The role of Community colleges in the United States has evolved since their origin as mostly liberal arts colleges 100 years ago. They began providing job training courses during the depression and then assisted in the post World War II conversion of military goods to consumer products, requiring higher skilled labor. In the 1960’s the number of community colleges tripled within five years as Baby Boomers began leaving the secondary school system and required additional education to take on the jobs available at the time. In 2015, almost 6.3 million students were enrolled in public, two-year colleges, representing nearly one third of students enrolled in a college program (2 year or 4 year).
Today’s community colleges serve several layers of need and demand. They offer job-skill training for local industry and businesses. They provide a pathway for students interested in pursuing a career in a trade. There are courses for professionals interested in expanding their knowledge and skills. Certain students attend to learn subjects and content they either did not receive in high school, or that will support advanced study in a four year degree program (later on). And, community colleges provide courses of study that lead to two-year associate degrees in fields that often lead immediately into job performance (real estate, medical technician, mechanics and heating/air conditioning installation and maintenance).
The concept of making community college free is revolutionary and groundbreaking. I have often considered how much more successful students would be if they were able to have one more year of high school, if they need it. What two years of community college would offer is often a second chance for many students, and an opportunity to open doors where they may have seemed closed before. Accessibility of Community Colleges is far greater than universities – their geographic proximity to population centers and to those who live in rural areas is far greater than most universities.
I feel like Community Colleges have the potential for leveling the playing field for all students prior to entering a 4-year degree program and providing more students with a legitimate pathway to a vocation/career that suits both their personality and their interests, if provided with adequate support and time to learn about themselves enough to know what they are interested in doing as a vocation. And if we find a way to link what community colleges offer with the resources accessible through 4-year colleges and universities again, we may find a new way to educate all students to their highest potential.
Hopefully, Community Colleges will continue to expand their reach and influence, and provide opportunities to a broad range of students. They will likely serve a broader role in extending primary/secondary education and will make it possible for students to continue their learning beyond the ‘elementary’.