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Community Colleges On America’s Front Line

American community colleges say they’re on the front line of holding together an unravelling society. We’ll get the message.

Students at the Bunker Hill Community College "LifeMap Lab" on the Boston-area college's campus. (Courtesy Bunker Hill Community College)

Students at the Bunker Hill Community College “LifeMap Lab” on the Boston-area college’s campus. (Courtesy Bunker Hill Community College)

An awful lot of America’s biggest challenges these days run through the humble institution of America’s community colleges.  K-12 education falling short?  Let community colleges retrofit.  Industry needs job training?  Call the community college.  Higher education too expensive?  Go to a community college.  Worried about inequality?  Pray community colleges will build a floor under the workforce.  Where America unravels, community colleges knit, or try to.  This hour On Point:  community college leaders from across the country on their “hold it together” role now.

– Tom Ashbrook


Pam Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill Community College. (@PamEddinger)

Bruce Leslie, chancellor of Alamo Colleges. (@AlamoColleges1)

Paul Brown, president of the Zane State College in Zansesville, Ohio.

From Tom’s Reading List

Times Higher Education Supplement: US rural community colleges hit by economic upturn — “US rural community colleges face a battle to survive in the face of declining state funding and falling enrollment, an expert has warned.J. Noah Brown, president and chief executive officer of the Association of Community College Trustees, told Times Higher Education in a podcast interview that the ‘huge increase’  in community college enrolment during the recession had ceased, leaving many institutions at risk of closure.”

Washington Monthly: America’s Best Community Colleges 2013 — “Today, community colleges remain a pillar of the American system of higher learning, with more than a million new freshmen—42 percent of the total—starting their college careers in a two-year institution every year. Politicians love to praise their salt-of-the-earth qualities, including President Barack Obama, who began his administration with bold promises to invest in the two-year sector.”

The Hechinger Report: New figures suggest community college grad rates higher than thought — “Of the estimated one in four students who start at community colleges and then move on to four-year institutions, more than 60 percent ultimately graduate, the National Student Clearinghouse reports. And another 8 percent who haven’t finished haven’t dropped out, the study says; they’re still enrolled. The revelation suggests that the proportion of community college students who successfully complete their educations is higher than the dismal 18 percent the U.S. Department of Education calculates finish their two-year degrees within three years.”

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  • Shag_Wevera

    Let’s just call it job training instead of education. Let’s get rid of the beautiful red brick universities and replace them with pre-fab steel buildings. Won’t be long before they plug a cable into our brain and install the latest version of productive worker 2.0.

    • Ray in VT

      Whereas that may be true to varying degrees for some institutions, I think that many are still attempting to provide a good educational option for those seeking to further their knowledge, even if traditional higher education class times don’t fit into their schedules.

    • skelly74

      Many will not be compatible to download “productive worker 2.0″. I guess they will fight for the last shovels available.

    • Jasoturner

      As long as the Plutocrats can still send their kids to Ivy’s, where they can drink lattes and discuss Diderot…

      We, or at least I, was lucky enough to enjoy the leisurely life of the mind when I attended college – today the near-exclusive province of the well to do who needn’t worry about college debt or post graduation income.

      That is a shame, for as you say, our sights have now been lowered to becoming trained as PW2.0s. What a shame to not be able to enjoy that experience of reveling in learning for it’s own sake.

      • Ray in VT

        I think that one of the very nice things about college was that we could sit around and take the time to do things. Sure we screwed off at times, but we could also get a bunch of us together and talk history or literature or philosophy.

  • Human2013

    This is not much more than another marketing ploy in America. There is a mass hysteria in American that everyone “lacks skills.” The truth of the matter is that the human brain will never compete with the processing power of today’s computers. Automation and the digital revolution have changed the world and have taken many jobs in its creation and these jobs are not coming back. I think a strong liberal Arts education is vital to society, but today’s employers are not looking for that type of education.
    I’m so interested to see how things unfold over the next decade.

    • Coastghost

      And whatever jobs automation of the workplace has not killed, Obama’s (Un)Affordable Care Tax Act WILL kill, per the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

      • Ray in VT

        Funny, that doesn’t seem to be the conclusion of that report.

        • jefe68

          Maybe he needs to take a reading comprehension course at a local community college.

          • Ray in VT

            You don’t expect him to lower himself to such a level do you? He could read by age 6 or something after all.

