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Community College 2.0

Updated on January 24, 2016

After many decades working in private industry a lot of workers find themselves returning to college to further their education. Most times, it is unavoidable because the nature of the Internet age and technology force workers to retool so that they can remain relevant in today’s high tech world. More often than not, they set their sights on community colleges as the place where they will remake themselves to become job ready.

Not too long ago, any association with community colleges might have been met with raised eyebrows whether one was attending, or teaching at a community college. Things have been changing lately because of demographics and the increased attention to the need for further education needed to snag new high tech jobs or even basic jobs in STEM related fields. As a matter of fact, K through 12 education has completely been reframed around STEM education vi the Common Core federal standards.

These days, there are more students attending any of the 1,132 community colleges than any other higher education institutions. One conglomerate population that finds tremendous benefit in community colleges is minorities. Whether it is teaching, or attending as students, there has been a great deal of interest in recent years among minorities as well as the public at large.

There was a time when community colleges were the vestige of students who had barely completed high school, but were not necessarily ready for the rigors of college education. Community College has grown beyond that use. Now, they can be used to retrain workers who are going from one technical field to another, while they continue to fulfill their traditional role of being an elevator for bringing high school students to college readiness. Then they can be institutions in and of themselves, capable of providing quality education for anyone who is looking for proximity advantages, or cost savings, as they are significantly less expensive than four year colleges.

Winston Maddox, a decades-long veteran of corporate America has his sights on creating a pipeline to get more minorities into the faculty side at his particular school, Mercer County Community College, where he is a dean. He believes that with the increasing population of minority students, it is important that the faculty bear some resemblance to the student population.

Between year 1995 and year 2011, minority faculty grew from 5.8% - 8.1% of total faculty in community colleges, while black and hispanic students made up 20% of total student population. This is the reason that greater emphasis is being placed on rebalancing community College faculty ranks. Without a conscientious attempt to create greater balance, it would take 60 years continuing on the present course in order for any semblance of balance to be achieved.

Winston Maddox also believes that future deans should be groomed from the ranks of existing faculty through management programs. With the recent appointment of JIanping Wang, an Asian American, recently appointed president of Mercer, the issue of diversity is being addressed at the top, with the hope that the trickle down benefit will be pronounced.

Many newly graduated PhD students overlook community colleges. A lot of this has to do with long-held biases about the quality of community colleges, both from the student side and from the faculty side. When prospective lecturers interview at community colleges they are often times positively surprised by the quality education and atmosphere, along with the attention to support for faculty within the institutions. These are all great selling points and have contributed to the changing tide of interest among PhD holders who are interested in embarking on a teaching career.

Another myth is that community college instructors are not under pressure to publish. As community college positions become tougher to get, selection committees are becoming more demanding. At the very least a candidate is expected to have ABD (All But Dissertation). The requirements increase from there on, and of course if the candidate has published they have already considerably boosted their chance of being selected for the job.

Interest hasn't been only from those within academic circles. President Obama has created greater publicity with respect to the role of community colleges. In the year 2011, the Obama administration awarded 500 million dollars in first round grant to community colleges for job training and workforce development. This initial grant is the first in a total two billion dollar four year investment as part of President Obama's American Jobs Act to provide support for educating workers to meet the demands of today's high tech job market. It also ties in with President Obama's initiative to make sure that by year 2020 America will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. Every state will receive at least 2.5 million dollars for community college career training programs.

Policymakers have been putting out more favorable legislation in support of community colleges, along with philanthropic organizations and as we have already mentioned, increased enrollment and interest. This organic interest has raised the profile of community colleges so that even after the Obama administration, there will still be long lasting residual effects of this rebranding.

Some community colleges in their eagerness to recruit more students, especially higher paying foreign students, have crossed the line. For example, a community college a stone's throw away from Stanford University writes on its brochures targeting international students that once students have finished 2 years at their college, they can take advantage of an agreement between the college and Stanford University to transfer over to the latter. Of course, Stanford University has no record of such an agreement, or any transfers from that school. International students pay 10 times the in-state fee so you can imagine the temptation to woo them by banking on bigger named neighbors like Stanford.

Continuing the theme of the rebranding and repurposing of community colleges, it would do well to remember that the very reason for their existence is to support their local and neighboring populations by offering open admissions, vocational training, some tutoring nearby, and low tuition. In exchange, local government and federal government are all too willing to support them with different incentives and legislative support. This aggressive recruitment of international student goes outside of the role of community colleges.


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