Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Blog CXII (92): The New Status of the Article

Mike Creswell of The Florida State University was in Newport a few weeks ago—he is the author of Blog VI (6): Getting in the Door: The Graduate Admissions Process—for a conference and we had lunch during his stay here. During that conversation we got to talking about the media formats and how long they endure. The new communication technologies are affecting every media format, including old ones like book publishing. Witness the slow death of the Borders book store chain. It is also affecting journal publishing. This conversation was less boring than it sounds, because a lot of it revolved around the rise and fall of Playboy magazine.

These new technologies are proving to be both an opportunity and a challenge for a journal publishers. Subscriptions are down; many libraries—the main market for these type of publications—are cutting their budgets and one of the first things to go is the expensive journal. (The titles in history are fairly inexpensive compared to the ones in the sciences which often require very clear and detailed graphics in the form of charts and photographs.) On the other hand, profits for the publishers are up. Scholars can now buy electronic versions of single articles. For example, if you teach film theory in a communications school, you might not want to subscribe to The Journal of Cold War History just to get to an article it published on Star Trek, since the focus of the work in that publication is on diplomatic history. Now, though, you can buy that article for $6.95 instead of subscribing to the journal for $55. Subscriptions might be down but the sale of individual articles more than makes up for those loses.

Creswell also pointed out that journal articles are having more impact now than they did in the past. You can distribute an electronic version of the article to colleagues and students via e-mail faster and cheaper compared to even a few years ago when that process required photocopying.

The question then revolves around endurance. All this electronic stuff is good, but it is mighty perishable. I have made that point before in Blog LXXVIII (78): E-books: Just Say No. Books are books. They have a lot of endurance and impact. I spent the summer writing three historiographical essays for three different anthologies and it is clear that a book still has more impact than an article and will do more for a career. With that point made, this new electronic distribution format for the article makes a lot of sense; it gives you writing more breadth and speed than had been the case in the past. It is a good approach as long as libraries are also acquiring paper copies of the journal. All my previous comments about publishing still stands, but this new range and tempo is another factor to consider when you are deciding where to invest your time and energies.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blog XCI (91): Honors to the Blog, Part V

When I started this blog, I had some concrete ideas on things I wanted to say.  I figured I would say them, and then be done with the project.  All told, I figured it would take a year. Three years later, I am still at it, and the reaction to "In the Service of Clio" was not quite what I expected.  (For example, I have learned more about Roman numbering than I expected).  For the first eleven months of this blog, I was not sure anyone else was reading what I was posting.  Then, it "exploded."  The explosion is a relative thing, though.  My three year total for number of visitors is equal to the number of visits I generated in two months for a website I began in graduate school.  The quality of those visits is a different thing altogether.  The blog resulted me being part of an AHA conference panel, and through several different inputs I have learned that important movers and shakers in the history profession are reading this blog.

Every once in a while I like to take a moment to collect the tributes to this blog.  This effort might be a bit of an ego message, but working on this project has been time consuming and feedback helps in many different ways.  Some entries have taken over 120 man hours to put together.  That is in addition to my regular teaching responsibilities, the writing and publishing of two (soon to be three) new books, and the regular obligations that one has when you have a family and a house.   

Last week another small honor came my way.  I was quoted--extensively as it turns out--in The Guardian, a British newspaper.  The article "Careers for PhDs Beyond Academia; Traditional Academic Jobs are in Short Supply, but Anyone with a Doctorate has Skills they Can Take Elsewhere" written by Matthew Patridge appeared in the Friday, August 12, 2011 issue.  My views will not come as a surprise to regular readers of the blog, but I learned some things from the article about alternative employment and I hope you will as well:
Much attention has been paid to the problems graduates face in finding jobs in the current economic climate. However, spare a thought for PhD students who, especially in the humanities and social sciences, may be in an even worse position. At the heart of the problem is the adverse effect of the government's cuts on universities, traditionally the primary destination for newly-minted doctorates.

"The academic job market is extremely tight … even postdoctoral researchers and lecturers are starting to contact us about alternative careers because they are worried about their employment prospects," says Terry Jones, a careers adviser with the Careers Group, University of London.