  • Jeff

    What we need is higher education reform. We need a new path to gain in demand skills within 6 months to a year of time. The current college system takes too long, is too expensive and it involves a lot of fluff (i.e. liberal education requirements) that don’t pertain to an actual job. Many people go to college to get a decent paying job, especially the mid-career individual who goes back to get retrained in some new skills…they don’t have 4 years to take off from work while raising a family, they can’t afford $50,000+ in loans. A new higher education system like this would put a huge dent in the skills gap and give many people a chance at a good job without putting life on hold for 4 years. Let’s be honest here, a lot of the skills at a job are learned on the job anyway…the education system exists to keep a lot of professors (especially the lib ed instructors) in a job.

    • Human2013

      German schools havea deep relationships with employers that we lack in the US. You’re right….there is such a disconnect in our system with no policy remedy in sight.

  • Coastghost

    Last we heard some 44% of entering college/university freshmen required some degree of remediation (a sure sign of how poorly our public schools are performing, too, as if anyone cares): what percentage of freshmen entering community colleges, technical colleges, and vocational schools require any degree of remediation? (or do community colleges, etc., dodge the remediation bullet insofar as they don’t have robust athletic programs to divert attention or resources from academic performance?)

  • creaker

    Gone are the days when I went to a (poor quality) 2 year school and scored a job at Bell Labs. The primary purpose of community college these days is to acquire the skills and remediation needed to be able to attend a real college, since high school largely no longer fills that role.

  • creaker

    Community colleges need to start offering more to high school age kids, including teaching college credit courses in high schools. The kids that “get it” waste so much time waiting to get to college so they can start their real education.

    • Charles

      I entirely agree.

      I decided to finish college in my late twenties, and since I had taken so many “liberal arts” AP tests in High School, I was able to do the rest of the prerequisite work for my 2-year degree at my hometown community college, while I worked full-time. Further, I was able to pay cash instead of taking out loans because the price is so reasonable. I could then transfer to my Bachelor’s institution with only 2 years to finish.

      My point is that if we can get students to compile college credit in non-traditional ways, either by taking courses at a 2-year, placement tests, or what have you, we can make a dent in these skyrocketing college costs we hear about.

    • keltcrusader

      My son took 5 college credit courses at his HS that were administered by the State CC system. We paid for the credits at a fraction of what they currently cost and they were transferable. The courses ranged from US History to Calculus and he did very well in all of them. I think it helped him in getting a great scholarship to a private college for EE/CE; otherwise we were looking at CC for 2 years and then transferring to a 4 yr to finish.

      Many school systems offer these types of courses now. We also had 2 relatives that effectively started as Sophs in college by utilizing their earned credits and now one is a College Counselor and the other is a Librarian.

    • weblizard

      I agree with the idea, but the CC budgets are tight to start with; where would the $ for expanding into HS come from? I have seen HS students take courses at my community college, I don’t know how the paperwork is done to override the HS/GED requirement. We’re doing as much as we can-

      • keltcrusader

        In our case, the course was taught right at the HS and the Instructor followed the criteria as set by the CC and students had to earn above a certain gp avg to pass & earn the credit – no travelling or extra expense. Similar to an AP course

  • Charles Vigneron

    In the early 70s I worked in the printshop of the local community college (WWCC) for a semester and learned to run an offset printing press. I’m now retired. They had a state-of-art welding course and many locals worked on the Alaskan pipeline and aviation.
    They recently began a course for wind-turbine technicians.
    They’re nimble on their feet to suit training to needs.

  • Rigoberto R Escobar

    I attended BHCC and was 16 credits short of graduating. I had to work and when I lost my full time job I had to drop out to make less than half my original income working 3 jobs. My frustration is how few of the courses I took offered real job skills at an employer that paid more than minimum wage

  • monicaroland

    Community colleges are wonderful. After a career in journalism, I returned to college to earn a master’s degree in reading. I taught part-time at a community college for nine years while also working full time in a middle school. My night college students inspired me. The classes tend to be small and the instructors are very close to the students. It’s cheaper, too. We need to encourage more high school students to attend community colleges, where they can earn a two-year degree that will lead to good jobs. Instead, we keep up the lie that all kids need to attend a four-year college. What a tragedy.

  • Katherine Leonard

    I’m tired of seeing the massive enrollment lists of students at 4-year public universities who are taking 90-level (remedial) classes in English, Math, and Science. If a student’s high school (or home school) fails to prepare them for higher education, then a community college is EXACTLY the place they should be until they are capable of taking on the academic challenges a traditional university demands.

