The faculty at PASSHE schools (public universities in Pennsylvania) are currently under strike. My main reason to write this post is because I went to Bloomsburg University and I received a terrific education (a BA in criminal justice). If I could go back and do it all over again, I would still definitely attend Bloomsburg.
For a bit of background, all of the PA state schools were originally formed as normal schools — colleges to prepare teachers for lower education. They were intentionally placed around the state, so students did not have to travel very far. This is why they seem to be in rural places no one has ever heard of (it is intentional). For those in New York, this is an equivalent story for the smaller SUNY campuses — although unlike New York the state schools in PA have no shared acronym. This does not include Penn State University, which is a land-grant school. At some later point, the normal colleges expanded to universities and PASSHE was formed.
There are some pathological problems with higher education currently. One of them is the rising price of tuition. Tuition at PASSHE schools are basically the cheapest places you can get a bachelor’s degree. Private institutions (or Penn State Univ.) you are going to pay two to three times as much compared to at a PASSHE institution.
Criminal justice is a continually growing degree. To meet the teaching demand, many programs are filling in with adjunct labor. Bloomsburg did not do this when I was there, and this continues to appear the be the case. The majority of the faculty I had (04-08) are still on the faculty (this is true for criminal justice, sociology, and the two math professors I took all my statistics courses for), although the CJ program has appeared to grow beyond the three faculty members (Leo Barrile, Neal Slone, and Pam Donovan) when I was there. They did have an additional adjunct when I was there (who shall go unnamed) who is in the running for laziest teacher I have ever had.
Now, don’t get me wrong — adjuncts can be good teachers. I’ve taught as an adjunct myself. You should be concerned though if the majority of the courses in a department are being taught by adjuncts. People with professional experience can be great teachers — especially for advanced courses about their particular expertise — but they should rarely be teaching core courses for a degree in criminal justice. Core courses for CJ would likely include, intro. to criminal justice, criminology, penology, criminal law, statistics, and research design. (The last two are really essential courses for any student in the social sciences.)
The main reason some professors are better than others is not directly related to being tenure track faculty or adjunct though — a big factor is about continuity. When I am teaching a course for the first time, students are guinea pigs, whereas a professor who has taught the course many semesters is going to be better prepared. Adjunct’s with poor pay are not as likely to stick around, so you get a revolving door. Folks who have been around awhile are just more likely to be polished teachers.
To end, some students choose bigger schools because they believe there are more opportunities (either to have fun or for their education). There were really more opportunities at Bloomsburg than I could even take advantage of. Besides the BA in criminal justice, I had a minor in statistics and sociology. I also got my introduction to making maps by taking a GIS class in the geography department. In retrospect I would have taken a few more math classes (like swapping out the Econ Statistics courses for Macro-Econ). Bloomsburg is small but don’t worry about having a fun time either — if you get take out do NAPS, if you just want a slice do OIP. (The pizza here in Dallas is terrible all the places I’ve tried.)
While it may be frustrating to students (or maybe more to parents who are paying the bills), it is in the best long term interest to preserve the quality of education at PASSHE schools. Appropriate pay and benefits for faculty and adjuncts is necessary to do that.
I think I will write a blog post describing more about an undergraduate degree in criminal justice, but if you are a student here in the Dallas area interested in criminology at UTD, always feel free to send me an email with questions. Also please email me a place where I can get a decent tasting slice!