The problem of PhD students unable to find academic jobs is a global one. Military and diplomatic historian associate professor Nicholas Sarantakes, who runs In the Service of Clio, a blog about career management for historians, predicts that "the job market is going to get worse for PhDs over the next five years. Graduate programmes are overproducing each year and the surplus is getting bigger and bigger. At the same time, colleges and universities are downsizing their faculty and increasing their workloads. Supply is increasing at the very same time that demand is decreasing".

Sarantakes is keen to encourage students to consider jobs slightly outside traditional academia, such as working as librarians. Indeed, he teaches officers at the US Naval War College. Overall, he says: "There are many different jobs that will allow them to write and research and then make the transition to a faculty position. Creative thinking is a requirement for professional advancement and there are a number of places where a PhD can work and still make contributions to their field."

Jones agrees, and believes that part-time lecturing, or teaching individual courses, can help students gain contacts they can then use to win more permanent academic positions later.

Opportunities also exist for work in the private sector. Global talent broker MBA & Company, which connects firms of all sizes and across the world with experts, currently has 286 PhDs on its books. One example is Homayoun Dayani-Fard, who has a PhD in computer science from Queen's University in Canada, and has done work for a range of clients in the financial sector, including Coutts. The PhDs are a small proportion of the 6,500 people MBA & Company represents, but founder Adam Riccoboni says: "It's an area we're seeing more growth in."

Riccoboni, author of a book Buy Me!: 10 Steps to Selling Yourself Every Time, believes there are several steps that those with doctorates can take to make themselves more attractive to potential employers. In particular, he believes it is important to combat popular negative stereotypes of PhD students as verbose, individualistic and lacking emotional intelligence.

For instance, he suggests that students emphasise the communication abilities honed while giving presentations on their research. They should take advantage of the global economy and consider a wide geographical range of employers.

Jones agrees that negative perceptions can hold job-seekers back. "Although I don't want to generalise …many employers question the commitment of those who have spent seven or more years in academia," he says.

However, he thinks that this is unfair: "In reality, research students are constantly chasing deadlines and thinking on their feet … every new line of inquiry is in effect a mini-project."

Because of this, Jones believes that those job hunting need to make it clear that they have general skills as well as subject-specific knowledge.

Sarantakes's advice is very similar. "The PhD holder needs to emphasise skill-sets obtained from the degree: writing ability, foreign languages, research skills and an ability to set long-term goals and meet them," he says. "Those are the kind of skills that banks, news publications, law firms and advertising agencies can use."

However, he remains concerned that professors and supervisors are still giving the impression that students will automatically get an academic job, "because that is what they did and that is what was done before them".
So far three people have responded to the article on The Guardian's website. Their comments are as follows:
2011: worst year to start a Ph.D. ever. Dont do it. Please.
The next one highlights some issues specific to British academia. While these issues are unique to the UK, there are very similar factors at work in the USA:
The article highlights humanities and social science postgrads, but even in the "hard" sciences the output of PhDs greatly exceeds the availability of academic jobs. In my (physics) department, noone would ever suggest otherwise to the students. The vast majority of them do go on to good jobs; whether they might have done better starting 3/4 years earlier without the PhD is hard to say.
One important measure or research excellence of a department in the forthcoming research assessment exercise is (and was in all previous ones) the number of PhDs awarded. So we are expected to encourage students to do PhDs, whether it is a good idea for them or not.
The third commentator took difference with the second:
As a recent science PhD who is not particularly hopeful about academia - It would have been worse for me to get a job after my first degree. Not for the money (which would have been better), but because I would have been denied the chance to study a subject I love for so long. It's trite to say so, but most PhD holders are not in research for the money.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Blog XC (90): Tough Times

This week’s blog entry represents a first. It reproduces three articles together. This is the first time that this blog has represented more than one article at a time. The first article is a survey of the job market for all fields in the humanities. It sets the tone and two more follow, examining the job market in fields other than history. The first article is “Outlook Grim For Prospective Professors: Disappearing Job Postings Prompt Ph.D.'s to Mull a Career Change. It appeared in the January 21, 2009 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education and the reporter who wrote it is Stacy Cowley. The sixth paragraph discusses employment prospects in history: 
The American Economic Association's job board recently sprouted a brand-new section: cancelled listings. Newly minted economics Ph.D.'s and postdocs looking for their next academic job will instead find pages and pages of frozen and suspended searches, more than 50 in all. It's the same story for classicists and archaeologists checking the American Philological Association's listings, which now start with a roster of misery—a rundown of all the positions that no longer exist. Job hopefuls in psychology, film studies, creative writing, and sociology have created wikis to swap news about spiked listings, a death register that includes opportunities at Dartmouth, Cornell, Harvard, Hofstra, Fordham, and nearly every open search in the SUNY and Cal State systems.

