The acceptance rate at community college has existed at the opposite end of the spectrum from the nation's elite private universities
. At community colleges, any student who had a desire to pursue an educational goal and the money to pay the course fees was welcome.
However, as community colleges nationwide face historical surges in enrollment
, some are being forced to take the unprecedented move of rejecting students. For example, CUNY community colleges in New York are contemplating stricter admission policies, as reported by the Columbia Spectator
. At the Borough of Manhattan Community College
, transfer students with a 2.0 GPA or lower will be automatically placed on a waiting list starting in Spring 2010. Other students who applied for classes for the fall semester received admissions for the spring.
The Causes of Rejection from Community Colleges
There are many guilty parties that have contributed to community colleges that no longer uphold "all welcome" admission policies. While the troubled economy
plays a role, systematic shifts in employment have also contributed to students being turned away from community colleges.
During economic downturns such as the current recession, community college enrollment tends to swell for a number of reasons. Older workers who have been laid off
or who are having trouble finding work may decide to return to the classroom to sharpen their skills and make themselves more competitive in the job market
Meanwhile, young people whose families are struggling may be more likely to choose to earn their general education credits at a two-year institution before transferring to a more expensive four-year university.
All of these movements translate into historically high enrollment rates at community colleges. Pair the skyrocketing student population with budget cuts, and community colleges are struggling to accept all students who apply.
Shift towards a Knowledge Economy
Another factor behind the surge in community college enrollment is the public's increasing awareness that the skills needed for success in the 21st
century require continuing education. As reported by CNN
, President Obama has emphasized the importance of a college education for career success
, proposing that the federal government invest $12 billion in America's community colleges over the coming decade. Obama has highlighted the need for an educated workforce when he has addressed issues related to higher education, citing studies that project that jobs that require an associate's degree
will grow twice as fast as jobs requiring no college degree in coming years.
Some analysts of the current community college crunch say that the recent support for higher education from the White House, along with an emerging understanding that the economy of tomorrow will need more college-educated workers and fewer unskilled laborers, may be contributing to community colleges' swelling enrollments. Again, the growing number of enrolled students means there is less space on campus - and more students that must be turned away.
The Consequences of Turning Away Students
As a result of the confluence of factors driving students to community colleges, many of these institutions are finding that they do not have the space or the faculty to accommodate the number of students who wish to enroll in their courses.
For example, in the fall semester of 2009, all but one of New York City's community colleges stopped accepting applications much earlier than in previous years, causing surprise to some students who had thought they could enroll as late as a week before the start of classes. Applications to the city's community college for Spring 2010 were up 19% from the prior year as of mid-November, and many community colleges expect that they will have to turn away applicants for the spring semester, as reported by the New York Times
The problem is not limited to New York City. Across the country, students who planned to take community college courses required for transfer eligibility to four-year institutions often found themselves on waiting lists instead of in classrooms. At De Anza, a community college in California's Silicon Valley in which 19,000 students were enrolled in Fall 2008, more than 13,000 students were still on waiting lists
for classes at the start of the Fall 2009 semester! Most of the waiting lists were for courses in English or mathematics, subjects that are often required for completion of an associate's degree or transfer credits
to a four-year university.
No Easy Solutions
Education experts and community college administrators are acutely aware of the problem, but budgetary constraints are preventing them from taking steps to ameliorate the situation. Dr. Matthew Goldstein, the chancellor of New York City's community college system, told the New York Times that he feels he faces a "moral dilemma." Goldstein feels caught between turning away students for whom community college may be their only educational option and increasing enrollments to an extent that could jeopardize the quality of education that the colleges can offer.
According to Inside Higher Ed
, many community colleges, such as California's De Anza, are doing their best to address the current reality by cutting sections of "low-demand" courses, such as German and Italian, and increasing sections of high-demand courses such as English, math, and biology.
However, even with these changes, students are still finding themselves kept out of the courses they need to complete degrees or to transfer to four-year universities. Some are able to work around the situation by enrolling in classes at several different community colleges, adding hours of commuting time to their already busy lives. Others are not able to manage such a juggling act, and they must instead wait for next semester.
As the national job market continues to suffer the impacts of the recession and the national awareness of the need for higher education continues to grow, demand for community college courses will continue to rise. Alas, the resulting problems with upholding the "all welcome" policy will likely continue to plague both college administrators and would-be community college students.