July 11, 2012

Redefining Community Colleges (Whether They Want It Or Not)

I'm seeing a lot of articles this summer about the changing mission of the community college or redefining that mission. Some articles portray this as a natural process that is occurring. Others see it as something the colleges need to do deliberately.

On Chronicle.com, Richard Kahlenberg titled a post "Defining Community Colleges Down." He notes that even the media that rarely gives attention to two-year colleges seems to be picking up on these stories.

For example, the Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews wrote a post telling why he avoids community college pieces: "page view totals and e-mail traffic indicate readers move on quickly … whenever they see the words ‘community college.’”

The New York Times column, “Filling the Skills Gap,” is on the side of community colleges being places to prepare students for “middle-skill jobs.” The author associates the earlier mission to prepare students for a university degree as what they did in the days when they were known as “junior colleges.”

What is the community college mission? Skills, certificates, AA degrees that improve employment prospects, or preparation for the 4-year college...

Federal education data shows 81.4% of students entering community college for the first time say they eventually want to transfer and earn at least a bachelor’s degree. Unfortunately, only 11.6% community-college students get that baccalaureate degree within six years.

On the other end are colleges like Miami Dade College and some other community colleges "upgrading" by promoting “high skills” as well as “middle skills and offering baccalaureate degrees.

The Century Foundation Task Force on Preventing Community Colleges from Becoming Separate and Unequal is one group that rejects "downgrading" two-year institutions - although that downgrade might just be a return to its original mission.

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