Apr 13, 2010

On Community Colleges, Changing Student Populations, and the 21st Century Workplace

Note: I had this essay collecting virtual dust in a folder on my computer, and I decided to post it before deleting it. I composed this for a job application a few months ago, and I thought it had some residual value for readers of this blog.

I have taught in a variety of settings at the community college level over the last few years, and in that time I have learned a great deal about the important niches that community colleges fill in higher education. Community colleges prepare students for a wide range of careers that universities and four-year colleges ignore, particularly in specialized technical fields. Because of the greater flexibility in program changes, community colleges can also adapt more quickly to the demands of the 21st century workplace.

The significantly lower tuition costs at American community colleges allow a greater number of students to gain access to the post-secondary training they need to compete in an increasingly global marketplace. In addition, many undergraduate students find that required core classes can be completed at local community colleges, saving them valuable tuition dollars as compared with four-year colleges and universities. Moreover, for students who are unsure of their educational and career goals, the reduced cost of a community college means that the process of finding one’s way in the world is considerably lower.

Most importantly, community colleges typically serve a more diverse student population than four-year colleges and universities. Most community colleges offer evening and weekend classes, and I have found that community colleges are much more willing to invest in the technology to create an effective learning environment for online courses. In fact, one major Midwestern university at which I recently taught (Fall 2008) did not offer a single history class online. This is in stark contrast with the two community colleges at which I have taught, and both colleges had better developed DL course offerings than most four-year colleges and universities. Moreover, community colleges serve important roles with non-traditional students, especially adults returning to school and students who are the first in their families to attend an institution of higher education.

In short: the demands of an increasingly global and technologically advanced workplace require the next generations of American workers to possess academic and technical skills greater than at any time in the history of the United States. Long gone are the days when a high school diploma was sufficient to prepare a person for the workplace, and American community colleges will play an ever greater role in the preparation of 21st century citizens for the future wok environment.


steve said...

I started my nursing degree at Owens and my observation is that Owens tends to just run people through like cattle. I breezed through Owens effortlessly with straight A's, even difficult courses like organic chemistry and statistics. But then I transferred to Mercy College and was hit with the SLEDGEHAMMER of Catholic University / Education discipline. I can barely maintain a solid "B" at Mercy - and that's pretty much dedicating my entire free time to studying - and I'm no slouch - my class started with 60 plus people, we're down to 20 - most of us transfer students from Owens.

Owens doesn't really prepare a student for the demands of the higher courses to be taken once the student leaves Owens for another school. But that's just my experience. but if you stay, and get your associates degree in a specialty area like "diagnostic sonography", then an Owens education can be very rewarding and a quick way to get a viable skill in todays service economy.

Anonymous said...

I agree with much of your post Steve. I'm an ex-instructor at Owens, and to be honest, I wholeheartedly agree that students are being "run through like cattle." It was why I left.

The problems are that most of the faculty are adjunct, are being paid a flat rate per course *when I was there it was $1500 per course, per semester*. As an instructor of 2 years there I was never once formally evaluated by peers or higher ups in the administration. Students, however, reviewed me every semester. One way to keep students happy, regardless of teacher performance, is grade inflation, and I'd argue it is rampant at Owens. In order to keep working, instructors need to keep their classes full and one way they can do that is by having a great reputation.
Unfortunately, among the student population, grade inflation or having a reputation as being easy is a great way to get butts in the seats.

Paul Swendson said...

Community college is (sort of) the new high school. It would be nice of high schools did more vocational education. There needs to be a recognition that some students are not geared to a university education. I love teaching community college partly because of the variety of people that we get to work with.