If the America’s Graduation Initiative is to be successful we must change the community college mindset from one of community education servant to community education leader. The open access mission of most community colleges is critical to their role in helping more Americans get college level education. For most of their institutional history this has meant reactively responding to community education and labor market needs. The reaction has most typically been to vertically integrate more programs into the core education delivery model. This has left community colleges overburdened, always trying to get more money, but in fact getting less—state support has steadily declined over the last two decades, and it has been underutilized.
State funding has been underused because community college leaders and faculty have pedagogical expertise that can be used to guide an extended network of community-based education providers. These providers, from nonprofits to libraries, are located in the neighborhoods where many students live and can provide education services, especially in remediation. The problem is they lack educational standards, guidance, and leadership that can help them connect their students to college-level course work.
Community colleges need resources to take on this role of providing educational leadership even while they analyze their own education services to understand which ones could be better done by others, given others do the work with consistent quality. The ideal of the “open access” to higher education through community colleges can be maintained through an effectively run network of education providers given community colleges have a leadership role in ensuring standards and quality.
The AGI and its supporting legislation must embrace community colleges as key institutions and look beyond them to a need for adaptable education institutions that can serve students who are becoming more diverse everyday. This vision is needed to successfully engage working learners and hit the president’s goal of college credential attainment.
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