should we rethink the community college given who attends?

So i read this article a colleague sent me (thanks NJ!!) about community colleges and who’s attending now: Younger, wealthier students pick community college, bringing expectations

Our higher education system operates under the assumption that while community colleges traditionally offer only the first two years of a college curriculum, that curriculum is theoretically equivalent to what  the student would receive from a 4-year institution.  We equate classes through the transfer process to work out the fine details, but in essence, we sell the an image and message to the public that the course work and curriculum you take at John Doe Community College is equivalent what you would take your first two years at Fill-In-The-Blank State University.  At the community college, you get a cheaper tuition rate.  This is a trade off for less than Nobel Prize winning professors, fewer amenities, facilities, and extracurricular activities, and the convenience of location.

I like the idea of encouraging students to use the community college system as a stepping stone to 4-year institutions.  I think that students receive an excellent education in most community colleges which would prepare them for success in most future academic (4-year institutions) and professional settings.  This route to a bachelors degree will save the student thousands of dollars in tuition fees as well.

However, along with this, we need to really examine what we want our community college system to be.  I think we’ve got a few paths we could go down:

Do we want the community college system to truly represent the first two years of a students experiences at a traditional 4-year institution setting?  If so, we need to address not only the curricular needs of students, but also the social and community needs.  As the article suggest, we need to start offering updated exercise facilities, more extracurricular activities like clubs and athletics, and really listen to what the students are asking for.  This has a few drawbacks.  One, more services equal more money.  If one of our big benefits is low tuition, how long can that really last!  Second, what type of 4-year institution are we representing?  A private liberal arts 4-year institution is very different from a large public land grant institution.  Can we really pick?

Do we want the community college system to only represent the course work and curriculum of a 4-year institution?  We could just focus on curriculum to duplicate similar educational experiences within the classroom.  This seems untenable to me though- we already know students want more so why would we offer less?

Do we want something else?  I’m thinking yes.  What if we created a new identity for the system.  Something a little different from the popular image of the community college system to day a little different from a total replica of a 4-year experience?  I think it would make our system even better.  I think it would allow us to address this new influx of students who are choosing to start at the community college first and then move to a 4-year experience.

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