Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Community College: NO LONGER?

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Community College: NO LONGER?

Article excerpt

Harper College's effort to gain baccalaureate-granting status has sparked a debate in Illinois over the mission of two-year colleges.

Community colleges have long been the destination of choice for immigrants seeking English-language skills, older nontraditional students seeking flexible class schedules and students needing remediation to fill the gaps left by substandard K-12 schools. Nevertheless, many community colleges have expanded transfer-focused offerings in recent years, attracting students in other states and even across the globe with classes equivalent to courses offered by top-ranked universities.

Some community colleges have taken their missions one step further, developing bachelor's degree programs that have sparked an intense debate over whether "mission creep" is setting into many community colleges that are dropping "community" from their name and slowly adding more and more bachelor's programs. Many scholars openly question whether some community colleges will be distinguishable from four-year colleges as twoyear college administrators, faculty and students begin to promote the idea that their community college is a "junior" college no longer.

If mission creep sets in, what will happen to underprivileged inner-city populations to whom the community college is the one hope for gaining the skills to launch and maintain a prosperous career? What will happen to the new immigrant who will no longer be able to walk through the community college open door to gain basic language skills?

It is these questions among others that have sparked a debate over a bill pending in the Illinois legislature that would allow Harper College in Palatine to offer two pilot baccalaureate programs in public safety administration/ homeland security and technology management The bill, HB 1434, was passed by the House last April and is now awaiting action in the Senate, and Harper President Robert L Breuder says though Harper has been climbing a "steep mountain" in trying to get the bill passed and signed into law for the past five years now, "we stand the best chance ever of having this bill finally cleared."

Many Illinois four-year colleges have uniformly opposed HB 1434, arguing that in addition to the mission creep concerns, any decision to allow Illinois community colleges to offer baccalaureates should come as part of a comprehensive higher education plan, not decided on a college-by-college basis.

University of Illinois at Springfield spokesman Thomas Hardy says the concept of allowing Harper to set up baccalaureate programs shouldn't be realized via a single bill, but "this is a matter that is appropriate for the state board of higher education. They're going to be developing a strategic plan for higher education in Illinois, and this is something that would be best addressed through that strategic planning process, rather than ad hoc changes from one part of the state to the next"

And even the Illinois Community College Board has come out in opposition to HB1434, as spokesman Steve Morse says "grade schools don't offer high school diplomas, and grade schools have a certain mission. And high schools have a certain mission, and community colleges have one and so do universities. They all should complement each other, but that doesn't necessarily mean they have to do each other's jobs."

Morse adds that two-year colleges should emphasize partnerships with four-year colleges that allow tour-year colleges to set up bachelor's programs on community college campuses.

Breuder says he fully supports the concept of having a four-year college locate a needed bachelor's program on a community college campus, as has been done with a nursing bachelor's offered at Harper through Northern Illinois University. Nevertheless, he says that if four-year schools are unwilling or unable to set up bachelor's programs in high-demand career fields, community colleges are dutybound to step in and fill the void. …

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