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«Matthew Zeidenberg and Thomas Bailey March 2010 Abstract With their open access admission policies, low tuition costs, and convenient locations, ...»

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Human Resource Development and Career and Technical

Education in American Community Colleges

Prepared for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)

Human Resources Development Group Meeting

Chicago, Illinois, June 2009

Matthew Zeidenberg and Thomas Bailey

March 2010


With their open access admission policies, low tuition costs, and convenient

locations, community colleges are designed to make college accessible to all. They strive

to meet three main goals. The first is to teach marketable vocational skills, the second is to provide the first two years of a four-year bachelor’s degree program, and the third is to provide continuing education and enrichment for community residents. This paper covers issues that are relevant to the community college mission of helping prepare a skilled workforce for jobs offering reasonable wages. After providing an overview about community colleges and their students, the paper discusses the types of remedial education programs that are most likely to provide the large number of underprepared students enrolled in community colleges with the skills to advance to college-level courses. It considers the growing phenomenon of dual enrollment that enables students to earn both high school and college credit for courses while still in high school. It addresses the ways that community colleges can support local labor markets and regional economic development and their efforts to build career pathways for workers. It describes the growing role of community colleges in online education, and it reviews the financing of community colleges. The paper also discusses issues related to community college persistence and completion, and it cites evidence of the market value of the education and credentials the colleges provide. Finally, it considers the usefulness of the American community college as a model for other countries seeking to develop institutions that serve similar functions.

Address correspondence to:

Thomas Bailey, Director Community College Research Center Teachers College, Columbia University 525 West 120th Street, Box 174 New York, NY 10027 Tel.: 212-678-3091 Email: tbailey@tc.edu Visit CCRC’s website at: http://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu Table of Contents Introduction

The Growth of Community Colleges and Their Multiple Missions

Characteristics of Community College Students

Developmental Education for Underprepared Students: Traditional Practices and Innovative Reforms

The Community College Role in Improving High Schools and Preparing Students for College

The Community College Role in Preparing Students for Local Labor Market Participation

Career Pathways for Youth and Adult Workers

Online Instruction

Financing Community Colleges

Graduation, Persistence, and Evidence of Results

The Portability of the Community College Model to Other Countries


Introduction The number of two-year public colleges in the United States grew rapidly beginning in the 1960s. Today, about a thousand community colleges are found in close proximity to most residential areas throughout the country. The colleges are designed to provide education for all. Because of their open access admission policies and low tuition costs, community colleges attract a higher proportion of low-income and minority students than four-year institutions. Community colleges aim to meet three main goals.

The first is to teach marketable vocational skills, the second is to provide the first two years of a four-year bachelor’s degree program, and the third is to provide continuing education and enrichment for community residents.

In this paper, we discuss a range of issues that are all relevant to the community college mission of helping prepare a skilled workforce for jobs offering reasonable wages. First, we provide an overview about the development of community colleges and their distinctive features and roles. We also provide information on the characteristics of students attending the colleges. Next we discuss the large number of underprepared students and what colleges are doing to address this problem. We then consider the growing phenomenon of dual enrollment, whereby students earn both high school and college credit for a course while still in high school, and in which community colleges are playing a major role. Next we address the role of community colleges in local labor markets and regional economic development, and the colleges’ efforts to build career pathways for workers. We discuss the fairly new education delivery method of online education, which may be beneficial for students with limited ability to attend classes in person. We also review the financing of community colleges. We then consider issues surrounding persistence and completion in these institutions, and we cite evidence on the market value of the education and credentials they provide. Finally, we discuss the usefulness of the American community college as a model for other countries developing institutions that serve similar functions.

The Growth of Community Colleges and Their Multiple Missions

The first community college, Joliet Junior College in Illinois, was founded in 1901, but the community college movement in the United States did not gain momentum until much later. After World War II, the U.S. adopted the goal of making college accessible to all Americans at a relatively low cost, and beginning in the 1960s American higher education expanded greatly. The U.S. distinguished itself from many other countries where higher education remained largely an elite phenomenon. The number of community colleges doubled in the 1960s and continued to increase in the 1970s and 1980s. Only in recent decades have a large number of countries come to realize the social and economic advantages of providing higher education to a larger share of their populations.

Decentralized, virtually all higher education in the U.S. is made available by either the states, private (either non-profit or for-profit) entities, or, less frequently, (usually large) local units of government. Most of the nation’s higher education expansion of the 1960s involved new campuses for four-year state colleges and universities and the creation of new community colleges. Since the turn of the twentyfirst century, community colleges have taken on an even more prominent role in U.S.

education policy.

Researchers, educators, and policymakers have become increasingly aware that while the country has made great strides in opening access to college for the majority of young people, many do not complete a degree or earn a postsecondary award (Bound, Lovenheim, & Turner, 2007). Thus, President Barack Obama has noted that the United States no longer leads the world in the share of its young adult population with some college-level credential. In order to regain the lead, and to strengthen the educational base of the country in general, the President has called on the community college system to graduate an additional five million students by 2020.

