After 10 grueling years of doctoral study, you finally earn your Ph.D. from an elite university. You've honed your research skills and are primed to become a first-rate scholar in your chosen field.
Not so fast. Given the competition for relatively few tenure-track (and even adjunct) jobs at four-year colleges and universities, many newly-minted Ph.D.s are relegated to teaching at community colleges. Of course, most two-year schools don't require faculty members to hold a doctorate, but market realities are forcing the issue.
Some observers, as this San Francisco Chronicle article suggests, see beneficial outcomes for students and faculty. Top faculty are ramping up academic expectations and encouraging students to take their studies more seriously. And faculty are free to teach. Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, told the Chronicle that "These are faculty who really want to be teachers. You don't have the pressure to publish, you teach. You don't have people who do teaching between the other stuff."
I imagine some faculty feel that way. But that "other stuff" is what would make them competitive for more prestigious (and possibly better paying) positions at universities. It's hard to believe that many Ph.D.s from Harvard, Stanford and Berkeley, such as those mentioned in this article, would be satisfied with a community-college career. And if they want to concentrate primarily on teaching, they could do so at liberal arts colleges.
My guess is that most are there out of necessity, biding their time until something better comes along.