Academic journal article Community College Review

The Revised Institution: The Community College Mission at the End of the Twentieth Century

Academic journal article Community College Review

The Revised Institution: The Community College Mission at the End of the Twentieth Century

Article excerpt

Seven urban and rural community colleges in the United States and Canada were examined using a qualitative multiple-case-study design to define changes in the colleges' institutional missions during the 1990s. Group site visits, personal interviews with administrators and faculty, and policy documents provided the data, which were analyzed using an analytical framework drawn from globalization literature. Two iterations of pattern coding and content analysis identified specific themes and patterns in documents, interviews, and observations. Observational data also provided support for emerging patterns. Although most of the interviewees perceived little change in their institutions' missions during the 1990s, the data collected indicated alterations to mission based on global economic concerns. The author summarizes the mission changes at each college and suggests that a new globally oriented vocationalism dominated the community college mission at the end of the twentieth century.

There are several lines of discourse on the community college mission in the latter half of the twentieth century. One track included a curricular focus, with particular stress upon three domains: academic, vocational, and remedial (Cohen & Brawer, 1996; McGrath & Spear, 1991). Another track encompassed the purposes of the institution: individual and community development, social and economic mobility of the individual, and social stratification and social reproduction (Brint & Karabel, 1989; Cross, 1985; Dennison & Gallagher, 1986; Dougherty, 1994; Griffith & Connor, 1994; Weis, 1985). The educational and training role of the community college made up a third track: the institution as a pipeline to baccalaureate degrees (Dougherty, 1994), as a job preparation site (Clowes & Levin, 1989), and as a place for potential success and failure in society (Richardson, Fisk, & Okun, 1983; Roueche & Baker, 1987). Ratcliff (1994) encompassed most of the three tracks in his concept of the "seven streams" of historical development for the community college. Similar to other scholars and practitioners (for example, Dougherty & Bakia, 1998), Ratcliff did not or could not apprehend the emergence of a new community college mission. Yet, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, the community college possesses a new institutional mission.

By the final decade of the twentieth century, curricular discussions shifted from curricula as inputs to curricula as outputs in the form of outcomes. With the concept of a learning college (O'Banion, 1997) emerging as a beacon of change, institutional purposes decidedly moved from individual and community betterment to economic ends: development sites for workforce preparation (Dougherty & Bakia, 1998; Grubb, Badway, Bell, Bragg, & Russman, 1997; Johnson, 1995). The emphasis upon the economic role of the community college, however, was attenuated by programming that included socially beneficial activities such as service learning, where community needs were addressed by student projects, demonstrating that the community college was a good corporate citizen (Levin, 1999).

As this study shows, organizational behaviors were responses to a global economy, promoted by the state and guided by institutional managers. College administrators reacted to demands from students and business and industry leaders for skills training for employment. Faculty altered curriculum to adjust to marketplace demands, particularly the requirement for employability skills. Along with governing board members, faculty, administrators, support staff and students who served on policy and decision-making bodies conformed to the expectations of business and industry.

These behaviors suggest that in the 1990s, the mission of the community college had less emphasis on education and more on training, less emphasis upon community social needs and more on the economic needs of business and industry, less upon individual development and more upon workforce preparation and retraining. …

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