    • weblizard

      It’s sad, I agree; unfortunately, not all people at the management level see it that way. In my system, we’re getting the message that they don’t like seeing all the student loan money going to remedial classes. If they cut back on those courses, I don’t know what will follow. Pressure for K-12 schools to do what they are supposed to?

      • http://www.openeyesvideo.com/ Glenn C. Koenig

        K-12 schools are hopelessly antiquated. There is still way too much of the ‘sit down and do what we tell you’ model, left over from hundreds of years ago. This is why the ‘home school’ and ‘unschooling’ model is growing. Creative energy is the true engine behind quality learning, not grades, exams, and other ‘carrot & stick” methods, which have been shown again and again to inhibit learning, rather than enhance it. And that creative energy comes built in to almost all children before they enter school.
        Conventional schools waste this potential, and as a result waste time, money, and demoralize students who end up thinking of themselves as incapable.

  • Coastghost

    Oh joy: Raskolnikov this hour, Travis Bickle next hour . . . .

    • jefe68

      Oh joy, you stop posting silly memes.

  • creaker

    One big change from a generation ago, back then a college grad was a block of broad, raw material ready to trained by an employer. Now employers expect hires to be already trained and experienced in highly specific skills instead of the generic ones they would pick up in college.

  • S.Kinsey

    I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Communication in 2001 from St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX; an education that cost nearly $100,000. After college I worked in the non-profit sector doing Volunteer Management, making less than $30,000 a year and living paycheck to paycheck. I went back to school in 2005 to Austin Community College (for a fraction of the price of St. Edward’s) and earned an Associate’s Degree in Nursing. I’m now a Registered Nurse in an Emergency Room in New Orleans and earn twice what I made using my four-year degree. I loved my time at St. Edward’s University and I value the education I received, but as for career earnings, community college was definitely a better choice for me.

  • Myles Oliverio

    I attended a four-year university and achieved a Bachelor’s degree in Cultural Resource Management. It landed me a part-time seasonal park guide position with the National Park Service. After five years of living on 15K a year, mainly in the summer and no other jobs comparable, I left the NPS for a community college program in HVAC. In three months in the community college program I have already landed an apprenticeship and a part-time job at a supply house. More knowledge and opportunity in three months with a trade than a college degree in five years.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    If America recovers from the acts of domestic terrorism by politics & the financial sectors it’ll do so without the “aid” or intervention of these mindless, heartless Al Qaedas — New York City & the 7 richest counties of the world + our nation’s capital.

    The rub will be keeping the millionaires and billionaires of these regions from noticing America has picked itself up and left them behind: to root in their growing, nauseous heaps of money & influence.

  • Fred_in_Newton_MA

    Despite the success stories, there are real questions of the value received by the students and accountability for educational practices.
    A close relation taught at Bunker Hill last decade (before the current president). Depending on the department, adjunct instructors were allowed to teach no more than nine courses over several years, then were not re-hired. Why? Because of a labor agreement, the school would have had to raise their pay for subsequent courses (it is a pittance, BTW) and 2) offer the instructor at least one course to teach each term thereafter.

    Every adjunct instructor in one department had the same experience, except for one who, by mistake, was allowed to teach more than 9 courses, and had to file a grievance to enforce the above rules.

    How about some independent oversight?

    • weblizard

      What a ridiculous contract! Throw away their skilled educators that they already have on the cheap? In CT, there is a cap on credits/semester across the whole system, but no limit on length of time teaching in the system. Heaven knows, we have PT faculty with longer careers then much of the tenured faculty. In CT we do get pay increases over the years and a guaranteed course after so many years in the system. PT, untenured faculty are becoming the norm; many schools have far more courses taught by adjuncts than FT, tenured faculty. Saves the schools lots of $ otherwise spent on salary & benefits, with contracts only lasting a term.

      • Fred_in_Newton_MA

        It is worse in Massachusetts (are you reading Pres Eddinger?) Each school is treated separately for “tenure” purposes – teach 8 courses at Bunker Hill, 8 at Mass Bay, and you still have not reached the pay/hiring threshold. It is exploitation, and in a state which prides itself on being “progressive”.

        • weblizard

          That is ridiculous. Adjuncts are already a institutional bargain; that kind of hurdle to get the PT version of seniority is just abusive. I agree, I used to think MA was more progressive than that. At least you don’t have to live without health benefits there. They finally gave us access to health insurance, which was good, so long as you didn’t need your salary for much else…

          • jefe68

            Adjuncts do not get any health benefits.
            If it’s a state school you will be required to pay into the state retirement fund.

