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The term Community College is used almost exclusively in the United States and Canada to describe an alternative tertiary educational institution; similar institutions in other regions are known as "junior," "technical," "vocational," or "workers" colleges. Depending upon location and philosophical mandate, these establishments vary in programs and services they offer as well as the type of students they attract. Despite these variations, all such institutions share many commonalities: smaller in size and more focused on a core set of programs than traditional four-year colleges and universities, community colleges offer lower-level tertiary education, grant certificates, diplomas, and may offer Associate degrees.
Critics have argued that community colleges are academically inferior and their funding would be better-used supporting traditional four-year programs. However, the advent of community colleges undeniably opened possibilities to many who would otherwise not have pursued post-secondary education or completed high school equivalency later in life. In this sense, community colleges played a significant role in advancing educational opportunities to a larger section of the world's population.
Community colleges began in North America, before becoming widespread throughout the world. Though there have been numerous different reasons for the creation of each individual institution, there appear to be general issues affecting the local and national community that contributed to the introduction of community colleges. Such events as urbanization, industrialization, and economic development all led to environments favoring community colleges.
In America, community colleges began as extensions of high schools, such as that established in Joliet, Illinois in 1901. These first colleges tended to be small, usually less than two hundred students, and focused on a liberal arts education, with the goal of transferring students to four-year institutions. During the Great Depression, the need for developing a workforce, especially composed of “semiprofessionals,” seen as individuals who could advance past high school but not attain bachelor level degrees, gained national attention. A move for a great number of public two-year institutions, along with a trend to separate such institutions from high schools and affiliate them with higher education gained momentum, and junior colleges became encouraged to develop more credibility through the creation of professional criteria and the use of scientific methods.
However, it was not until after World War II that community colleges became an important factor in American higher education. The educational opportunities that the G.I. Bill presented, coupled with the rise in adult education in response to the demand for skilled jobs and President Truman’s 1947 commission, which suggested a network of public community colleges that would provide education to a diverse group of students at little or no cost along with serving community needs through a comprehensive mission, all helped to foster the role of the community college. The Kellogg Junior College Leadership Program produced a series of grants during the 1960s and 1970s that helped to keep community colleges funded in addition to meeting the needs of the exponential increase in enrollment from the "baby boom" generation.
During the reconstruction of Europe after World War II, as economies and industries started to re-stabilize, junior and technical colleges became prominent. In the United Kingdom, community colleges were used to describe a system in which 16 to 18 year olds received training and adults received part-time education. In Germany, cooperation between the government, industry, and educational sectors (especially after the fall of the Berlin Wall) gave rise to vocational schools called Berufsschulen.
Some community college type systems existed in European countries prior to WWII. In Finland, junior and vocational schools became an outgrowth of "folk high schools," a Scandinavian tradition that dates back to the nineteenth century, wherein adults came to take classes for any period of time. During the twentieth century, the idea of folk high schools was expanded to include separate technical and vocational schools. European Junior colleges still emphasize a balance between continuing education and “Cultural Education”
After the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, and the rise of independent Arabic states after World War I, such Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan took educational concerns very seriously. The government’s focus on primary, secondary, and traditional postsecondary schooling shifted in the 1970s due to a large shortage of skilled labor. The community colleges that resulted were probably the most similar to American and Canadian schools found anywhere outside the North American continent. These schools offered Associate Degrees as well as vocational and technical training. Lebanon and Israel were other Middle Eastern countries that experimented with community colleges, although violence and instability in the region hindered the impact of the community college in the 1970s and 1980s.
The industrialization of Asia in the mid-twentieth century spurred the growth of vocational and technical schools. During the occupational period of Japan after World War II, previously existing institutions were turned into private junior colleges. These colleges had two distinct areas of focus: the first was to help prepare male students for any licensing and certification requirements needed to gain entry level positions in the Japanese economy; secondly, they encourage women to take the opportunity of an education before marriage. In China, provincial vocational universities were established in the 1980s to help industries at the local level meet their skilled labor requirements. Neither of these institutions viewed the community college as a stepping-stone to traditional education; hence, such junior colleges were and still are primarily terminal institutions.
The growth of the community college was slower in Africa during the twentieth century then in the rest of the world, due to poverty, violence, and political instability throughout the region. However, there are many examples of community colleges that have done well on the African continent. In Ethiopia, the Commission for Higher Education recognized the need for technical and vocational colleges and began to create a number during the late 1970s. Institutions for training peasants in more efficient agricultural methods were also set up. In Ghana, illiteracy among adults, especially women, gave rise to the Institute of Adult Education, an affiliate of the University of Ghana.
In the United States, most community colleges are operated either by special districts that draw property tax revenue from the local community, or by a division of the state university. In the former case, the special district is governed by a board of trustees, elected by the local community and subject to limited control by a state agency that supervises all community college districts. In both cases, a president is selected (by the board or the university), who then acts as the chief executive officer of the college, in charge of the faculty and staff.
