The Diverted Dream: Community Colleges and the Promise of Educational Opportunity in America, 1900-1985

By Steven Brint; Jerome Karabel | Go to book overview

4
The Great Transformation: 1970-1985

During the 1970s, the community colleges were finally able to realize the vocationalization project that visionaries in the junior college movement from Koos to Gleazer had favored for almost half a century. Since the 1920s, as we saw in Chapters 2 and 3, the advocates of junior college vocationalization pursued their project in the face of persistent student indifference and occasional overt opposition. But in the early 1970s, a complex concatenation of forces--among them, a changed economic context and an unprecedented degree of support for vocational education from key institutions--including private foundations, the federal government, and business--tilted the balance in favor of the vocationalizers.

A key factor behind the sharp increase in vocational enrollments at the community college, we shall argue, was the declining labor market for graduates of four-year institutions. But the objective change in the structure of economic opportunities for college graduates was not, as the consumer-choice model would have it, the sole factor responsible for the shift in junior college enrollments; indeed, the impact of such objective changes is, of necessity, mediated through subjective perceptions--perceptions that, we shall attempt to demonstrate below, tended to exaggerate the economic plight of college graduates. Moreover, the community college itself, driven by a powerful organizational interest in expanded enrollments and in carving out a secure niche for itself in the highly competitive higher education industry, actively shaped its economic environment by pursuing those segments of its potential market--in particular, adults and part-time students--most likely to enroll in occupational programs.

By almost any standard, the rise in vocational enrollments during the 1970s was remarkable. Between 1970-1971 and 1979-1980, for example, the proportion of A.A. degrees awarded in occupational fields rose from 42.6 percent to 62.5 percent ( Cohen and Brawer 1982, p. 203). With respect to total enrollments (full-time and part-time) the picture was similar: between 1970 and 1977, the

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