Academic journal article Journal of Adult Education

Adult Education in Community Colleges: New Challenges to Old Problems

Academic journal article Journal of Adult Education

Adult Education in Community Colleges: New Challenges to Old Problems

Article excerpt

Community colleges play a critical role in the provision of a variety of adult-centered learning activities. These programs, whether self-funded, industry sponsored, or the result of state economic development funding, cover a broad spectrum of learning opportunities that lead to credentials, diplomas, certificates, employment training opportunities, and increasingly, leisure pursuits. Historically, community colleges have also collaborated with public secondary school systems to offer different types of remedial education, namely adult basic education (Cohen & Brawer, 2008; Voorhees & Milam, 2005).

Adult basic education programs range from the increasingly popular English as a Second Language to literacy instruction and depending upon definitions, even high school equivalency programs. As these programs tend to be heavily reliant on individualized or small group instruction, they can be expensive to operate and subsequently, offered at the mercy of funding availability (Grover & Miller, 2014). Such problems have been particularly noted in the public eye with the shift in the General Education Development (GED) offerings, where states pay districts for students who successfully pass the exam and earn their GED, or incorporate testing into formula budgets; however, those payment rates may not equal the actual cost of offering GED instruction and testing. Critical elements for successful testing, for example, include computerized test administration, training of test proctors, etc. The result in some states has been the creation of state-specific high school equivalency testing that a combination of school districts, community colleges, and state agencies offer (Dono & Gelles, 2014).

In addition to high school equivalency testing, community colleges have been called upon to deliver a greater range of adult leisure education programs. There is growing demand for these programs as the number of adults over age 65 increases dramatically. With individuals living longer and the increased mobility of mature adults, community colleges are logical agencies to offer quality of life educational programming (Largent & Horinck, 2008).

The third dominant area of adult education that community colleges have engaged in is related to job and occupational instruction. For many adults, job training programs can lead to initial employment, but learning throughout a career has become a necessity. In many instances, particularly in rural areas where job training programs are scarce, community colleges are critical providers of such programming (Katsinas & Lacey, 1989; Katsinas, D'Amico, & Friedel, 2012).

The rapidly changing nature of adult education in community colleges has been noted in the popular press, but few efforts have been undertaken to define in any quantifiable way the status of these educational programs. Therefore, the current study was designed to explore the changing nature of community college adult education from the perspective of state leaders. By focusing on state directors of community colleges, the interactions of different state agencies and local responsibilities can provide a unique perspective on both the current and future directions of these types of programs.

Background of the Study

Higher education generally is at a crossroads. Institutions have begun freely competing with proprietary institutions, increasingly do not consider publicly defined service-areas, and recruit nationally for a student population that is interested in the amenities of the institution as much as they are interested in the academic experience of college. Accrediting agencies and state legislators have attempted to challenge this movement with demands for student learning outcomes (Dougherty, Natow, Bork, Jones, & Vega, 2013; Zumeta, 2011), but such demands have done little to slow the commercialization process of higher education (Giroux, 2007).

Community colleges are not exempt from the commodification of higher education, as they, too, have begun a massive movement to increase their beautification and diversity of programs at the expense of their historic mission. …

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