Geospatial Education at U.S. Community Colleges: Background, Challenges, and Opportunities

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Community colleges provide access to higher education and technical training to a diverse student population and are important resources for educating the U.S. workforce. More than 11.8 million people attend community colleges (AACC 2010). Of the approximately 1,200 community colleges in the United States, about 450 offer geospatial courses and programs. This paper focuses on the development of the community college education system as it relates to geospatial workforce needs. Particular attention is paid to the need to coordinate these programs and to strengthen their relationship to university geospatial education. Past initiatives to define geospatial core competencies and the industry are reviewed, culminating in the recently issued Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM) of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The GTCM was completed as a result of a collaboration between the DOL and the National Geospatial Technology Center of Excellence (GeoTech Center). Through its Advanced Technology Education Program, the National Science Foundation (NSF) established the GeoTech Center to support community college geospatial educators and programs by helping them align their geospatial curricula with national workforce competency standards.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE EDUCATION

American community colleges have been in existence since the early 20th century (American Association of Community Colleges 2006). The term community college includes two-year, lower-division educational programs providing credit and noncredit education and training usually limited to conferring academic Associate's degrees, lower division Certificate programs, and Career and Technical Education (CTE) terminal degrees. These institutions sometimes are called junior, tribal, or technical colleges, but we will refer to these institutions collectively as community colleges.

Among the factors that contributed to the rise of community colleges are the need for workers trained to operate the nation's expanding industries and the drive for social equality, the potential result of providing more people with access to higher education (Cohen and Brawer 2002). Community colleges continued to increase in importance throughout the 20th century as more students graduated from high school and the demand for additional education increased. In 1947, the President's Commission on Higher Education articulated the value of a population with free access to two years of study beyond high school and asserted that half the young people could benefit from formal studies through grade 14 (Cohen and Brawer 2002). In October of 2010, President Obama convened a Community College Summit to discuss ways to support community college programs by forming partnerships with business and aligning curriculum closely with the needs of the workforce (White House 2010).

The latest available data (2007 through 2009) from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) indicates that 43 percent of U.S. undergraduates attend community colleges with a total enrollment of 11.8 million students in credit and noncredit programs (AACC 2010). Of this student population, 56 percent are women. Forty percent are minorities. The average age of students is 28, with 46 percent under 21 and 40 percent between 22 to 39 years of age. Community colleges awarded more than 600,000 Associate's degrees and 325,000 Certificates in 2007. In a recent study of younger students (18 to 24 years old), the Pew Research Center (Pew 2009) determined that attendance at community colleges surged from 3.1 million in 2007 to 3.4 million students in 2009, while attendance at four-year colleges and universities remained flat. The Pew study suggested that the increase was mainly because of economic conditions, but that increased high school graduation rates also may have contributed (84.9 percent in 2008 versus 75.5 percent in 1967).

The reasons students enroll in U. …