Community colleges are doing more with less, writes Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, in Community College Week. But there are limits to what the hard-pressed system can do well.
The fundamental question in analyzing the ever-evolving mission of the community college is, “where do we draw the line?” Prepare students for transfer? Check. Deliver a skilled workforce? Check. Provide lifelong learning and community service? Count on the community’s college. Now some states are making our colleges the linchpin in plans to deliver more baccalaureate completers — the $10,000 proposition that governors in Texas and Florida are making political hay by promoting.
But does that mission need to be redefined? One of the key recommendations in a report by the 21st-Century Commission on the Future of the Community College was to “refocus the community college mission and redefine institutional roles to meet 21st-century education and employment needs.”
In sum, the commissioners stressed the need to add the word “no,” as in “no longer,” to the community college vocabulary and to put energies and resources into only those activities that will reinvent the learning experience.
Community colleges also need to develop new leaders for the future, writes Bumphus. It’s estimated 70 percent of community college presidents will retire in the next 10 years.
Florida’s community colleges now offer 111 bachelor’s degree programs, reports Inside Higher Ed. A new law will make it easier for colleges to add new programs.
In 2008, “Gov. Charlie Crist signed a controversial bill rebranding the state’s community college system” to meet the demand for four-year degrees in nursing, education and applied sciences careers. Programs now include homeland security, fire science management, interior design and international business.
None of Miami Dade College’s 12 baccalaureate programs generated a competing proposal from a neighboring four-year institution, says Pamela Menke, vice provost for education at Miami Dade.
By and large, Menke explained, it is less expensive for a community college to add the remaining two years for a program they already offer at the associate degree level than for a nearby four-year institution to create a baccalaureate program from scratch. This, she added, is the case with the college’s new four-year degree in film, television and digital production, as the college already has a studio and all of the high-tech equipment in place.
Community colleges’ four-year degree programs are attracting older students and minority students, making them less of a threat to four-year institutions.
For instance, whereas three-fourths of the students in the state’s public four-year institutions are between the ages of 18 and 25, more than three-fourths of students in community college baccalaureate programs are older than 26 (with most of those being older than 35).
Valencia Community College had no plans to add four-year degrees until nearby University of Central Florida asked Valencia to take over engineering technology and radiology imaging programs.
Some community college leaders fear “mission creep.” That’s a legitimate concern, says Linda Serra Hagedorn, professor and director of the Research Institute for Studies in Higher Education at Iowa State University.
“There are a lot of different types of students who knock at the door of community colleges,” said Hagedorn, who before moving to Iowa State was a longtime educational policy researcher at the University of Florida. “I just worry that they’re not going to be able to serve all those different types if they’re bringing in more four-year program students. There will be less room for remediation and truly vocational programs. Some are not going to be as well-served as others. We have to remember the reason community colleges were established in the first place.”
Kenneth Walker, president of Edison State College in Fort Myers, is eager to expand the college’s mission. This fall, Edison State is opening a charter high school to serve as a feeder to the community college. The next step is Edison University, a “spinoff” private institution offering community college graduates an array of baccalaureate and master’s degrees. Walker’s long-term goal is a seamless K-16 system serving low-income and minority students.
Colleges resist innovation, said researchers at an American Enterprise Institute conference on Reinventing the University. Some said there’s “a dearth of shared ideas that a critical mass of institutions can rally around,” reports Jack Stripling on Inside Higher Ed.
The National Center for Academic Transformation, or NCAT, is the only group pushing colleges to use technology to transform courses, said Suzanne Walsh of Benchstrength.
“While NCAT is a fabulous, fabulous example, is it the only innovation we have in higher ed? Where else can we find pockets of innovation that can help us?” said Walsh, formerly of the Lumina Foundation for Education.
Community colleges should require at-risk students to use support services and engage in campus activities, even if some don’t have the time or motivation, said Charlene R. Nunley, former president of Montgomery Community College. “I would lean toward losing some of the students who can’t comply,” said Nunley, saying disengaged students will be lost anyhow.
Dominic Brewer, associate dean for research and faculty affairs at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, and William G. Tierney, director of Southern California’s Center for Higher Education Policy and Analysis, introduced a paper attacking the American Council on Education (ACE) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), among other advocacy groups, for fighting innovation.
In a discussion of profit colleges, the fastest growing sector of higher education, Kaplan’s Andrew Rosen, for-profits have to deliver superior educational outcomes or lose students. “At the price [students are] paying, they better get value,” he said. Most nonprofits “have pretty much thrown in the towel on improving education,” he said.
Paul Osterman, professor of human resources and management at MIT, responded, “We know there are crappy schools out there that rip students off, and the market is not forcing them to be good.”
Mission creep” — trying to do too much — is preventing community colleges from improving student outcomes, argued Osterman.
“There is not a political movement around community colleges like there is in the K-12 reform community,” he said. “We know good practice, it’s really a political [and] administrative problem to improve these institutions, not a what-should-we-do problem.”
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