I’ve spent most of my career teaching at community colleges. I took that route mostly because it was what was best for my family at the time, but also because I eventually became more interested in teaching than I did research. I've never regretted the decision. I love my job, I'd like to think I'm pretty good at it, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
That said, I totally get the stigma associated with two-year schools. Community colleges will let anyone in, so long as they either have the money or can qualify for financial aid. Some students are looking for a two-year or technical degree, some are here because they’re trying to make up for some huge mistakes in a past life, and some are here just for kicks.
Basically this, only less photogenic
Community colleges don’t just train people for technical or blue collar work, though, and they really haven’t in a long, long time. In fact, I’ve spent nearly my entire career teaching the “science majors” general chemistry courses, plus some organic chemistry now and then, courses that are almost exclusively taken by transfer students. A few of them are actual science majors (biology or chemistry), but the bulk of them are hoping to go into some type of medical field (nursing, physical therapy, etc).
Some schools, particularly medical and dental schools, have a long standing prejudice against community college science classes. I’ve heard—from people that I trust—that UNC’s and Wake Forest’s med schools won’t accept science classes taken at a community colleges. I couldn’t find this at UNC’s web site, but Wake Forest’s clearly states that, “course work from community colleges is strongly discouraged because of the difficulty in adequately assessing the quality of that preparation.”
Look, I was a student for ten years at two major universities during the 90’s…
Sorry, that happens a lot these days...
Anyway, trust me, just because a person is brilliant and does cutting edge research doesn’t mean they can teach worth a damn. The percentage of bad chemistry teachers at four-year schools is at least on par with those at community colleges, especially if you factor in teaching assistants. At a two-year school, the instructor usually does lecture and lab. At a university, labs and recitations are almost always done by a graduate student who’s had zero to little teaching experience. Even back when I was an undergrad during the pre-internet 90’s (yes, I’m old…piss off) it took less than a semester for you to learn which TA’s gave out A’s like candy on Halloween.
And occassionally, my teaching schedule will require some of my labs to be taught by an adjunct, but since lecture and lab are part of a single course they're essentially serving as a teaching assistant for my class. However, they still have to meet the same minimum requirments as any other adjunct we hire (Master's degree with at least 18 graduate hours in the discipline). Basically, this means that the community college I work at has stricter requirements for TA's than UNC's or Wake's chemistry department.
I’m not saying there aren’t some graduate school TA's who actually care if students learned anything, no more than I’m saying there aren’t some university professors who actually enjoy the teaching part of their job. But if medical schools are going to question the quality of educators at two-year schools versus four-year schools, they might want to remember which group actually had to do a teaching demonstration as part of their job interview.