Never mind a hiring freeze. For those seeking jobs in academia, next year is looking more like a nuclear winter.

"Last year, about a quarter of the positions I applied for had their searches canceled, and last year's market didn't look as bad as this year's," says one aspirant, art historian Sandra Cheng. "I'm wondering how many of these positions I'm applying for are actually real."

Now a visiting assistant professor at Pratt, Cheng got her Ph.D. in May at the University of Delaware and has a résumé filled with fellowships and grants. She's seeking a traditional academic livelihood: research, travel, and teaching, at a university with tenure-track positions. But after a year of job-hunting and piecing together part-time positions, Cheng is wondering if the career she envisioned still exists.

"I do sense a permanent change," she says. "I wonder if this is the last leg for the tenure system."

At the American Historical Association's annual conference/job fair, held in New York earlier this month, researcher Sterling Fluharty presented a paper about the job market in his field with a blunt conclusion: "Job seekers in history need to think more about their employment prospects in non-academic fields." A grad student at the University of Oklahoma, Fluharty mined data and found that less than a third of those who earned a Ph.D. in history between 1966 and 1992 were tenured faculty as of 2003. Even before this year's market meltdown, the move away from offering full-time, tenured positions was accelerating. By Fluharty's calculations, within the next decade, 55 percent of all university history faculty members will be working in part-time positions.

As professionals in fields with weak demand head back to grad school to sit out the market for a bit, grad students are investigating their own options for staying out of the job fray. Katy Pearce, a third-year Ph.D. candidate in communications at the University of California Santa Barbara, had planned to wrap up her studies this year. But when she returned from a stretch of fieldwork in Armenia, she found that "everyone in my program that was expecting to go on the job market this year all bailed. They just weren't seeing anything being listed."

Pearce's program guarantees funding for up to four years, so she decided to delay graduation, focus on burnishing her publishing credentials, and hope hiring prospects in 2010 look brighter. But as schools cut back their undergraduate enrollments to bridge budget gaps, she's wondering if the demand will be there for new grad students and for professors to teach them.

"At the last conference I went to, I heard that one of the jobs that opened at Northwestern, 400 people applied for. Usually, 100 apply," she says. "So many assistant professors have gotten cut. For those of us just getting our Ph.D.'s, how can we compete against people who have already been an assistant for a year or two?"

Those odds have Cheng reconsidering her career path. She's thinking about detouring away from art history and going into academic administration—universities are businesses, and businesses always need managers to run them. But if she does stick with teaching, she'd like to land a school where she can concentrate on undergraduates. Cheng is queasy about the idea of encouraging future art historians along into a field unable to absorb them.

"For Ph.D.'s in the humanities market, it's almost like we really shouldn't make any more, because there's such a backlog of doctorates floating around out there and we don't have the jobs," she says. "The programs want more grad students to keep their departments floating, but is it really ethical, I wonder?"
The next article is about a group of scholars that should have known better, economists. The article “Job Market for Economists Turns ... Dismal” appeared in the February 10, 2009 issue of The Wall Street Journal. The author is Justin Lahart:
The dismal economy has claimed yet another victim: jobs for the economists who study it.

Columbia University's economics department, for example, isn't making any new hires this year. That's in stark contrast to last year, when Columbia poached eight economics professors from other schools, and hired one economist out of graduate school. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Amherst College and the University of Minnesota all have suspended their searches for economics professors. And Harvard University has gotten permission to hire just one person -- only after "many rounds of negotiation," according to Harvard economist Lawrence Katz, who is handling recruiting this year. Typically, Harvard hires two or three economics professors out of graduate school.

Among newly minted economics Ph.D.s, jobs at top-ranked universities and business schools are the most sought after. Economists have also traditionally found more lucrative jobs outside of academia: at government agencies, at nongovernmental organizations, like the International Monetary Fund, and in the private sector. But with the financial crisis, economist jobs at hedge funds and Wall Street firms have dried up, leaving schools with more candidates to choose from.

