Special Audit Chides California Community Colleges for Using Faculty Funds to Hire Part-timers

California's community colleges do not employ enough full-time faculty and, in some cases, districts are using state funds allocated for those faculty to instead hire part-time instructors, according to a report from California's state auditor.

The audit, ordered last year by state lawmakers, probed hiring practices for full-time faculty at four community college districts: Foothill-De Anza, Kern, Los Rios and San Diego. Auditors also reviewed how those districts have spent state dollars, including $100 million provided by the Legislature in 2021 to help districts hire more full-time faculty.

California has had a longstanding goal that 75% of community college classes should be taught by full-time faculty, but the audit found that the districts are falling well short of that. In the San Diego district, just 50% of instruction is taught by full-time faculty. The district with the highest share, Sacramento-based Los Rios, was still only at 63%.

The auditors say the chancellor's office should provide more oversight when it comes to how districts are spending state dollars allocated for full-time faculty.

One of the districts reviewed by the auditors, Foothill-De Anza, spent those dollars on part-time faculty, according to the audit. The other districts left money unspent or couldn't prove they were spending it on full-time faculty.

Evan Hawkins, executive director of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, said in an interview Friday that the audit findings were “unfortunately what we expected.”

“We did the audit for a reason,” Hawkins said. “We had heard from our local members that the full-time faculty funding that had been allocated was not actually going to full-time faculty hiring. And that's what the audit showed.”

For years, the state's system of 116 community colleges has relied heavily on part-time faculty, who are less expensive for districts to hire than full-time faculty. There are nearly 37,000 of them across the college system, accounting for two-thirds of instructors. An EdSource investigation last year found that in 35 of the state's 73 community college districts, part-timers make up 70% or more of teaching ranks.

The audit further found that the colleges aren't doing enough to hire racially and ethnically diverse faculty and urges the chancellor’s office to work harder to verify that districts are using best practices in their hiring, such as implementing equal employment opportunity practices.

Just 18% of faculty identify as Hispanic, compared with 47% of community college students, according to the audit. The share of Black faculty, however, is representative of the student body: 5.9% of all faculty, while Black students are 5.4% of the student body.

The audit was published as the state chancellor's office got a new leader. Sonya Christian, chancellor of the Kern Community College District, one of the districts reviewed by the audit, was selected Thursday as the 11th permanent chancellor of the college system. She starts in the statewide role on June 1.

In a letter to the state auditor, the chancellor's office said the audit places too much fault for its findings on the chancellor's office and argued that districts are responsible for ensuring they hire “The draft audit report presents a misleading picture of California’s community college governance and the role of the chancellor”s office -- both by minimizing the responsibility of districts to comply with laws that are directed toward their own hiring practices and by implying that the Chancellor's Office is governed only by its own discretion,” wrote Daisy Gonzales, interim chancellor of the system.

As a result, the chancellor's office maintains that it won't be able to adhere to several of the auditor's recommendations. Hawkins said the faculty group, however, believes the chancellor's office does have the authority to follow the auditor's recommendations and that his organization may consider pushing for new legislation to force the chancellor’s hand.

In a statement to EdSource, Gonzales defended the college system's efforts to diversify faculty across the colleges. She said the board of governors is a nationally recognized leader in seeking racial equity in recruiting and retaining faculty and in student success.

More than 30 years ago, state lawmakers established a goal that 75 % of instruction at the community colleges should be taught by full-time faculty. Relying on the chancellor's office definition of full-time faculty, the audit determined that only 18 districts have ever achieved that goal, and no district has maintained the 75% benchmark for more than a few years.

Auditors determined that part of the blame lies with the statewide chancellor's office and the office's calculation of full-time faculty. The chancellor's office calculation includes full-time faculty who provide no classroom instruction, such as librarians and counselors, according to the audit. The audit calls on the chancellor's office to come up with a new metric for measuring full-time faculty by next year and do more to verify that districts are hiring enough full-time faculty.

The percentage of full-time faculty is even lower when using a calculation that the auditors believe is more appropriate, one that only counts full-time faculty who teach, and not librarians, counselors or others who don’t. According to the state auditor’s definition, full-time faculty make up 50 %  of instruction at the San Diego district, 52 % at Foothill-De Anza, 56 % at Kern and 63 %  at Los Rios.

By February 2024, the chancellor’s office should develop and implement a new metric that accurately calculates instruction hours taught by full-time and part-time faculty, auditors said. The state auditor also said the chancellor's office should set increasing annual benchmarks for the amount of instruction taught by full-time faculty and should "develop a mechanism to promote compliance" with those goals.

State lawmakers in 2018 provided $50 million in annual dollars to the colleges to increase full-time faculty ranks and then upped that in 2021 to $150 million annually. But the audit found that the chancellor's office doesn’t require districts to track or report how that money is spent, sometimes leading to misuse of the funds.

In 2021, the Foothill-De Anza district spent $2.6 million, its entire portion of the additional dollars approved by the Legislature that year, on part-time faculty expenses, which auditors determined was improper. At San Diego, about $4 million in funds dedicated to full-time faculty have been left unspent over the past four fiscal years, the audit found. The other two districts didn't track how the dollars were spent and couldn't demonstrate that they were used on full-time faculty.

To ensure that districts appropriately spend their funds from now on, the chancellor’s office beginning this year should require them to report on the number of full-time faculty positions that have been filled with that money, the audit says.

In the letter to the auditor, interim chancellor Gonzales said that creating a new definition of full-time faculty would require a regulatory change. That would be a lengthy process, would need to be proposed by the system's board of governors and would be subject to the approval of the state's Department of Finance. “Ultimately, the Chancellor's Office does not have control over final regulatory proposals or the timeline for adoption,” she said.

When it comes to tracking state dollars meant for full-time faculty, there is no state requirement for districts to track and report on those funds, Gonzales said, adding that districts “may not have this information readily available.”

The state auditor also asked the chancellor's office to do more to hold districts accountable when it comes to hiring diverse faculty.

The districts probed in the audit told the auditors that hiring diverse faculty is challenging because of the limited availability of diverse candidates in their applicant pools. However, they may not be following a state law that directs districts to review the composition of their initial pool of applicants compared to the pool of applicants considered qualified.

“Just one of the four districts we reviewed conducted this analysis; the remaining three districts did not do so, and the chancellor’s office did not provide oversight to ensure that they met this requirement,” states the audit.

Gonzales said in her letter to the auditor that the chancellor’s office will develop procedures for reviewing districts' equal employment opportunity plans.

Michael Burke is a reporter with EdSource, a partner with Bay City News.

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