JOE GARCIA: Adjunct instructors critical to Colorado community colleges training tomorrow’s workforce


EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this column incorrectly attributed it to Jordan Garcia, we apologize and regret the mistake. The column was written by Joe Garcia, as indicated.

Across the state, Coloradans who have found success in their careers are teaching the next generation to follow in their footsteps.

Many of these part-time adjunct community college instructors don’t give up their day jobs – their commitment is around five hours a week, including preparation, for one class – and they are paid for teaching, which supplements what they make in their chosen careers.

They also earn the satisfaction of knowing they’re helping to train the workforce of the future, supporting Colorado’s students and professionals and providing a pipeline of new talent in their industries.

Don Garretson, who researches emerging issues like the impact of electric vehicles and consumer solar panels in his job as a pricing consultant at Xcel Energy, also teaches economics as an adjunct instructor at Community College of Denver.

“Helping students ‘think economically’ is my way of giving back,” explains Garretson. He adds that his work with Xcel enables him to provide “real-time” instruction that incorporates current issues while his students provide a “feedback loop” that informs his work for Xcel.

Colorado’s community colleges serve the state’s fastest-growing student population, providing more than 1,000 programs to over 121,000 students annually. The colleges provide them pathways to earn a credential, degree, or transfer to a four-year college.

Community college students include those with limited economic resources, ethnic and racial minorities, refugees, veterans, working parents, first-generation students, and many others who are not well served by more traditional and more expensive four-year institutions.

As our economy relies more and more on those with higher education and skills training, we are the colleges that will equip these students for success in the future – and we need talented members of our business community to join us in this mission.

By teaching one to two courses a semester or even just a segment of a course, in the classroom or online, adjunct instructors have the opportunity to shape minds, while continuing to pursue a career in their field.

Many people in our workforce have the qualifications to be an adjunct instructor but may not realize it. Depending on the courses being taught, instructors may be only required to have a bachelor’s degree – or no college degree at all for certain classes in technical education.

They also might not know how rewarding the experience can be. Because they see community college as a practical step towards a rewarding career, our students typically show up eager to learn and hungry for real-world insight.

Even those without teaching experience will find the support necessary to succeed as an adjunct instructor. Adjunct instructors receive assistance and encouragement from other faculty members and college staff, as well as professional development opportunities. In fact, 86% of our instructors participate in professional development activities where they teach.

As experts in their field, adjunct instructors also can mentor students; they can even identify their organization’s next new hires.

By collaborating with our business community and increasing our adjunct instructor base, we want to enhance opportunities for our students and better prepare the workforce of today and tomorrow. That supports the students, employers and the state’s economy, which depends on a skilled population.

Joe Garcia is chancellor of the Colorado Community College System, the state’s largest system of higher education.