A Study of Early College Faculty Perceptions in selected

Western North Carolina Community Colleges


The Early College (EC) program enrolls high school students in classes on community college campuses, thereby enabling them to simultaneously earn credits toward a high school diploma and an associate’s degree.  High school students attend classes taught by either a community college instructor, or a high school teacher with a special assignment on the community college campus.  This study explored the perspectives of Early College faculty on selected Western North Carolina community colleges.  Our first purpose was to discover what changes community college instructors' have made to their instructional approaches, now that they are teaching high school age students.  The second was to study how high school teachers’ felt about teaching on a community college campus.


Fourteen community college (CC) faculty in were interviewed for this study. The following questions were asked:


1.         How has the presence of Early College students in your class changed the way you teach?

2.         What plans are you making to change what you do in the classroom?

3.         How do you feel about being a community college instructor, now that high        school students are in your classes? 

Of these fourteen, 6 are male and 8 are female; five taught core academic subjects, 2 taught physical education, 4 taught career technical subjects, and 3 taught study skills.

The following questions were asked of fifteen high school teachers working in Early College programs at the same Western North Carolina community colleges:


1.         How has teaching on the Community College campus, instead of in a public school, changed the way you teach?

2.         What plans are you making to change what you do in the classroom?

3.         How do you feel about being a high school teacher on a community college        campus?   


Of these fifteen, 4 are male and 11 are female.  They all taught academic subjects -- English, math, science, or social studies. 





Reports of Community College Faculty


1.       How has the presence of EC students in your class changed the           way you teach?


THEME #1: Of the fourteen interviewees, ten initially said they had not changed their classroom instruction, but nine went on to describe ways in which they modified instructional methods.


When initially asked about changes in the way they teach, four interviewees said administrators expected them to make sure they keep college level courses at the college level.  This idea was best expressed by the interviewee who said, “I haven’t changed my teaching at all. The idea behind this program is college credit, college level classes, college level work.”


As interviewees were prompted, however, nine of them said they made changes as a result of EC students being in their classrooms.  They described changes that included additional guidance, instructions for assignments, structure, and time on task. Several interviewees said they often reminded EC students about staying on task and completing assignments.


One interviewee said, “Adult learners would not need so much guidance.”


Another said, “I also feel like I have to really explain things more--go more in depth on the point of a particular assignment.”


A third said, “I developed a more detailed schedule outlining due dates and expectations. I call it ‘more structured than usual.’”


A fourth said, “I feel they need structure and I’m providing that for these students.”


A fifth said, “(I) provide more instructional time to get the concept across.”


A sixth interviewee said, “I find myself reminding the students about assignments more than I normally would.”



THEME #2: Many faculty said they changed their instructional delivery after seeing how EC students behaved in class. 


Community College instructors described ways in which EC students behave differently from CC students.  Several said in-class behaviors of EC students caused them to change how they deliver instruction.   


One interviewee said there was “too much chattering.”


Another said they were “energetic” in comparison with CC students.


A third said “physical movement and talking” was a problem.


A fourth said there was “a lot of wiggle” in the EC students.


A fifth commented that the EC students were more “giggly” than CC students.


Finally, one interviewee said, “They just get unruly and I have to work for about 15 minutes to get them back on topic.”


Interviewees said these types of behaviors caused them to alter teaching methods in an effort to reduce distractions.



THEME #3:  Instructors met resistance as they promoted interaction across the two groups of students. 


Several faculty noticed that EC and CC students interacted primarily with their age peers.  Eight interviewees commented on this pattern of social behavior.  One interviewee said, “They work and travel in a ‘pod community’ with a lot of support for each other.  I work to break up this ‘pod’ to mix with the other students in the class.”


Another said, “I found the EC group to be a tight community of students.  They come to class as a group and sit together as a group.”


A third said, “My experience is, this first time, with the resentment between the age groups; so next time I will mix the groups so they would have to work together, which will show that they all are there to learn and get to know one another.”


A fourth instructor said, “some of the interactions between the college students and high school students were bordering on violence.”



THEME #4: Several instructors appreciated EC students’ desire to take advantage of the program. 


Four interviewees said the EC students’ motivation and drive reflected their commitment to the program.


One said, “They are respectful, and they are really trying.”


A second said, “They are very attentive and they are good students. I would say for the most part the students that I am working with are very bright.”


A third said, “The students realize they are in a unique situation and they try to take advantage of it.”


A fourth said, “These students bring a different dynamic to the class.  They are full of energy and want to learn.  They are excited about everything.  They are not afraid to ask questions.”



THEME #5:  Instructors altered classroom activities because of EC students’ immaturity.    