The rollback comes at a historic time, as economists struggle to explain the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The crisis, which few economists saw coming, revealed deep gaps in many of the standard ways that economics approaches the economy, driving home the need for fresh thinking and talent.

But like just about everyone else, top universities have been hit hard by financial-market turmoil over the past year, and from anthropology to zoology, department budgets are getting cut. The endowments at private schools have suffered billions of dollars in investment losses. Public universities have seen meager growth in state spending on higher education, with many facing the prospect of large budget cuts.

Economics departments are a prime target for cuts -- especially since economics professors are costly compared to their counterparts in other departments. Indeed, universities have been willing to pay a premium for faculty members who can often fetch much better salaries at high-paying business schools and in the private sector. The average annual salary schools paid new economist hires was $86,292 for the 2008-09 academic, according to a University of Arkansas business school survey.

Economics has been a growing field in recent years. Undergraduate enrollment in economics courses surged in the late 1990s into the early part of this decade, just as a glut of economists who went to graduate school in the Vietnam War years reached retirement. That led many schools to beef up their hiring, which in turn has made the dropoff in hiring this year even more of a shock.

"Everyone understands that there are fewer jobs than last year, and it could be significantly fewer," said Oleg Itskhoki, a Harvard graduate student. Mr. Itskhoki whose academic work focuses on the interaction between global trade, wage inequality and unemployment, says that students won't really know the state of the market until the bulk of offer letters come out over the next month or so. Universities tend to do most of their hiring in the spring.

Young economists at major universities often have light teaching duties, and they devote most of their time to research as they try to string together the journal publications that they need to make tenure. Getting to make money while pursuing research in an academic setting is exactly what many graduate students would like to do with their lives. Three out of five graduate students hoped to work at a major university, according to a survey conducted by Middlebury College economist David Colander between 2001 and 2003.

The Fed in a New Light
One result of weak academic market for economists is that an institution that has often had a tough time competing for talent is suddenly looking brighter. The Federal Reserve, the lender of last resort, isn't quite the employer of last resort, but Mr. Colander's survey showed only one in five graduate students hopes to work at a policy-making institution like the Fed.

"I'm hopeful about the job market that we'll be able to get good people this year," said an official involved in the recruiting process at the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors. "We've got important work for them to do."

While the Fed may be able to recruit higher-caliber economists this year, it doesn't have the budget flexibility to beef up hiring. Over each of the past several years, it's taken on between 15 and 20 new hires, with a mix of new Ph.D.s and experienced economists, and this year expects to hire about the same number.

Employment prospects are a bit brighter at some business schools, such as Columbia Business School and the Wharton School. That's because they aren't as dependent on large endowments, relying more on tuition. "We are hiring in economics, and we are hoping for it to be a good year for us," said Columbia Business School Vice Dean Christopher Mayer. Despite a plunge in its endowment, Yale University's economics department also still plans to make a few hires, said department head Christopher Udry.

In their graduation year, economics graduate students prepare what's known as their job-market paper -- typically the best of the multiple papers that make up their dissertation -- sending it out to schools and other institutions looking to hire. After that first cut, they'll go to interviews at the American Economic Association's annual meeting at the beginning of the year -- a grueling four days where top prospects may go through 35 to 40 interviews. The last stage is "flyouts," where candidates visit schools to hobnob with the faculty and present their job-market papers before the department. Privately, students say even qualified candidates went through just a fraction of the usual number of interviews this year, and some schools have canceled flyouts.

Supply and Demand
Economists, being economists, use economic terms when they talk about the job market. Graduate students on the hunt are the "supply side," while the departments doing the hiring are on the "demand side."

The tightening of that demand side is bringing out the worst in candidates, Ph.D. students say. On a message board dedicated to this year's market (www.econjobrumors.com), anonymous posters are trashing their competition and and taking potshots at this year's top prospects.

The young economists have ample reasons to worry about what the weak job market will mean for them. Economists have written dozens of papers about the job market for economists. One by Stanford University business school economist Paul Oyer showed that economists hired into tight job markets end up not getting the top-tier job they would have landed in flush times. Its conclusion: Those economists tend to have less-productive careers. Knowledge like that makes competition for the remaining top-tier slots all the more intense.

"It's a pretty simple algorithm we use," said Yale graduate student Santosh Anagol, who is on the job market this year. "Everybody wants the highest-quality academic job." Mr. Anagol's recent research studies the economic role of livestock in rural India. His job-market paper studies how differing levels of information between buyers and sellers affect the market for cows.