        • jefe68

          And, it’s a union shop. Which is going to be interesting as the adjuncts are forming there own union.

    • jefe68

      If I’m not mistaken Bunker Hill pays about $2500 per 3 credit course. Mass Art is about $4500.

      • Fred_in_Newton_MA

        Mass Art is a 4-year/graduate degree granting institution. Perhaps all Mass state 4-year schools pay their adjuncts better than the 2-year schools. Anyone know?
        BTW, Mass Art has a wonderful reputation, and highly competitive admissions as it provides a much better value than many of the art programs at private colleges.

        My plumber is a Mass Art grad. IMO, liberal arts are the cornerstone of a vibrant society. (I’m a technologist _and_ a liberal arts grad)

        • jefe68

          Your plumber is a Mass Art grad…

          I bet he did not learn plumbing at Mass Art.

          Credit hours are the same no matter where one teaches. The content should be the same as well. Mass Art to my knowledge does not have a huge amount of adjuncts, as most colleges do, but the pay discrepancy is not justified. When you factor in that other community colleges in the state system pay on par to what Mass Art does, it’s clear that Bunker Hill is not paying their faculty enough.

  • http://www.openeyesvideo.com/ Glenn C. Koenig

    I see high schools trying to polish their reputations by focusing on how many graduates are headed to 4 year colleges. The 4 year colleges continue to represent themselves as necessary for a successful life. Read that: If you’re not going, you’re a loser with only a high school diploma. I call this academic tyranny.
    Instead of the typical high school student bowing down like a supplicant to the big bad 4 year college, let’s turn the tables on this! Let’s teach high school students to be smarter shoppers and reject that hype and look at more than just this binary choice. There are many opportunities out there and there need to be even more, so a young person (or even someone who wants to expand their opportunities) can try various lines of work and life and discover their true passions!

    • northeaster17

      Unfortunately many jobs, such as mine, require the four year paper. Not that that has anything to do with my abilty to do my job. It’s just the way it is. At times I do wish that I had actually gone to trade school but that is water under the bridge.

      • Ray in VT

        My job largely requires and M.S. While it was a bit of a pain and extra debt, I do think that such requirements have served to greatly increase the level of skill and professionalism in the field.

  • Maggie Ribb

    Ours is the ultimate community college success story, and I always share it with parents and students who are stressed, thinking a 4 yr. school right out of high school is the only pathway to success.
    Our family had suffered a family tragedy when my girls were in high school, and when the time came, my youngest daughter was not ready to go away to school. She enrolled at 4 C’s here on the Cape. and finished with an Associates in Psychology. She was accepted right away to Simmons College, where she obtained a degree in Biopsychology. She was hired “right out the gate” by Beth Israel in research, where she had the good fortune to work with two highly regarded mentors in the field of Schizophrenia. She then was accepted into Yale’s highly competitive GEPN program (Graduate Entry Prespecialty in Nursing), graduated last May and now works for Yale at Yale-New Haven Hospital and Yale Psychiatric Hospital as an APRN in Psychiatry. There were opportunities for appearing on published papers, as researcher and author along the way.
    I have often heard her say that, including all of the higher education she experienced, the professors at 4 C’s were some of the finest.
    Now granted, she is bright and she worked very hard to get where she is, but the point is, community colleges provide a significant pathway to success which is often overlooked.

  • FourSix ZeroThree

    Im an alternative energy student. Solar and wind. Year and a half into a 2 year degree and we still haven’t been up in a utility size turbine. Thats like going for a computer degree and havent even touched a computer.

  • jefe68

    Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa who is a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital and runs a basic science research lab out of Johns Hopkins Hospital. He started his education at a community college. (San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, California)

    Adam Steltzner is a NASA engineer who works for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). He worked on several flight projects including Galileo, Cassini, Mars Pathfinder, Mars Exploration Rovers (MER). He was the lead engineer of the Mars Science Laboratory,[Curiosity rover EDL phase (Entry, Descent and Landing), and helped design, build and test the sky crane landing system. His first college experience was at College of Marin is a community college in Marin County, California.

