ADRIENNE P. SAMUELS
Most of the college's senior staff will retire in the next decade. To ensure its future, the school is devoting about $108,000 to educating 30 teachers.
Almost every provost, senior vice president and vice president at St. Petersburg College is expected to retire within the next 10 years.
This potential brain drain has prompted SPC to finance the first 18 credit hours of doctorate degree course work at the University of Florida for 30 of its employees. The move could cost close to $108,000.
"When you have the massive number of people that we're going to have retiring, if you don't fill some of those slots with your own people, you'll lose some institutional history," said Carol Copenhaver, senior vice president of educational and student services. "We just decided we needed to do some succession planning and get a group of people who would be qualified to lead."
After completion of the 18 hours, several faculty members received a certificate of leadership at the May meeting of the SPC board of trustees. Until that point, that cohort of faculty traveled to UF to complete part of their higher education administration degrees. From here on, they must pay for the degree on their own. SPC does not promise cohort members a job when the college's more senior faculty retire.
But the degree has its benefits. A faculty member with a master's who earns 30 credit hours of graduate work is eligible for a 10 percent raise. When the doctorate is completed, the person is eligible for another 10 percent raise.
It's enough to pay for the degree, said Julie Adamich, an online accounting instructor who earned her Ph.D in 2001.
"It's probably the best thing I ever did professionally, and personally, it was a very positive experience," said Adamich, who was able to schedule classes around her children's activities. "My college worked well with USF, so it was a very practical education that benefited not only myself but the college as well."
SPC boasts that 23 percent of its faculty possess Ph.Ds, many of them teaching in the community college's burgeoning bachelor's degree programs. Many of these teachers prefer SPC over a four-year research university because they can make the same or higher salary as some professors at a school like the University of South Florida.
The average community college professor makes $50,998 a year, but at SPC, that figure ranges from $48,221 for a professor with a bachelor's degree to the mid $60,000s for one with a doctorate.
Compare that with an assistant professor at USF, who averages $48,987 but can make as much as $77,300 if he or she becomes a full professor - a process that requires about six years of work and tenure.
Community college professors don't have to do research or publish any papers - a facet of the job that attracts many of them to the system.
To make up for that, community college professors teach more classes than the average university professor. The quality of education doesn't increase with a Ph.D, although instructors are able to bring more depth to the discussion, some of the professors said.
"The quality is already there," said Matt Basham, program director for the CISCO network academy and a member of the most recent cohort of faculty. "The Ph.D is just designed to help you identify any potential weaknesses and sharpen them, especially in the leadership area."
Despite the fact that a Ph.D is not required to be on staff at SPC, school officials said they are proud to be one of a small number of community colleges taking steps to ensure its future.
"In academia, that's just a standard that we all shoot for," Copenhaver said.
- Adrienne Samuels can be reached at 727 445-4157 or at email@example.com