Schools actually making hires this year face the difficult problem of figuring out how many offers they need to make to fill their slots. In most years, they'll assume that some of the people they make offers to will turn them down to take jobs at other schools. This year, said Princeton University economist Markus Brunnermeier, "the expectation is that more people will accept since they won't get any other offers."

Fortunately, Princeton's economics department includes some leading game theorists who should be able to figure out just what the optimal number of job offers will be.
The final article appeared a year later in the January 8, 2011 issue of the Los Angeles Times. Larry Gordon, the author of this article, focuses on the plight of language scholars, and it shows that little changed in that time. Here is the article “Language Scholars Feel the Pinch of Hard Times; At Annual Convention, 8,000 Compare Notes on the Economy's Effects on Education”:
As 8,000 literature and language professors and scholars gathered in Los Angeles for their annual convention this week, a lot of metaphors were tossed about to describe what many feel is the besieged state of their careers and classrooms during the recession.

Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Assn. of America, likened the job market for humanities faculty and students to a "low plateau" and said those in the field face crowded classrooms, program reductions and work furloughs at the nation's cash-strapped colleges and universities.

"The humanities are under greater pressure right now than they would be in economically better times," said Feal, whose organization began its four-day meeting at the Los Angeles Convention Center and a nearby hotel on Thursday.

The problem, she said, may be partly the result of a misconception that English and foreign language studies do not prepare students for a range of careers. "Humanities are just as practical as any other majors," Feal said, especially during hard times when people need to be nimble about switching jobs.

The convention, the organization's 126th such meeting, combines a giant job fair for literature, linguistics, writing and foreign language professors with the chance to present academic papers and hear about the fields' latest research.

It also allows, for example, professors of medieval Spanish and experts on the novels of Philip Roth to mingle and swap tales of difficult deans and publishing triumphs.

The gathering has sometimes been lampooned as a festival of the politically correct and arcane. This week's 821 seminars include such topics as "Ha, Ha Hungary: Humor in Hungarian Film and Literature," "From Victim to Heroine: Redefining Female Detective Fiction Across Cultures" and "Refiguring Romance: Idioms of Love and Death in Old Norse Literature."

But the economy's effect on college life was a recurrent theme in sessions under the common heading "The Academy in Hard Times." A mixture of pride and defensiveness about teaching was evident, along with anger about what many participants called unnecessary budget slashing, particularly at state colleges and universities.

At one session, UC Santa Barbara English professor Christopher Newfield presented a scenario he said could come to pass a decade from now. In his vision, college students, families and professors will become disgusted by continuing tuition increases, declines in state funding for higher education and what Newfield described as the subsidies undergraduate fees now provide to corporate-linked scientific research.

The antipathy could lead, he predicted, to an "unbundling of universities," resulting in smaller "bootleg" schools seceding from bigger institutions. Such schools, he said, could charge much lower tuition and specialize in undergraduate teaching and the humanities without the costs of big-ticket research and sports.

Newfield said he would prefer that big universities reform themselves and treat undergraduates more fairly. But if that does not happen, he called for a move away from centralization and back to "craft mastery and intellectual independence."

At a seminar called "Teaching American Literature in an Age of Scarcity," Stephanie Foote, an English professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana, drew a connection between writer Henry James' glacially paced 1904 novel "The Golden Bowl" and the recession's effect on current college students.

Foote said that so many of her students take on jobs to pay tuition or to help their families that they have less time than earlier generations to read the longer works of the classic writers she teaches. In addition, the Internet and such short-form communication tools as Twitter have reduced students' attention span, she said. So Foote has substituted shorter books, such as James' "The Spoils of Poynton," which is about half the length of the 592-page "The Golden Bowl."

"They feel terrible when they can't do all the work," she said of her students. "This way, they can get a sense of how that [James] narrative works, but I know they can actually do it."

Throughout the convention, the weak job market was on many people's minds.

Matching Feal's "low plateau" description, the organization reported that the number of faculty job openings in English and foreign languages across the country was about the same as last year after two years of the steepest declines in four decades.

The 2,120 expected openings are nearly 40% below the numbers in 2007-08.

At the same time, the number of doctorates awarded in English is declining, a possible sign that graduate students are seeking careers in fields that offer greater job security.