  • Mina

    I believe 2 year colleges and vo tech degrees are the way to go over a 4 year degree because through those programs you are most likely to graduate with an actual skill. 4 year degrees such as BA in Business are so generic you come out with an expensive piece of paper and for what? Sold on the idea that it was going to make it possible to have a higher salary. Sure it works for some, but not all. And a wonderful student loan to carry for 20 years.

  • Coastghost

    The lurking danger for community colleges seems to be the temptation to foist every imaginable form of social massage therapy upon it, the fate that has befallen our public schools.
    If the NEED for remediation is such a likely outcome of exposure to public education (over 40% of a population here, 70% of a population there), public education AND colleges/universities, AND community/technical/vocational schools ALL have exempted themselves from the competency needed to conduct remediation efforts.
    Seriously: our education system from top-to-bottom is incapable of leading effective remediation efforts, insofar as our education system is responsible for generating the problem.

  • George Potts

    How are community colleges able to deliver education so much cheaper than state schools or private colleges?

    • Jeff

      No research, no graduate students, smaller scale facilities and they don’t offer the upper level, complex courses (i.e. in engineering).

      • jefe68

        Also the pay is lower and the majority of instructors and professors are adjuncts.
        No teams or gyms and very underfunded libraries.

    • http://www.openeyesvideo.com/ Glenn C. Koenig

      Adjunct professors, who are paid very little. “Plain Jane” facilities, rather than fancy ivy covered buildings. Smaller budgets for promotion and advertising. Links to businesses, which fund some programs in order to create employees to fill their skilled positions.

      • northeaster17

        Adjunct professors are glorified burger flippers. At least in the eyes of the colleges payroll dept. Of course college presidents and administrators make much more. Our higher education system has gone off the rails.

        • Ray in VT

          Take a look at what coaches make if you want to talk about going off of the rails.

        • jefe68

          70% of all faculty at all non-profit teaching institutions are non-tenure and adjuncts.
          They have zero bargaining rights and a lot of times no benefits or any involvement in the curriculum.

          • Human2013

            Why do we expect anything different in this economic system….Education is just following the lead of big business: high CEO (president) pay, suppressed wages, positions with no benefits, narcissism in the upper ranks…..

    • Ray in VT

      A lot of them also aren’t geared towards full time, on campus enrollment, which entails housing, dining facilities and the myriad of things that go into campus life, such as sports, events, etc.

      • weblizard

        There are eateries, events and sports at at least the schools where I’ve taught; just not on the scale of a residential school. But yes, far less expense in those areas. On the 4-year campuses, they also use grad students along with PT teachers, so they are getting those faculty-salary savings, too.

        • Ray in VT

          I suppose that it, in part, depends upon the size, of course. My experience has been with the Community College of Vermont, which is very much along the lines of what I described, but it’s probably hard to say what is “typical”, based upon how different they can be.

    • tbphkm33

      Limited resources, limited facilities, limited academic programs, limited libraries – facility funding from state government. Then a lot of cooperative arrangements with other community organizations.

      Nothing wrong with the model – CC is great for some students. Just don’t anticipate the next Einstein to have received his/her entire education at a Community College. That’s like hoping a donkey will one day win the Kentucky Derby.

  • Dr. Elizabeth A. Gilbert

    Would the speakers be so kind as to address the very current research that shows that only 28 percent of community college students who take developmental education courses
    go on to earn a degree within 8 years. A majority drop out before completing developmental courses and before enrolling in college-level credited course work in their chosen field. In addition would the speakers address the path to contextualized learning as a practical and effective means for adult learners to learn and then complete degrees at community colleges. Community colleges make a lot of money on developmental course work. Thank you.

  • Roy Boy

    A huge problem in the university system is the fact that so many of them are trying to do high-level, cutting edge research. They stress that above all else, thus the students are paying outrageous tuition to support all this research (most of which ends up being read by a handful of people, only to support their own research, and the quality of instruction is neglected entirely. Community colleges have the opportunity to do a much better job because they can focus on teaching and learning.

    • tbphkm33

      Oh yes, lets forget about scientific and technological advancement – who needs those fancy labs.

      Actually, it is the other way around, students benefit from the labs being there. Tuition dollars do not go to running the labs. The scientists and researchers who run the labs spent countless hours up half the night writing grant applications. Funding labs is a full time job and the process does indeed insure private and public grants go to the most deserving research efforts.

      The next top notch researchers and scientists come out of those universities where they have the opportunity to work in the labs. Corporations do not fund their education, no, technological advances are funded by the activities of university labs.

