Bulk of WCCC's professors on 'overload'
With its budget approval each spring, Westmoreland County Community College officials tout the school's lowest resident tuition rate among Pennsylvania's 14 community colleges.
To balance its budget, the college has cut expenses, made changes to its health care plans and seldom creates new positions, according to President Daniel Obara.
But in rarely adding positions, it has kept costs down by relying on faculty to carry heavy teaching loads.
About 95 percent of WCCC's full-time professors taught more than 15 credits or five classes in a fall or spring semester, a “normal” course load established under the educators' contract, records show.
More than one-third of the full-time faculty taught 24 credits (about eight classes) per semester, which is nine credits or about three classes above the normal course load, according to records obtained under the state's Right to Know Law.
Some professors said taking on extra classes — called course “overload” in academic circles — is an extension of their passion for teaching, while others say it's a means of bringing earnings closer to private-sector levels.
Lauren Farrell, WCCC's director of human resources, said teaching extra classes is voluntary and very popular.
“They definitely like their overload,” Farrell said.
Records indicate WCCC professors earned between $900 and $49,000 in overload compensation, paid largely for teaching extra courses and summer classes, but also for overseeing or developing programs and other responsibilities.
It's a practice common at other community colleges in the region, officials said.
At the Community College of Allegheny County, roughly 65 percent of the school's 275 full-time faculty earned overload pay for teaching extra courses, offering academic advising or participating in governing committees, said Mary Frances Archey, vice president for student success and completion.
Archey said CCAC's union contract limits faculty to teaching nine credits or about three classes of overload per semester, but the majority teach three or six credits (one to two classes), at most.
At Butler County Community College, where about 84 percent of professors taught overload, many had only one or two courses or about three to six credits, said Linda Dodd, executive director of human resources/equal opportunity compliance officer.
BCCC professors can teach up to 10 credits or about three classes of overload under their contract, she said.
“It's more rare that we hit that 10,” Dodd said.
Rich Pokrass, spokesman for the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which accredits WCCC and other schools, said the group doesn't regulate workload.
“It is an institutional prerogative to determine whether to have faculty teach overloads or whether to hire additional full-time or part-time faculty to meet student demand,” he said.
John Cheslock, director of Penn State University's Center for the Study of Higher Education, said there's no definitive study on the ideal faculty workload or when overload starts to impinge on student success.
WCCC students interviewed said their teachers are generally accessible and helpful.
“If I have any questions, they seem to be pretty responsive,” said Nick Burrell, 19, of Stahlstown.
“In my classes I haven't had any problems getting their help,” said Jenna Fleming, 20, a North Huntingdon resident.
Some states have considered limiting professors' overload.
A bill before the California legislature would have limited community college professors to teaching no more than 7.5 credits or about two classes of overload each semester on top of a normal 15-credit schedule. The bill died in committee last month.
WCCC faculty members say permitting overload helps retain quality educators by making earnings competitive with private-sector jobs. WCCC teaching salaries range from about $43,000 to $79,500 under the union's contract.
Joseph Nicassio, 47, an associate professor of accounting, saw his base salary of about $53,480 bumped up to more than $102,500 last year by teaching 18 credits of overload in two semesters and a full slate of summer classes, directing the accounting program and working with WCCC's student retention program.
“Beginning pay in most cases is just, it's low,” said Nicassio, who has two bachelor's degrees and three master's degrees. “With the overload, if you do a normal overload balance, you're getting into the ballpark to where you should be paid.”
Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at 724-850-2856 or firstname.lastname@example.org.