In a move that optimistically signals the end of difficult budget years for higher education, Coast Community College District voted to add 23 new full-time faculty members to its colleges by the fall.

Staff reports during last week's study session showed that the district had budgeted for 15 full-time faculty members to be split among the district's three colleges — Orange Coast in Costa Mesa, Golden West in Huntington Beach and Coastline, which has campuses in several places including Newport Beach.

After considerable debate with Chancellor Andrew Jones, district trustees ultimately approved an additional eight full-time faculty hires during their Wednesday meeting.

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"We just had to do it," said trustee David Grant. "It's what the faculty and all the staff were telling us. I know it's not what the chancellor wanted, but he'll be happy that it happened."

In the past several years, the district has not hired new full-time faculty, allowing numbers to dwindle in many college departments, instead relying heavily on part-time faculty at each of its colleges, officials said.

"There was a deliberate strategy to reduce the number of full timers to at or near the required level to save money," Vice Chancellor Andy Dunn said during the study session last week. "Unlike many other agencies, we weathered the storm without layoffs."

There are 406 full-time faculty members and 1,320 part-time faculty working in the district, said Dean Mancina, president of the Coast Federation of Educators.

Full-time faculty have more investment in the colleges and student success because they're on campus for longer periods of time, are more active in curriculum development and they can offer more flexible office hours, Grant said.

"When you don't have a single person who's full time, it's very difficult to maintain the strength of the department," he said. "Part-time faculty are flying between districts trying to make a living. They don't have time to be on campus."

Jones said he's pleased with the trustees' decision to hire more full-time faculty, and that his only hesitation was making sure he put the district in the best financial situation possible.

"It's always my job to make sure the district is fiscally sound," he said. "We're always trying to find that balance in anything we do."

Of the 15 full-time faculty that the district is recruiting, it is expected that Orange Coast will see seven new hires, including instructors for kinesiology, hospitality, travel and tourism, history, ornamental horticulture, and philosophy. Golden West will welcome five new hires in disciplines like geology, psychology, mathematics and English.

Coastline, which has the lowest percentage of courses taught by full-timers throughout the district, is being allowed to hire a counselor and instructors for chemistry and computer information systems.

Administrators have not yet decided where the additional eight new hires will be teaching.

"The college presidents will determine the distribution of the new faculty members and present their recommendation at a regular meeting of the board of trustees," the staff report states.

While this is a step in the right direction, Mancina said, the district needs to make a commitment to continue hiring in the future.

"If not, we'll just be treading water and not making progress in growing the faculty numbers," he said.

At the same time, Coast is attempting to expand its full-time student registrations in order to continue collecting money next year through Proposition 30, which gives additional funding to California's community college system through temporarily raised taxes.

Each of the colleges is accepting applications for the fall semester.