      Sure, we could cut out the labs – but would you really be happy with still running around with a Walkman? Or not see any medical advances in 30 years – would you be satisfied with the same treatments that were to notch in the 1980s?

  • twenty_niner

    I graduated from a prestigious engineering school. After graduation, I took a course in x86 assembler at a local community college that was the most well-taught CS course I ever took. The instructor was a working programmer who really new his stuff, liked to teach, and was good at it.

    Feeling encouraged, I then took a course in networking that was close to useless and a course in UNIX that was above average. In the end, as is the case at the most expensive Universities, efficacy will be hit and miss and highly instructor dependent.

  • tbphkm33

    A good read is: The Revolt of the Masses, José Ortega y Gasset (La rebelión de las masas), 1932 – Spanish philosopher. Some of the comments here today revolve around the issues societies face when they “educate” the masses. Especially when the education does not prepare the masses for the world at hand or education itself becomes a self-sustaining business.

    Funny how a work from 80+ years ago still rings so true.

    • Avril111

      my Aunty Sienna recently got a year old Jaguar only from
      working off a home computer… Recommended Reading B­u­z­z­3­4­.­ℂ­o­m

  • marygrav

    I am glad that someone offered another view of Community College. Even though I attended two great community colleges, I found the main weakness in my last CC in Iowa that it did not develop an intellect in its students. This was demonstrated by it Learning Center/Library placement of its journals.

    While visiting the Center, I observed a person who was a Library Student at UI telling the CC librarian how to place the magazines. He convinced her to place the popular magazines in the lounge/reading area and to put the journals in the rear of the library in box files.

    I thought this was wrong because by having the journals in full view of the students peaked their curiosity and would encourage them to think and research. Popular Magazines like People and Sports Illustrated don’t do this. I complained, but was told this was best for the students. But I understood that this was a move to dumb the students down and not stimulate their intellects. This is not surprising because it seems the point of our Iowa Community College is to produce workers, not thinkers.

    Another thing that should be empathized is why Community College are so cheap. The are kept low cost through the use of Adjunct Teachers/professors who work on a part-time bases with no benefits. In most cases they are forbidden to unionize. In Iowa teaching 2 classes, if you are lucky, grants you about $14, 000 per year. Included in the job is working more than one campus and requires in most cases a Masters Degree and license.

    Teaching is an honorable and expensive profession because the majority of teachers in CC are still paying off their college loans and their own medical insurance. Teaching is a 30 to one profession in that there are 30 students or more per class. In most cases remedial classes are required because of the conditions of the US K-12.

    Community Colleges are wonderful institutions, but they should be view with eyes wide open. Everything that shines is not gold or facebook pure.

  • BB. M

    Thanks for this great discussion, OP. I really enjoyed it. Someone said something to the effect that community college saved their life, and I completely echo that sentiment. I had such a positive, uplifting experience at CC. I have nothing but good things to say about it.

  • Charlotte Gifford

    I’m a 26+ year veteran CC professor and committed to the mission of access and excellence. I am most concerned that both aspects are compromised by an appalling lack of resources. For years, it’s been fashionable in political circles to praise the CCs but not to actually FUND them. To quote a colleague: I can no longer do more with less; I can only do less with less. Is this what we want for 50% of our first-year students?

  • Cathy Faltermayer

    I was a secretary for 10 years proficient with Word, Microsoft office and Excel. I did not pass the remedial computer test and was required to take a technology class, until they realized I was paying my own way then I did not need to take it. Additionally I spent $900 on remedial math classes when I transferred to the University of North Carolina I passed algebra one with a C. I think there needs to be more financial accountability with government money at the community colleges- I witnessed so many students using a debit card in the school store to buy candy and other items that were marked up at a considerable amount because if they don’t use it they lose the government money. But some of the best professors I have had were at the community college- very committed.

  • km

    How do community colleges keep their prices low? One way is that they use the corporate model of a contingent workforce, turning professors into part-time, low-paid, no-benefit, no-tenure, temporary teachers. Check it out here: http://www.alternet.org/education/highly-educated-working-poor-toiling-university-near-you and here: http://www.campusequityweek.org/CampusEquityWeek/statement-bowen.htm and here http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/24/exploitation-of-adjunct-professors-devalues-higher-education and lots more places that you could choose to look. Your guest was ingenuous when he said that community college professors on the whole don’t want to be at universities. I would wager that statement is not based on any research or facts but on wishful thinking at best or a desire to obscure the problem of adjuncts in poverty at worst. It’s vitally important to provide education to all — but let’s not do it on the backs of adjunct and part-time professors, who are sometimes not much better off economically (if at all) than their students.

