The current economic slowdown, high unemployment rates and rising costs of four-year universities have sent many college students scurrying to the ivied halls of their neighborhood community colleges to begin the path of higher education. Community colleges across the country have seen record enrollment figures over recent years, as more students are turning to these institutions right out of high school and well into adulthood. However, community colleges are far from the utopia many make them out to be – in fact, these schools have their own sets of issues and hurdles they must overcome to help their students be as successful as possible. We'll take a look at a recent study that outlines eight of the biggest issues community colleges face today.
About the Study
Western Governors University, an online college that provides more than 50 degree programs across the country, recently conducted a study with The SOURCE on Community College Issues, Trends and Strategies, a new online resource for schools. The study went to a broad range of community college leaders nationwide to get their perceptions on the major hurdles in higher education at the community college level. The report found that there is a diverse outlook among community colleges as to which issues are the most prevalent in the industry. Some of the issues discussed during the study included college readiness, student services, and workforce development, according to a press release on the WGU website.
Although there was much variation in the issues that were discussed throughout the course of the study, a few common themes continued to emerge. These are the subjects that WGU and The SOURCE chose to highlight in their study results, to help community college leaders now and in the future promote success within their schools.
Some of the biggest quandaries facing these institutions today were keeping up with emerging technologies and keeping students in school. However, the study was able to pinpoint as many as eight trends that should be addressed by community colleges across the country today.
College Readiness and Remedial Education
Community college leaders have not yet formed a consensus on what it means for students to be "college ready," which could impact the quality of the education received. The point in question is the testing process used to determine the college readiness of incoming students, according to a report at Schools.com. Terri O'Banion, President Emeritus and Senior League Fellow of the League for Innovation in the Community College, told the website, "Current testing for college placement has been found to be woefully lacking in the ability to place students accurately in remedial courses."
Sandy Shugart, president of Valencia Community College agrees. She told Schools.com, "We've had this wild pendulum swing from expectations of a broadly educated, reasoning, problem-solving, scientific-thinking, literate adult at the point of graduation from high school to a reductionist-model of having a handful of skills that makes them somewhat employable and ready to take freshman-level classes."
Another challenge facing community colleges today is the ability to keep up with emerging technologies as fast as they become the next big trend. According to the report, online education has become a popular way for many college students to complete their education, but not all community colleges have the necessary technology to allow students to pursue a degree program remotely.
This TED talk looks at a different way to think about technology in the classroom.
Mark Milliron, deputy director for Postsecondary Improvement with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said in the report, "Let's stop having the conversation about what's better; online or face-to-face. We need to start having some good conversations about what's the right mix of all the tools at our disposal that can be put together to help learning be more effective, and we need to be radically tough-minded about it."
Keeping Students in School
Another major issue facing community colleges, according to this study, is finding the right incentives and support to keep students in school until graduation. The primary focus in this challenge was remedial students who might struggle at the beginning of their community college career, only to give up and drop out before completing their degree program. One particular program at Foothill-DeAnza Community College, the award-winning "Math My Way" program, was cited in the study as a means of helping remedial students succeed.
Linda Thor, chancellor of the Foothill community college district, told Schools.com, "Remarkably what's happened is that instead of students running away from Foothill College, they are running toward Foothill College because the word is out that this is where you go to deal with math problems."
The full report is available at the WGU website and includes discussions with leaders from a broad range of community colleges and education organizations. George Lorenzo, the author of the report, said in the press release, "We based this extensive Q-&-A project on many of the key issues that community colleges are dealing with these days. The community college leaders who participated had plenty to say. The report, which is extremely valuable and available for free, is only the beginning of a much more expansive dialogue and sharing of important information that we are starting to publish on a regular basis."
Shugart agrees that this report provides vital information that can be effectively used as community colleges take on a more prevalent role in higher education. Shugart told Schools.com, "More people will recognize that community colleges are a dominant mode of access to higher education in America and they'll take us seriously for that. Their expectations are going to go up even as our results improve."
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