Interviewees reported that course delivery and content were affected by the lack of life experience among EC students.  Several said they adjusted their lessons because EC students didn’t fully understand certain course content. 


One interviewee said, “Students may not understand the concept or have the life experience to deal with the content.”


Another said, “I’m changing some of the examples I give to make the book work seem more relevant.” 


A third said, “My attitude is that they need more emotional support along with their academic support than the older people would.”


A fourth interviewee said that a lack of experience among the EC students was detrimental to CC students. Concerning group work that required EC students to work with CC students, one interviewee said, “the need to understand each others’ realities and talk and learn and determine how you are going to problem solve -- this is what I asked. Because I don’t think the early college students were really getting it. They didn’t understand why it was creating anxiety for the older students who could meet and who were real grade conscious.”


2.                 What plans are you making to change what you do in the classroom?


THEME #6: Faculty are planning to more fully explain course expectations and requirements to EC students.


Twelve interviewees described the changes they were considering.  Similar to responses to the first question, their plans focused on communicating expectations more clearly, making more obvious connections for the students, addressing group dynamics between CC and EC students, and making changes in course content.


One interviewee said, “I feel they need structure.” 


Another said, “I am going to do a better job getting the kids to understand what a syllabus is.” 


A third said he will “create a bit more structure in terms of more day-to-day activities, like quizzes and things to try to beef-up that part of the course.”


A fourth said she would “take time up front and talk about the final project.”  This same person added that “barriers to [EC students] meeting outside of class” did not occur to her at the beginning of the semester.  She learned that some EC students were not able to drive, which made them dependent on their families.   


A fifth said, “I would want to redesign the course so that I could help maybe incorporate more of their high school class assignments into the course and make it more directly beneficial.”


A sixth said she would “design assignments so students see an immediate application for what they are learning.” 


A seventh said she was “working more with the early college coordinator to set up field trips” as a way to connect the students to the course. 


An eighth said, “I will participate with the kids during class activity.  Set example through modeling positive behavior and get to know the students’ interests and relate to them to establish a connection.” 


A ninth said, “…next time I will mix the groups so they would have to work together which will show that they all are there to learn and get to know one another.”


A tenth said, “I have been tweaking since minute one. I am adjusting through Blackboard, modifying my expectations. You just have to, even though you rather not, you just have to modify the expectation for the early college kids.  I sometimes have to go into the question pool and remove things that require a higher reading level.”


An eleventh compared his changes to those that a basketball coach would make. “Start with fundamental drills. Rather than running that day we will work on drills. The students said they were unable to perform certain skills so I am going to back-up and have them work on skills.”


A twelfth said, “…I would have to change the course entirely because it is geared toward adult students primarily, who have more life experiences.”



THEME #7: Conversely, two instructors had no plans for instructional changes.


One interviewee said, “I am not planning to change what I do in the classroom. The reason that the high school students are here is to take harder classes and so I have to stay with what I have been teaching.”


Another said, “there would not be any wholesale changes and we are very cognizant of what we are doing and will continue to do what we are supposed to do.”  However, this interviewee did say, “I have to see what will happen by the end of the semester.”




3.       How do community college instructors feel about being on a      campus with EC students?


THEME #8:  Community college faculty expressed a wide range of feelings about their experiences in the EC program.


A sub-theme was expressed by instructors whose feelings emerged from the extent to which they had participated in the program planning and implementation.  Feelings ranged from rejuvenation to resentment. 


One interviewee said, “The students have rejuvenated my wanting to teach again.”


Another said, “I enjoy it, I view it as a positive challenge.  I consider it [teaching in the Early College] time well spent.”


A third said, “I like the dynamics that these young fresh students bring to the classroom.”


Conversely, one interviewee said, “I hope I never have to do only a whole class of high school students again.”


Whether or not instructors were involved in planning or implementing the EC program seemed to shape their responses. An interviewee who was involved said, “I feel a great deal of influence.  I think we know what we are trying to accomplish.”


An interviewee who was not involved said, “Let’s just say I did not have a say into this matter.  I come to work and they tell me what I will teach.”


Another instructor expressed similar resentment, “I didn’t sign up for it.  It was either do this or else, and I wanted to stay working.”




THEME #9:  Attitudes toward working with adolescents affected instructors’ feelings about the Early College program.


Interviewees with a negative perception of adolescents questioned EC placement within CC programs.  One interviewee said, “I feel frustrated because I don’t feel the students have enough maturity to be taking a course like this. . .”


Another said, “I’m not a high school teacher and would never want to be one.”


