The American Institute of Physics recently published the report of its study, Physics in the Two-Year Colleges

Physics in the Two-Year Colleges

The American Institute of Physics recently published the report of its study, Physics in the Two-Year Colleges. This study explored the faculty, students, and curriculum in physics at the junior college level. The report is available from: Education and Employment Statistics Division, AIP, One Physics Ellipse, College park, MD 20740. It is also available on the web at We present here a few of the highlights from the report (reprinted with permission).

  • Contacting over 1,785 two-year college campuses across the United States, we found that 1,056, or 59%, offered classes in physics during the 1995-96 academic year (page 52).
  • In the Spring of 1996, these departments contained 2,692 faculty teaching physics classes (p. 52). Department heads supplied the names of 2,542 professors, with 1,710 (66%) in full-time positions and 832 (34%) holding part-time appointments (p. 20).
  • All 2,542 physics faculty were sent a detailed 12-page questionnaire, with 1,194 responding, along with another 223 who responded to a shorter version, for a total response rate of 56% (p. 52). Faculty were overwhelmingly male (89%), with a median age of 49. Eighty-nine percent were white, 6% were U.S. minorities, and 5% were non-U.S. citizens (p. 21).
  • There was little difference between full- and part-time faculty in these demographic characteristics. More surprisingly, there was also little difference in academic background. In both groups, a little over one- third held a PhD, with almost all the rest holding a master's degree. And, in both groups, roughly two-thirds had earned a graduate degree in physics (p. 21).
  • During the 1996-97 academic year, some 120,000 students took physics at a two-year college. This represented only 2% of all students enrolled in two-year schools at that time. However, given the large number of part-time and non-degree students attending classes at two-year schools, a more useful comparison would be that it included about a quarter of the entering class of full-time students (p. 5). It also encompassed approximately one-fourth of all students taking introductory physics at the college level during that academic year (p. 45).


  • Included in the physics total were 31% women and 15% who were members of minority groups that are traditionally underrepresented in science, including African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Native- Americans, and those classifying themselves as "other." The level of underrepresentation in physics becomes evident when we compare these figures to the overall representation among two-year college students of 58% for women and 23% for minorities in the same year. Nevertheless, the underrepresentation of women and minorities at the two-year level is significantly lower than at four-year institutions (p. 13).
  • Most two-year college physics students were enrolled in the same type of introductory physics course that is taught in four-year schools and universities. Some 33% were enrolled in the algebra and trigonometry- based course, while 28% were taking the calculus-based or other advanced version. Only about 10% seemed to be taking courses that were specially designed for the academic backgrounds and career objectives of two-year college students (p. 10).
  • In line with this latter finding, few faculty indicated that they had developed ties to or received regular input from potential employers of two-year college graduates. For example, only 8% reported that they received guidance from industry-based curriculum advisory group, and fewer than one-tenth taught any courses that had been structured to incorporate the needs of local employers (p. 17).
  • The major problems cited by full-time faculty included students' weak math backgrounds (53%), insufficient funds for equipment and supplies (47%), and inadequate space for labs/facilities outmoded (34%) (p. 34). Nevertheless, the survey registered a strong sense of job satisfaction among almost all segments of the two-year physics teaching community, with 69% saying that they would still choose two-year college teaching if they had it to do over again, and 77% saying they preferred teaching physics to other subjects (p. 32).
  • Along similar lines, we found extremely high levels of career and job stability. The vast majority of teachers were still at the school where they started teaching, and a high proportion indicated that they planned to remain with two-year college teaching until they retired. Thus, full- time faculty had taught for a median of 15 years and had been at their current college for 13 years, with 93% expecting to remain until retirement. Even part-timers had spent a large portion of their teaching career (with a median duration of 5 years) at their current school (median 4 years) (p. 34).