A few weeks ago I attended a higher education media dinner, at which college and university presidents engaged in a freewheeling discussion of a number of issues raised by journalists. One topic that came up was the coverage, or lack of coverage, of community colleges. And they were right. Most media attention is given to four-year schools. Not too long ago, the community college was seen as the place you went to when you couldn't get into "real" college. Of course, that wasn't true then, and it certainly isn't true now. Just ask the more than 6 million students currently enrolled in 1,166 community colleges through the country. While community colleges still serve a crucial role in providing a foundation for students to go on to more rigorous studies at the university level, they have become so much more.
They supply the education to help men and women with prior degrees advance in the workplace, and to help older, change-of-career students get a grounding for their new lives.
Community colleges are quick to react to ever-changing regional economies, adjusting their curriculum to prepare workers for new industries and opportunities. As hotels, convention centers and casinos spring up in new spots around the country, for example, community colleges are there with casino and hotel management courses that these new enterprises require. Some 200 community colleges now offer such courses.
But--surprise--community colleges suffer from most of the same problems as their four-year counterparts, with some additional burdens thrown in for extra measure.
That's why we are introducing a new bimonthly column that examines the challenges and successes of two-year colleges. As Associate Editor Caryn Meyers Fliegler notes in this issue, despite their many challenges, community colleges continue to grow and flourish. We believe the challenges they face and the solutions they find are applicable to all levels of higher education.
For example, most community colleges don't have endowments to cushion bad times. On average, community colleges get the bulk of their support from state and local funding, sources that continue to dwindle. They serve a larger proportion of first-generation and disadvantaged students than their four-year counterparts.
Increasing numbers of students are enrolling in two-year schools because of their lower cost, but many states are struggling to keep up with the demand, turning away thousands of prospective students.
And, because of that enrollment surge, some long-held transfer agreements between state four-year schools and community colleges are being reconsidered, and threatening to shut out deserving students.
But two-year and four-year institutions share a symbiotic relationship, one that needs to be more widely understood and appreciated. We hope we can help make that happen. Let us know what you think.
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