In Africa, community colleges tend to be expansions of larger universities, operating under the supervision of the national government agency in charge of education, which is primarily responsible for funding. In Asia, community colleges are governed differently. In China, local municipalities are solely responsible for funding and administering the vocational colleges in their cities. Japanese junior colleges are governed directly by the National Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture, but receive minimal funding; others are privatized and must only meet governmental regulations. Community colleges in Europe and some Middle Eastern countries also operate directly under national ministries and departments, receiving the majority of their funding and guidelines from the federal government.
In North America, community colleges operate under a policy of "open admission." That is, anyone with a high school diploma or General Equivalence Degree (GED) may attend, regardless of prior academic status or college entrance exam scores.
The "open admission" policy results in a wide range of students attending community college classes. Students range in age from teenagers still in high school, taking classes under a "concurrent enrollment" policy (which allows both high school and college credits to be earned simultaneously), to working adults taking classes at night to complete a degree or gain additional skills in their field, to students with graduate degrees who enroll to become more employable or to pursue lifelong interests. "Reverse transfers" (or those transferring from a university) constitute one of the fastest growing new community college cohorts.
“Open admission” policies provide certain groups, such as women and adults, opportunities to seek out educational offerings that would not otherwise have been available in such regions as Africa and the Middle East. In these areas, improving literacy among adults with little education has been a primary goal, as has giving women a more equal opportunity to explore academic and vocational options. However, in some countries such as Japan, there is no “open admission” policy for Junior colleges. Eligibility is based upon entrance exams and test scores, the same as for other higher education institutions.
Community colleges generally offer programs providing three levels of study.
The first level of study is toward an associate's degree, in which a student takes necessary courses needed to earn a degree that will allow for workforce entry into jobs requiring some level of college education but not a full four-year degree. The associate's degree program also allows for students who wish to eventually obtain a bachelor's degree at a four-year college to complete the necessary "core" requirements to attend the college of their choice.
Many community colleges have arrangements with nearby four-year institutions, where a student obtaining an associate's degree in a field will automatically have his/her classes counted toward the bachelor's degree requirement. For example, a community college associate's degree in hotel and restaurant management, computer science, or accounting would count toward the four-year school's core requirement for a Business Administration degree. Some have gone one step further, having arrangements with a four-year college for the student to obtain the bachelor's degree from the four-year college while taking all the courses via distance learning or other non-traditional modes, on the community college campus, thus limiting the number of trips to the four-year school.
The second level of study is towards certification in an area of vocational training, such as nursing, computer repair, or welding, which require preparation for a state or national examination, or where certification would allow for hiring preference or a higher salary upon entering the workforce.
The third level of study offers services of local interest to members of the community, such as job placement, adult continuing education classes (either for personal achievement or to maintain certification in specialized fields), and developmental classes for children. Some community colleges offer opportunities for students to return and earn a high school diploma or obtain a GED. Community colleges often work with local employers to develop specialized classes tailored toward their organization's needs.
Advantages and Disadvantages
The U.S. community college model and its variants in other countries has, in many ways, been a positive development in education, providing opportunities for those who would not otherwise have continued their education beyond high school and serving local communities by providing adult education opportunities for lifelong learning. Critics, however, have contended that educational efforts, and funding, would be better spent in other areas, regarding community colleges as inferior in their academic standards and types of courses to traditional four-year colleges and universities. The following are some significant advantages and disadvantages to community colleges.
- Community colleges are geared toward local students and local needs Students who could not afford campus or off-site housing at a four-year college, or for other reasons cannot relocate, are able to attend courses while staying in their local community. Also, community colleges can work with local businesses to develop customized training geared towards local needs, whereas four-year institutions generally focuses on state-wide or national needs. The relationship between a community college and its local community allows students, such as those with limited funds, families, and other local obligations, to explore educational and vocational opportunities without having to relocate.
- The "open enrollment" policy in many institutions allows anyone to begin to work towards their goal of future college education. This policy is highly beneficial to students with mediocre academic records in high school, or in the case of some African institutions, gives the poorly educated working class an educational opportunity they would not have at a traditional four-year institution.
- In most institutions, tuition and fees are substantially lower than those at a traditional four-year public or private institution. Students from low-income families, or those having to work to pay for their education, benefit from such reduced costs. Many colleges offer and accept scholarships or educational grants.
- For some students, the differences between community colleges and four-year traditional institutions, such as more flexibility in scheduling classes, less time restrictions on completion of courses and requirements, more focus on classes that are specifically geared towards the degree being pursued, and reduced costs, means that educational goals such as vocational and technical training are more easily achieved.
