American Community Colleges Have a Great Deal for Us to Admire and Emulate ; A Message from John Brennan at the Association of Colleges
Britain and the United States have long had a close relationship. For years our schools and colleges have built strong links with partner institutions across the pond. And we have much to learn from each other, particularly in further education. I was fortunate enough to attend last week's annual convention of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in Long Beach, California. Most people in the UK will not have heard of the AACC or the college system it represents. Community colleges are the equivalent of our further education colleges and there are many interesting parallels and contrasts between their system and ours.
There are 1,157 community colleges throughout the US, educating 11.6 million students, mostly aged between 19 and 25. The colleges represent the fastest-growing sector of America's higher education system. They train over half of new nurses and nearly 85 per cent of law enforcement officers and fire fighters. They play a vital role in helping improve basic literacy and numeracy. And yet in the United States, community colleges have an image problem similar to our own further education sector - in a media more concerned with schools and universities they hardly get a look-in. They also struggle with many familiar issues, such as the under- representation of ethnic minorities and socially and economically disadvantaged groups. And they have similar financial concerns - many states have been cutting back on their funding support.
Yet American community colleges have a great deal for us to admire and emulate. They have a credit system that gives students the flexibility to drop in and out of learning. Their qualification system is much more unified than ours - they have simple outcomes in terms of associate and bachelor degrees. They don't have our plethora of qualifications. …