  • Cacimo

    If you are starving perhaps you should concentrate on getting a job that will feed you first. There are decent paying jobs one can take while going to college at night.

  • Kevin Burber

    I have long been a supporter of community colleges and agree that community colleges play an important role in developing the community workforce. However, I listened to an NPR story (http://www.npr.org/2014/02/03/268427156/part-time-professors-demand-higher-pay-will-colleges-listen) that has really been weighing on me.

    To preempt an objection – I am a Pharmacist and don’t know anyone who is an adjunct professor…anywhere.

    Paul Brown spoke so highly about the instructors and how dedicated they are. Yet the above story details how the community colleges are using the current economic climate as an excuse to take advantage of people who are desperate for a job. I wonder if there is a class in ethics that their institution offers that may help with that?

    I’m starting to feel that community colleges are at the same time a solution to a problem, but are contributing to others. The same students you are trying to help could end up as an adjunct professor…and still as hungry as they were when they first crossed the door.

    • Caprice Lawless

      Kevin, your observations are spot-on. Our community college
      system, awash in funding with nearly a quarter billion in reserves, has hired
      two new administrators per day while telling adjunct faculty there is no money
      to pay them a living wage. Our AAUP chapter at Front Range Community College
      takes adjuncts to food banks and helps them find subsidized housing, energy
      assistance, health care, etc. While our college was building its “rainy
      day fund” and embarking on a building campaign, so ambitious the president
      made for his pet architect a full-time position in our college, 4,000 adjunct
      professors (who teach 85% of the courses in our college) have been living
      through not only a rainy day, but a rainy decade!

      This idea that we should find jobs elsewhere is idiotic, on several levels. Our
      college calculates our work hours only as the hours in the week that we are
      lecturing or in office hours. This way, 4,000 employees (the overwhelming
      faculty majority) don’t qualify for the Affordable Care Act. That way, the
      numbers appear that we are only working when we are talking to students.

      Are we to pay doctors poverty level wages and then have them pick up work at
      FedEx making photocopies? After all, we only see them for half an hour or so,
      so why should we pay for the other hours they are supposedly “working?” What
      kind of health care would we have then? Are we to ask clergy to drive delivery
      trucks all week and then just show up Sunday morning and give us a half-hour
      sermon (and pay them accordingly), until they can get back to their “real
      jobs?” Why do we pay lawyers for the time they think about our cases, prepare
      statements, correspond with colleagues and judges, etc., just for that hour or
      so we are with them in the courtroom? If the model of calculating work hours
      serves the community college, why not for all other types of work?

      What does this type of argument say about the respect for American workers of
      any type, in any industry? More chillingly, what does it portend for this next
      generation of workers? Shouldn’t workers everywhere be alarmed about the
      casualization of work at the community colleges? If the model of exploitation
      works there, why wouldn’t it work everywhere?

      Is innovation for the next century to be predicated on a 19th century
      employment model? What is America to do with its intellectual capital? Is it
      efficient to have highly educated people who know how to teach this breadth of
      a student body folding sweaters at a department store instead of teaching? Who
      made the decision to make paper-pushing administrators highly paid, while
      assigning teachers a lower status that custodians? What does that say about
      administration’s agenda? What does that portend for the future? What of
      the common good, the need for quality, public higher education?

      It is clear the agenda is a dismantling of higher education, an attack on
      the intelligentsia and all that connotes in the last century. We should be a
      unified and strong workforce of professionals serving the public good. When the
      drive, commitment and intelligence to teach a generation is considered by a
      college leadership something to be discounted and eviscerated, woes betide that
      generation. When we are gone, who will dare to teach?

  • Ltp

    Community colleges have their place and ARE a valuable resource for those needing to train (or retrain) for careers – but some DO defraud students – particularly on the basis of graduation requirements.

    Here in NYS many of the SUNY community colleges, teaching medical arts, have enrolled WAY more 1st year students than they have ‘seats’ in their clinical classes – which are ‘mandatory’ to complete prior to graduation.

    100 new students may be enrolled each year and split just between nursing and medical imaging programs (to name only 2 I’m familiar with) but with only 23 vacancies in the clinical classes for each program that leaves 54 students waiting a year (or more) – assuming all 100 remain enrolled and don’t transfer to higher cost programs run by teaching hospitals.

