The Importance of Community Colleges

Article excerpt

I appreciate the invitation to respond to James E. Rosenbaum, Julie Redline, and Jennifer L. Stephan's "Community College: The Unfinished Revolution" (Issues, Summer 2007). I will focus my remarks on how the U.S. Department of Education is assisting community colleges to carry out their critical multifaceted mission.

The Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE), under the leadership of Assistant Secretary Troy Justesen, is committed to serving the needs of community colleges, as evidenced by my appointment as the first Deputy Assistant Secretary with specific responsibility for community colleges. As a former community college president with experience in workforce education, I bring first-hand knowledge to our community college projects and services.

Comprehensive community colleges have a priority to be accessible and affordable to all who desire postsecondary education. They prepare students for transfer to four-year institutions, meet workforce preparation needs, provide developmental education, and offer a myriad of support services needed by students with diverse backgrounds, skills, and educational preparation. Community colleges also have thriving noncredit programs that encompass much of the nation's delivery of Adult Basic Education and English as a Second Language instruction. Noncredit programs often include customized training for businesses, plus initiatives that range from Kids College to Learning in Retirement. Many community colleges use innovative delivery systems such as distance education, making courses and degrees accessible 24/7 to working students and those with family responsibilities.

In the report A Test of Leadership, the commission appointed by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings made recommendations to chart the future of higher education in the United States. Accessibility, affordability, and accountability emerged from the report as key themes in the secretary's plan for higher education. Comprehensive community colleges are well-poised to move on these themes and are doing this work in the context of national and global challenges raised by the commission.

At a Community College Virtual Summit, Education Secretary Spellings said, "you can't have a serious conversation about higher education without discussing the 11 million Americans (46% of undergraduates) attending community colleges every year." The Virtual Summit is one of a series of U.S. Department of Education activities related to the secretary's plan for higher education.

Community college leaders and researchers underscored the importance of accountability during the summit and the need for data-driven decisionmaking. …