The tough economy also is causing literature and other humanities departments to defend themselves against cutbacks on campuses around the nation, said Dartmouth College professor Donald Pease, who teaches American literature.

But such classes should not be justified only with arguments about students' employability, he emphasized.

"If you don't begin with the assumption that literature itself is a repository of human values that human beings need, then we lose everything," he said.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Blog LXXXIX (89): Growth Industry

The poor economy is affecting all parts of society, education included. We are aware of some of the more basic issues, but one of the ones that has not seen a lot of attention is that community colleges are experiencing enormous growth right now. The article “High Enrollment Strains Two-Year Colleges” by Kevin Helliker appeared in February 9, 2011 issue of The Wall Street Journal. Since community colleges are growing, many new Ph.D.s should consider looking for work at these type of institutions. There are problems with this growth, though, as the article makes clear:
Community colleges, long regarded as the most accessible realm of higher education, are becoming more difficult to access thanks to record enrollments combined with belt-tightening by state legislatures.

A jump in enrollment helps to explain why Miguel Morales failed to get a seat in intermediate algebra this spring at Johnson County Community College in suburban Kansas City, Kan.

"You used to be able to wait until the last moment," said Mr. Morales, a 43-year-old part-time student at JCCC, where enrollment has reached new heights the past two years. "But it's getting to where you have to go online at three in the morning to get a spot in some classes." (A JCCC spokeswoman said few if any classes close out in a matter of hours.)

In a survey to be released Wednesday by the Pearson Foundation, a nonprofit educational think tank in Mill Valley, Calif., about 20% of 1,434 community college students interviewed in November reported difficulty enrolling in required courses for the fall semester. About one in three had trouble winning a spot in desired classes.

Those problems are mild next to enrollment caps that could be imposed in California and possibly other states. Budget cuts in California could force its community-college system—the biggest collegiate system in the U.S., serving about 2.76 million students—to turn away about 350,000 applicants next year.

"It's disturbing," said Thomas Bailey, director of Columbia University's Community College Research Center in New York City. But given cost constraints, "community colleges need to figure out some way of limiting their enrollment."

Like more expensive four-year state schools, community colleges rely on tuition and state money. They keep tuition low to be more accessible, but that means states subsidize a larger share of student costs; in the current economy, states are looking to limit spending.

Meanwhile, graduation and retention rates at junior colleges are lower than at four-year schools. The Pearson Foundation survey suggests that community-college students are less likely to establish a relationship with their schools, perhaps exacerbating the high dropout rates. In the survey, 74% of those who dropped out said they never discussed their intention to quit with an instructor or adviser.

The limits of community colleges have received little attention as politicians ranging from state governors to President Barack Obama have praised the two-year schools as a vehicle for increasing the number of Americans with advanced degrees.

Amid the recession, the percentage of high school graduates bypassing four-year colleges for two-year colleges has jumped.

In California, an admissions system that favors students who are already enrolled could make it difficult for incoming freshmen to win spots in classes. That has given rise to a proposal to place perennial students—those who accumulate credit after credit without ever graduating—at the back of the line.

Some educational experts are skeptical that community colleges will ever serve as an effective bridge to baccalaureate degrees. While the new Pearson Foundation survey and other polls consistently show a majority of community college entrants aiming for a four-year degree, a recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that fewer than 12% of students who entered a two-year school in 2004 had a baccalaureate degree by 2009.

"Unless two-year colleges substantially improve their success at getting their graduates into four-year colleges and universities, the end result will be a substantial decline in baccalaureate degree attainment rates in future years," said Thomas G. Mortenson, an analyst for a think tank called Postsecondary Education Opportunity, wrote in a 2009 research paper and reiterated in a recent interview.

Many community colleges are scrambling to accommodate demand. Even with a tight budget, Johnson County Community College has added classes. Some junior colleges have added midnight courses to meet demand. A space crunch at CUNY, the New York City system of six community colleges, has led to a waiting list and creation of a one-month winter term for core classes.

To many in community-college administration, accessibility remains a near-sacred obligation. While conditions are more crowded at CUNY, for instance, a spokesman said, "Our two-year schools are open-admission institutions. They accept students who have high school diplomas."

Columbia's Dr. Bailey said some community colleges are considering establishing an academic bar. "They're saying, 'Maybe we should set a floor—a certain level of skills you need to have' " to win admittance.