    It’s sorta like the booking scam the airlines ran – until Congress created penalties for over-booking more passengers than an airline had (physical) seats on its aircraft.

    As if over-booking weren’t bad enough; the students trapped in this ‘limbo’ are required to remain ‘enrolled’ and paying tuition and fees – even though they’re denied the remaining classes they need to graduate!

    Those who are self-financed (paying out of pocket) face thousands more in expenses than they originally estimated but those who are dependent upon government ‘guaranteed loans’ and grants soon find themselves facing coercion in the form of threats and ‘reinterpreted’ CQPAs if they don’t collaborate – if not outright expulsion from the SUNY system.

    Of course they still must pay down the loans they received and spent on the academic classes the DID complete – even though those credits won’t transfer to any other community college, teaching hospital or private technical school.

    THESE students are offered an option requiring they submit FAFSA applications containing ‘false information’ (a felony) – such as their intent to switch from their original desired program to some other less popular one and switch back again – as soon as college officials grant them a seat in the clinical classes.

    Some of these students spend 2 or more years (in a 2 year school) enrolled in Physical Education (gym) classes such as jogging, tennis and ‘spinning’ (stationary bicycle) – some without even attending their classes! Others spend their time watching old TV shows and films to pass the time until THEY’RE allowed to complete their clinical requirement and graduate.

    Of course the college officials deflect any criticism even though the students are saddled with twice the debt originally estimated and the taxpayers are also scammed out of several thousand dollars for the grants awarded to finance these students’ ‘studies’.

    And don’t even consider reporting (whistle-blowing) to the state and federal authorities – they don’t consider this a ‘crime’ because “It’s all for a good cause”.

    The question is “WHAT cause; keeping classrooms filled and financing state college officials’ and instructors’ paid sabbaticals or providing paying customers (students) the services they contracted for?”

    When I and fellow students questioned these practices we received an ‘education’ all right – an education on ‘How to get ahead in the USA by playing the system for all it’s worth’.

    People in the media express shock over dishonest politicians and military officers. After this experience it’s easy to understand how it’s come to this today.

  • Rick Evans

    I found the protestation by a caller that community colleges were not developing ‘whole persons’ for a democratic nation while focusing too much on vocational training lacking. And, I thought the guests were a little to quick to rubber stamp his assertions.

    If middle and high school haven’t done that, there is where the fault needs to be corrected. Neither of my grandmothers even finished high school but both had very good grasps of civic responsibility and engagement. One, who learned to read as an adult in NYC night school in the ’20s, was heavily involved in union organizing.

    There is definitely a role community colleges need to continue playing their role in providing an affordable first two years of college on the way to a bachelor’s degree. However, it should not be the job of community colleges to make up for an inadequate K-12 education.

  • longfeather

    What I feel most sorry about is that with the exhaustion the adjunct teachers must experience, they are not able to produce as much joy of learning that the liberal arts always provided all we engineers and scientists when we squeezed these ‘supposed Gut courses” in between our labs, etc. When we were able to take a ‘gut’ course, we usually had one of the best experiences of our life in ‘astronomy’, music composition for non music majors,’ j’French Literature in Translation.’ It was how we ‘geeks’ achieved a world class education as undergraduates, as these ‘guts’ were taught by the best teachers in the departments.
    How is an adjunct professor able to physically have the physical or emotional energy to ‘transfer’ a love of learning to students if they are in traffic from assignment to assignment. Real love of learning doesn’t work on the Reaganesque ‘trickle down theory.’
    No, students should not have to pay for fees as well as tuition, if the fees go to support the life style needs of the students at George Allen’s university, formerly known as “Jefferson’s University.”

  • http://flustercucked.blogspot.com/ Frank TheUnderemployedProfessi

    Anyone interested in the subject of whether or not our nation is sending too many people to college and training a large excess of college graduates for non-existent job positions should read this excellent article:


    In the Basement of the Ivory Tower. The idea that a university education is for everyone is a
    destructive myth. An instructor at a “college of last resort” explains

  • David DeLong

    Thanks for the great discussion on the challenges community colleges face and their complex role in addressing serious skills gaps facing their students — and employers. To broaden the perspective on how skill shortages are being addressed — or exacerbated — by U.S. higher education, see my recent post on the Harvard Business Review Blog: “How Liberal Arts Colleges Can Stop Fueling the Skills Gap.” http://bit.ly/1aI1wPN

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