Coming of Age: Community Colleges Grow in a Time of Challenge and Opportunity

Article excerpt

This month, University Business kicks off this bimonthly column focusing on the realm of community colleges. Like other parts of the magazine, the column will offer advice and comments from college leaders, data, and real-world examples on issues and solutions of interest to any IHE decision-maker.

TWO-YEAR COLLEGES HAVE educated millions of students, but they have also suffered from the Rodney Dangerfield treatment (yup, that respect thing). These days, they're garnering real kudos in academic and other circles. "They are being recognized more than ever as economic hubs, where the rubber hits the road," observes Gerardo de los Santos, president and CEO of the League for Innovation in the Community College.

Yet along with increased opportunities have come challenges. "Community colleges are under considerable pressure," says George Boggs, president of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). Growing enrollments, degree candidates who drop out, under-prepared students, and stretched-thin budgets comprise just a few of the realities.

With change in the air for community colleges nationwide, it's time to get the conversation started. Here are eight ways community colleges offer fresh responses to their most demanding issues.

DEFINE LEADERSHIP

The community college movement boomed in the 1960s and '70s, so it's coming up against an intimidating wave of retirements. To help schools fill their gaps, AACC released in April a set of standard competencies for leaders. The competencies--developed with input from hundreds of people through the Leading Forward initiative---lay out details on areas relevant to IHE leaders: organizational strategy, resource management, communication, collaboration, advocacy, and professionalism. The report opens the doors wide by noting that leadership can be learned and leaders can come from all positions on the playing field.

THINK COLLABORATION

Led by strong and perceptive individuals, community colleges can play a role in keeping certain wavering industries vital. The National Network for Pulp and Paper Technology Training, known as [(npt).sup.2], has grown out of Alabama Southern Community College and now includes community colleges, universities, pulp and paper companies, the National Science Foundation, and other organizations. Noted for its workforce preparation and collaboration efforts, the network gives students scholarships and helps them locate internships. Partner businesses also contribute funds, as well as folks to teach courses and mentor students.

[(npt).sup.2] enforces industry standards and gives students cutting-edge technology and experience, promoting growth from the bottom up. "Collaboration is absolutely essential," says Randy Parker, principal investigator and director of the network. Up next: a likely new certification for pulp and paper technicians.

RECAST RECRUITMENT NETS

What about those students who start with good intentions but wander astray? In the 1980s, Daytona Beach Community College (Fla.) started a database to track students who had completed substantial amounts of credit hours but, for various reasons, dropped out. This fall, DBCC gave people in the database the equivalent of a big hug. The college sent letters to about 3,000 of them, serving up words of encouragement as well as a 25 percent discount on fall tuition.

The effort netted nearly 120 students, according to Glyn Johnston, director of Marketing and Communications. "The fact of the matter is that when you look at the profile for community college students, the majority are working adults," he says. "Some kind of financial incentive can help." While the college originally meant to send the letters just once, it is considering churning out more for fall 2006.

PREPARE THE UNDER-PREPARED

Community colleges are realizing that not everyone is prepared to bridge the daunting gap between secondary and higher education. …

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