- For those students who wish to purse more academic disciplines, rather than vocational or technical training, but are unable to attend four-year institutions, community colleges do not offer the research and advanced academic opportunities of four-year institutions. While transferring from a community college to a four-year institution is ideal for such students, transferring is not always a smooth process, as each four-year college has its own requirements as to what is and is not required for enrollment. Additionally, enrollment in community colleges does not necessarily deal with such difficulties as funding and relocation that can still be a problem after transferring.
- Academic success in a community college does not necessarily mean success in the more challenging four-year institutions. Additionally, the social environment of a four-year institution is drastically different from community colleges and students may find that they are not well prepared for the hustle and bustle and less individualized atmosphere of four-year institutions.
- Non-academic ventures, such as athletic opportunities, clubs, and organizations are less prominent in community colleges than in four-year institutions.
The Future of Community Colleges
Outside of North America and Europe, the future of the community colleges is far from secure. Junior college programs begin and end frequently in African nations due to monetary and political issues. Even in such places as Israel, where community colleges have been established for some time, there has been serious debate as to whether or not these institutions actually benefit society. Differing opinions on education will surely be a debate as long as there are educational systems. Those in favor of community colleges, such as Badran (1989), argue that they are “an investment that ensures both the social prestige and economic security of the country and its people.”
Certainly these institutions offer a "second-chance" to those who were unable or unwilling to seek out such opportunity at an earlier time. They also open "doors" to the world of academia for those unable to go directly into four-year colleges after high school. The vocational and technical skills one can acquire at these institutions have been proven to help economies in Asia. Overall, it certainly is desirable to have an educated workforce and society.
Despite these benefits, however, there are those who adhere to the traditional forms of higher education. Much of the cost of most community colleges must be subsidized since tuition is extremely low, and opponents believe that such money should help maintain the important research and prestige of traditional four-year schools. Universities, after all, have been around much longer, have become much more accessible and are proven capable of producing an educated workforce.
Some people believe that proper education in high schools would make junior colleges unnecessary. Others believe that modern complex society requires more education and extra years should be added to public schools.
Thus it appears that the economic, social, and political aspects of each individual region will determine the future of community colleges.
- "Finland: Adult Education," Encyclopedia of The Nations, December 1988. <http://www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-4618.html> (June 5, 2006).
- Brawer, Florence B. "Community Colleges International." ERIC DIGEST, March 1996. <http://www.ericdigest.org/1996-4/colleges.html> (June 1, 2006).
- "Jordan: Education," Encyclopedia of the Nations, December 1989. <http:www.country-data.com/cgi.bin/query/r-7398.html> (June 3, 2006).
- "Japan: Junior Colleges," Encyclopedia of the Nations, January 1994. <http:www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-7151.html> (June 4, 2006)
- Brawer, Florence B. "Community Colleges International." ERIC DIGEST, March 1996. <http://www.ericdigest.org/1996-4/colleges.html> (June 1, 2006).
- "Ethiopia: Higher and Vocational Education since 1975," Encylopedia of the Nations, 1991. <http:www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-4443.html> (June 8, 2006)
- "Ghana: Adult Education," Encyclopedia of the Nations, November 1994. <http:www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-5253.html> (June 8, 2006).
- McPhail, Irving Pressley. "Top 10 Reasons to Attend a Community College." Community College Week 17.11 (January 3, 2005): 4-5.
- Miller, M.H. "Four-year schools should take cues from community colleges, some educators say." Community College Week 17.9 (December 6, 2004): 3-4.
- Brawer, Florence B. "Community Colleges International," ERIC DIGEST (March 1996). <http://www.ericdigest.org/1996-4/colleges.html> (June 1, 2006).
- Badran, Adnan (ed.). At the Crossroads: Education in the Middle East. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 1989. ISBN 0943852463
- Baker, G. A. III. 1994. A handbook on the community college in America: Its history, mission, and management. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313280282
- Dougherty, K. J. 1994. The contradictory college: The conflicting origins, impacts, and futures of the community college. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. ISBN 079141955X
- Frye, J. H. 1992. The vision of the public junior college, 1900-1940. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313280010
- Kasper, H. T. 2002. "The changing role of community college." Occupational Outlook Quarterly 46 (4): 14-21.
- Murray, J. P. 2002. "The current state of faculty development in two-year colleges." New Directions for Community Colleges 118, 89-97.
All links retrieved March 15, 2017.
- American Association of Community Colleges
- Association for Community Colleges - a new European movement
- Association of Community College Trustees
- Building an Instructional Framework for Effective Community College Developmental Education
- Community Colleges in the United States
- Confessions of a Community College Dean (Blog)
- Internationalizing the Community College: Examples of Success
- League for Innovation
- The Economic Outcomes of Community College Attendance
- The Role of Scholarship in the Community College
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