Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Old Community College Try: Community Colleges Are Dealing with a Diverse Influx of Students, an Amended Mission and Changing Policy Guidelines

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Old Community College Try: Community Colleges Are Dealing with a Diverse Influx of Students, an Amended Mission and Changing Policy Guidelines

Article excerpt

From the founding of the nation's first public community college, Joliet Junior College, in Illinois in 1901, the American community college has always stayed true to its roots--to serve local students and provide a gateway to higher education.

"Rural folks created community colleges because they did not have sufficient access to the existing four-year system," says Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab, associate professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Over time,people from all sorts of backgrounds have utilized the community college because they felt that they weren't getting sufficient opportunities in a traditional setting.

"[Community colleges] have been an incredibly important place for people who otherwise couldn't afford [nor have] access [to] college because of things like geography" adds Goldrick-Rab.

A 2013 report by the National Center for Education Statistics revealed that almost half of all students in higher education are enrolled at a community college.

Numbers for Black and Hispanic students are at 15 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

"[Community colleges] have been a tremendous force for getting minorities into higher education," says Dr. Hunter Boylan, director of the National Center for Developmental Education at Appalachian State University. "If you look at where we were 30 years ago, in terms of minority representation at community colleges, we've made great strides."

Most of today's associate's degree institutions were created between 1960 and 1978, partly a product of the proliferation of financial aid in the 1965 Higher Education Act and the Truman Commission Report, which established a network of public community colleges, as well as the increase of baby boomers attending college. Community colleges serve more minority students than ever before, and have even become majority-minority institutions in many states like California, says Boylan. But enrollment often does not spell out educational success at these two-year schools, he notes.

"A student at a school once said, 'It's easy to get into this place but hard to get out of it,"' Boylan recalls. "I think one of the problems is that a large number of the minority students that come to college are first-generation college students. They don't have [much] knowledge of what the rewards and expectations are [or] what the rules and procedures are. So they come in knowing very little about what college is all about."

Though community colleges have expanded and become more diverse, Boylan says receding resources and funding have diverted the colleges from their original mission--to provide general edu cation and assist students with transferring to a four-year university.

"Colleges have tried to accommodate the influx of diverse students, but they haven't been doing all the right things," says Boylan. "The right things are integrating support services with instruction, doing a better job of training faculty on how to deal with diverse students and how to use learning theory and developmental learning theory in their instruction."

About one in five first time degree-seeking students at community colleges finished their degree in about three years. This number is lower for American Indian, Hispanic and Black students, at 18 percent, 16 percent and 12 percent, respectively, according to "Student Engagement and Institutional Graduation Rates: Identifying High-Impact Educational Practices for Community Colleges."

According to a recent Century Foundation report, community colleges are actually very segregated. That affects the success of their students, notes Goldrick-Rab.

"The browner the population, the fewer resources they get," she says. "I am very cognizant of that problem. I think it is very important to note for our policymakers [that] community colleges are also full of low-income White people. …

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