Overwhelmingly, U.S. community colleges offer associate degrees as their most advanced degree, although a few have started to offer bachelor’s degrees as well.

According to the Digest of Education Statistics 2008 (U.S. Department of Education, 2008a), the colleges annually confer about 700,000 associate degrees, which usually require two years of full-time study. They also grant about 400,000 shorter-term credentials, known as certificates.

In 2008, there were about 6.7 million students enrolled in degree-granting programs at over 1,000 community colleges in the U.S., representing about 44 percent of all undergraduates enrolled over the course of the year in colleges and universities (American Association of Community Colleges [AACC], 2010). Significantly, lowincome, first-generation, and immigrant college students are all overrepresented in community colleges with respect to their enrollment in higher education.

Generally, a community college is the lowest cost higher education option in the area where it operates, and it tends to serve mainly local students. As the name “community college” implies, these institutions are designed to provide more than a college education to traditional-age students. Indeed, they offer a variety of educational and cultural services to the communities in which they are located.

Thus the community college has traditionally undertaken several missions, which sometimes complement each other and sometimes compete for attention. One role might be broadly thought of as vocational: training workers in practical occupations. Some of the occupations are blue collar (for example, welding), others are white collar (for example, business bookkeeping). Often students in a vocational program will earn a certificate or a two-year associate degree in their occupational major. Community colleges also often take a leading role in retraining workers. For example, a community college in Michigan may enroll a laid-off auto worker and retrain him or her as a medical technologist. The certificates granted by community colleges are usually in occupational areas. Over the last 10 or 15 years, community colleges have become particularly important in training health and medical workers. For example, almost two thirds of registered nurses receive their nursing degrees from community colleges (AACC, 2010).

Community colleges play another important role in providing the first two years of a college education for students who plan to transfer to a four-year college and complete a bachelor’s degree. These students often take traditional academic subjects, such as mathematics, history, or economics. Increasingly, however, many students in occupational courses, such as nursing or computer science, also plan to transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree in those areas. For example, a recent internal (unpublished) survey of information technology students at Macomb Community College in Michigan found that 89 percent wanted to go on and obtain a bachelor’s degree. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook’s entry on registered nurses writes that “many RNs [registered nurses] with an ADN [associate degree in nursing] or diploma later enter bachelor’s degree programs to prepare for a broader scope of nursing practice” (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009). (Note that ADN-level nurses are trained at community colleges, while bachelor’s-level nurses are trained in four-year colleges or universities;

nurses who earn a diploma are trained directly in hospitals.) During recessions and economic downturns, community colleges become increasingly attractive as a relatively low-cost route to the four-year degree for the student who is able to persist and transfer.

A third role that community colleges play is providing continuing education and enrichment to the residents of their communities. For example, a computer programmer may attend a community college to learn about a new technology, or a community member may take art or French for enrichment. A nurse may enroll in a course to fulfill a continuing education requirement needed to maintain his or her licensing. Many of these courses are noncredit and can comprise a substantial share of the activity at a college as well as a significant source of income for the institution. Thus, in addition to the approximately seven million credit students, community colleges enroll about five million noncredit students (AACC, 2010).

Noncredit courses do not count toward a degree or certificate. It is important to note that some of these courses are targeted toward industry certifications, which many workers find useful for career development. Certifications are obtained by passing an examination rather than simply by successfully completing a set of courses, and they are particularly common in the information technology and healthcare fields (Van Noy, Jacobs, Korey, Bailey, & Hughes, 2008).

An important overarching goal of community colleges is to provide “open-door” access to college for low-income, immigrant, and first-generation college students. The average tuition in 2007 was about $2,500 a year, less than half the average tuition for public four-year institutions (AACC, 2010). Many studies have shown that lower tuition increases college enrollment (Long, 2008). Proximity also promotes access. Many states have therefore tried to situate their community colleges so that the large majority of their residents lives within commuting distance of at least one of the colleges. Community colleges also offer classes at night and during the weekends to accommodate the schedules of working students. And, as we shall see below, the colleges even welcome students with academic skills so weak that the students are judged to be inadequately prepared for college. Rather than turn these students away, community colleges provide extensive remediation services to give them the chance to strengthen their skills sufficiently to allow them to take and benefit from college-level courses.

Characteristics of Community College Students

A “traditional” college student is one who attends college full time and immediately after completing high school. By this definition, the majority of community college students are not traditional. Over 60 percent of the credit students in community colleges are enrolled part time, and most community college students work. Of the parttime students, half work full time, and a third work part time. Of the full-time students, 27 percent work full time, and half work part time. The colleges enroll many adult students; thus, the average age of a community college student is 29, although a large fraction — 43 percent — are age 21 or younger. Sixteen percent are age 40 or older.

Most (60 percent) are women; 35 percent are minorities, and 39 percent are members of the first generation in their family to attend college (AACC, 2010).

The U.S. Department of Education (2008b) carried out an analysis of the educational trajectory of students who were high school seniors in the spring of 2004.

Almost all graduated from high school, and 63 percent enrolled in a postsecondary institution in fall 2004. Of these immediate enrollees, 30 percent enrolled in a community college.

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