Susan Markush

biology instructor, Greenfield Community College

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Should Community Colleges be forced to focus on middle skill workforce development through budgetary control

Recently, there has been a topdown push to centralize the administration, curricula and even college missions of community colleges nationwide, despite studies that have shown centralization does not serve the needs of certain geographical areas better. Moreover, this centralization would erode the traditional focus on a solid educational foundation — one that has helped hundreds of thousands of students around any state reach for better opportunities, whether by gaining the requisite skills or certifications for a good job or transferring to competitive 4-year institutions — and replace it with a strictly school to- workforce model. Disturbingly, this marks a radical break from the traditional community college mission of open access, a mission that many hard-working families rely on in order to afford higher education.

Consequently, community colleges might wind up as technical schools, cutting off access for our most vulnerable populations to the kinds of jobs that require a B.A. or higher degree: the very jobs that pay more, offer better benefits, and drive the global economy in the 21st century. This shift is fueled by our current economic climate, national rhetoric about college accountability and an array of wild cards, including individual political ambitions and other questionable agendas.

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    Mar 19 2012: Hi Susan, We have big problems in education and it starts at the lowest levels. The bigger problem for Community Colleges, in my opinion, is the ability to transfer credits on to the universities. Some are accepted and some not. Which I find stupid as I can get 5 credit hours for "ELVIS THE YOUNG YEARS" at our state university. It is all about money, grants, tution, books, labs, etc ... Community Colleges are viewed as prepatory schools for university academics but serve more to the locals who want to learn computers, photography, exercise classes, and as you alluded to manual trades. I think that "forced" is not as accurate as fisically approperiate. Our local community college is super top heavy (full time) and almost all of the staff are hired for the length of the course (part time). The concern you should be expressing is the major rush to attend for profit on line diploma mills. At the current rate the brick and mortar schools such as yours will be only a memory in ten years. If the manual trades keeps your school open then bless them and continue working. One of my concerns is the intrusion of the federal government into education. If Secretary Arne Duncan gets his way education will be socalized in the next few years and cirruculum, teachers, and students will all be cookie cutter and ran by the federal government. Yep we have a lot to worry about. All the best. Bob
  • Mar 16 2012: This is such a multi-layered question that I do not think I can do it justice in 2000 characters. The movement in community colleges toward turning them into what I call 13th grade, remedial everything, is devastating. Young people "attending college" for many classes and accumulating no credits whatsoever. Endless "dumbing down" of standards to help more and more people grind through a system rather than educating. A strict focus on pushing the "customer" through a business model institution intent on bringing in money rather than an institution of higher education designed to make college affordable for those not on the traditional college path has badly damaged the community college model.

    Two year career path options are great things, but they should not be the only thing. As you note, there are many forces involved. Teachers are kept as adjuncts to keep them from getting overly involved in how the institution is run and too underpaid to have time to seek out solutions.

    Oddly, it is those who seek a "less government is more" solution that should be encouraged to see that leaving the colleges to local authority and state level funding is probably for the best. But, teachers need to stand up for themselves, their students and education.