effects of Part-Time Faculty Employment on Community College Graduation Rates." Journal of Higher Education. November 2006.

8 Thomas R. Bailey, Davis Jenkins & D. Timothy Leinbach. Is Student Success Labeled Institutional Failure? Student Goals and Graduation Rates in the Accountability Debate at Community Colleges (Working Paper No. 1). Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University. September 2006.

9 Mark Drummond. Consultation Council, Personal Communication, April 2007.

10 Chaptered language is available at

11 Board of Governors, California Community Colleges. Position paper on Part-Time Employment. Adopted January26, 1978.

12 Chaptered as an amendment to Education Code, Section 87613. September 1987.

13 Annual faculty obligation numbers by district are available from the Chancellor's Office at

14 Available at

15 Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. The Role of Noncredit in the California Community Colleges. Fall 2006.

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.