With the addition of the early college program, some interviewees felt overwhelmed trying to meet the needs of younger students. One said, “By bringing in 14-year-olds with skill ranges across the continuum, [you are] adding another dimension to what diversity we already have.  [It] is stretching the band a little tighter.”


Interviewees with positive attitudes toward working with adolescents exhibited positive feelings towards the program.  One interviewee said, “It has reaffirmed my belief that these students are capable; it is just a matter of motivation.  [I] try to be as positive as possible.”


Reports of High School Faculty



1.  How has teaching on the Community College campus changed the way you teach?


High school teachers said that teaching in the EC program was different from teaching in a traditional high school.  Two themes emerged about the instructional changes they were able to make.  Teachers said they took a more student-centered approach and they used more active learning strategies.    



THEME #1: Teachers took a student-centered approach. 


Small class sizes enabled teachers to give more individual attention to students. One interviewee said, “I get to give the students a lot more individual attention and I do less lecturing than I might do in a traditional high school.  I am more of a facilitator.  I am helping guide the students to find their own answers.”


In this approach interviewees said they were able to accommodate “different learning styles,” giving students “more wiggle room,” and using “problem solving approaches and more real world examples.”



THEME #2: Teachers use more active learning strategies.


A second theme was that teachers said they used more active learning strategies. Interviewees described this teaching approach with the words, “project-based learning,” “more hands-on projects,” “more group projects,” “more class projects” and “real life applications.” 


One interviewee said, “I tried to offer more variety and creativity, but know the focus is on the project and interaction with the kids. It is more of an exposure to the task and resources but they are actually learning the content opposed to me providing content through worksheets, books and then them responding.”



2.  What plans are you making to change what you do in the classroom?         


Teachers’ said they were planning to increase the number of project-based units, and to learn more about technology, alternative instructional deliveries, and course content outside their disciplines. 


THEME #3: Teachers are planning to increase their reliance on project-based units.


One interviewee said, “I’m going to do PBL (Project-Based Learning) for real.”

Another said, “I want to think more thematically about my units….and do some team teaching.”


A third said, “Probably in trying to make things more interactive, [I will] step back from the lecture.”


THEME #4: Teachers said they wanted to learn more -- about using technology, various instructional deliveries, and course content outside their own discipline. 


One interviewee said, “I want to incorporate new technology.  I’m taking an online development course.”


Another said, “I also plan to do more hands on activities and incorporate more technology so that kids can even begin to develop their own experiments.”


A third said, “…I need to work harder at utilizing the literacy strategies that we’ve been taught.”


A fourth said, “I plan to make some changes in lesson presentation.  I see how these students can go more in depth with the material….and need to be more challenged.”


A fifth said, “[I want to] …make the learning relevant to the real world.”


A sixth said, “I need to learn a whole lot more.  If I’m going to develop programs that are cross curricular I am going to have to know more about those fields or better yet know how to access those people who can come in and fill in the gaps.”



3.       How do you feel about being a high school teacher on a community college campus?   


Thirteen of fifteen teachers expressed positive feelings about working on a community college campus.


THEME #5:  EC programs provided opportunities not available at traditional high schools.


Interviewees had positive feelings toward this program.  They said they: 


(1) experienced a positive working environment.

(2) felt appreciated by the administration.

(3) were expected to be creative.

(4) and experienced a high level of classroom autonomy. 


One interviewee said, “It’s been a positive experience, in an engaging atmosphere.”   This teacher enjoyed working with students who were more like college students than high school students.


Another said, “It is different. Smaller class sizes, community based, the approach to learning makes it more fun to teach; and having a staff that works so well together, like ours, makes it more interesting.”


Nine interviewees felt they were appreciated by the administration, which meant less stress and more effectiveness in the classroom.  They also expressed hope for the future.


One interviewee summed up the feelings of many: “I get to teach in a way that I have always wanted.  It is wonderful. We are not distracted by sports or any other thing that goes on in the traditional high school.”



THEME #6:  Collegial relationships led to positive attitudes about the program.


Ten interviewees said they appreciated the opportunities to interact with colleagues and administrators.  One said, “I collaborate a lot more with my fellow high school teachers now -- more so than in a public school setting.”


Seven interviewees said they liked the relationships they had developed with community college staff.  One said it was “great” and talked about the willingness of the CC instructors to openly communicate with colleagues.


Several talked about how fun it was to teach because staffs worked well together.  In reference to the camaraderie that had developed among a group of faculty and staff, one interviewee fondly labeled their EC group “the Island of Misfit toys.”


Collegial relationships were described by one interviewee, who said: “I feel honored. I feel very grateful to have this job. This is the way all schools should be. The college faculty has been wonderful in making us feel welcome.”