Projecting the Future of Community Colleges. ERIC
by Cohen, Arthur M.
Projecting the future for the community colleges of the early twenty-first
century involves projecting the future for the nation in general: its demographics,
economy, and public attitudes. This digest uses trend data to forecast
the status of American community colleges over the next decade. If it seems
conservative it is because it is based on the realities of the institutions,
not on wishful thinking about what they should become.
THE NUMBER AND FUNCTION OF COMMUNITY COLLEGES
The number of public community colleges will not expand. By 1975 a community
college could be found within commuting distance of nearly all the people
in all but a few states. The number has remained constant ever since, reaching
stasis at just over 1000 (National Center for Education Statistics, October
1995). Change in this group will occur only to the extent that public universities
organize additional two-year branch campuses or community colleges upgrade
satellite centers to full campus status.
The function of the community college will not change either. The institution
offering career, collegiate, developmental and continuing education has
become well accepted by the public and by state-level coordinating and
funding agencies. Thus, modifications will be in program emphasis, not
in program type. For example, some institutions will strive toward expanded
community services, as in contract education, building separately funded
and managed programs that may grow to be as large as the traditional college
services (Phelps, 1994).
THE PEOPLE WITHIN
The absolute number of 18-year-olds in the United States will rise to
4 million by 2004. The National Center for Education Statistics predicts
that over 3 of the 4 million 18-year-olds will graduate from high school
in 2004 (January, 1995). The expectation that a large proportion of these
students are planning on going to college is rising. In 1992, 78 percent
of all seniors said they planned on attending a postsecondary institution
immediately after high school graduation, up from 59 percent 20 years earlier
(National Center for Education Statistics, June 1995). Although more than
half plan on attending a four-year college, many will be diverted to community
colleges as they find they cannot be admitted to the restricted freshmen
classes at universities. As community college enrollments rise, the number
of associate degrees awarded will increase at a faster rate as strengthened
matriculation and attendance requirements reduce the percentage of casual
attendees. The concept, "Let everyone in and let them take what they want,"
will not be heard anymore (Levin, 1993).
As a result of increases in college enrollments, the number of faculty
is likely to increase, albeit slowly. However, this does not mean a change
in the ratio of full-timers to part-timers. This ratio is likely to remain
stable at 40 to 60 as administrators' desires to save money by employing
part-timers and faculty organizations' ability to protect full-time positions
offset one another (National Center for Education Statistics, October 1995).
The faculty member's primary role as instructor and the number of hours
that a full-time instructor spends in the classroom has not changed for
decades (Russell, 1992) and is not likely to change.
Although current views about technology in the classroom often envision
a fully learner controlled environment that is totally responsive to individual
needs, historically such claims do not hold. The advent of phonograph,
phone, radio, and TV all have brought with them claims of freeing instructors
from their roles as information conduits, but this has never come to fruition.
Regardless of the spread of multimedia and interactive technology-based
education, classroom centered instruction will remain essential.
GOVERNANCE AND FINANCE
Few changes in the pattern of governance in community colleges are evident.
However, there is a trend toward greater state-level coordination, but
it will continue at a slow pace (Fonte, 1993). As the states become more
involved with college policies, gaps in interinstitutional cooperation
will be filled, and criteria for student matriculation and progress will
be set. These pressures will result in efforts to micro-manage the administrative
functions of community colleges, but they will have minimal effect on classroom
instruction and student services. The thrust of state-level coordination
focuses on reporting, compliance with regulations and accountability for
numerous aspects of institutional operations; there is much room for local
autonomy within those requirements.
In the area of finance, community colleges have a decided advantage
over other higher education sectors when it comes to the cost of instruction.
Although the precise amounts allocated to lower division instruction in
the universities are rarely calculated with any reliability, the overall
student cost differential is obvious. Community college instruction costs
about one-half as much as the per-student costs in a comprehensive four-year
institution and about one-fourth as much as in a public research university
(National Center for Education Statistics, October 1995).
Despite the ability of the community college to provide low-cost education,
it is quite unlikely that any state will increase its allocations to community
colleges by more than a couple of percentage points a year. Therefore,
colleges cannot expect to fund wage increases or the costs of new programs,
including the widely heralded instructional technology revolution, through
traditional budget lines. Similarly, capital funds will be in short supply.
In order to meet their financial needs, individual community college budgets
will be augmented to the extent that local leaders are entrepreneurial
(Hankin, 1992). Seeking grants from philanthropic foundations, finding
public agencies with funds for staff training, and acquiring state funds
for unique programs will be rewarded. Leasing the open areas on campus
to agencies that want to conduct fairs, shows, and swap meets, for example,
will be pursued with increasing vigor. Contract training has expanded rapidly
and bodes to continue as a favorite way of mounting new, specialized programs
that benefit local businesses while relieving a portion of the overhead
that the college-credit programs bear.
The typical community college curriculum classified broadly as career,
developmental, community and collegiate studies will continue into the
future. Career education will remain prominent; there can be no reversing
the perception that one of the colleges' prime functions is to train workers,
and ample funds are available to support this function (Cohen and Ignash,
1994). Competition from the universities that develop programs in the technologies
and from the proprietary schools and the publicly funded ad hoc job-training
programs that teach the more specific skills will not change the central
A sizable amount of basic skill development will be necessary for many
years merely to accommodate the backlog of functionally illiterate and
non-native-English-speaking people in America (Ignash, 1994). No other
postsecondary structure is in a position to provide this essential instruction.
The community colleges will not only offer it on their own campuses, they
will also expand their teaching of literacy in universities, lower schools
and business enterprises.
The prognosis for the collegiate curriculum is good. The linkage aspect
of the collegiate function, centering on preparing students to enter junior-level
programs leading to bachelor's degrees in health fields, business, technologies
and the professions, will thrive because entrance to those programs depends
on students' completing courses in the humanities, sciences, social sciences,
mathematics and English usage (Cohen and Brawer, 1987).
However, integrated general education will make little headway. The
twentieth century has seen the slow rise of career education and, most
recently, the acceptance of remedial studies as a legitimate collegiate
function. A mandated, integrative education through which students gain
historical perspective and a sense of the social and environmental trends
that affect their future has yet to take center stage. In sum, except in
the rare institution, general education will continue being debated in
the context of distribution requirements.
Despite the massive growth in access to schooling and the vastly greater
and diverse numbers who have enrolled, the communities from which they
come have been little affected. Do the schools not build a better society?
The individual mobility that they effect does not translate into reorganized
cities, changed working conditions, modified immigration policies or much
of anything else affecting the quality of life across the community. But
did anyone but the most passionate, self-deceiving institutional advocates
ever think that they could?
Cohen, Arthur M. and Brawer, Florence B. The Collegiate Function of
the Community Colleges: Fostering Higher Learning Through Curriculum and
Student Transfer. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1987.
Cohen, Arthur M., and Ignash, Jan M. "An Overview of the Total Credit
Curriculum." New Directions for Community Colleges, 1994, 86, 13-29.
Fonte, Richard. "State Regulation of Community, Junior, and Technical
Colleges." Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 1993, 17
Hankin, Joseph N. "Moving Your Institution into the 21st Century." Community,
Technical, and Junior College Journal, 1992, 62 (4), 36-40.
Ignash, Jan M. "Compelling Numbers: English as a Second Language." New
Directions for Community Colleges, 1994, 86, 49-62.
Levin, Bernard H. "Social Change, the Future of the Community College,
and the Future of Community College Research." Paper presented at the Annual
Meeting of the Southeastern Association for Community College Research,
New Orleans, LA, August 1-4, 1993. 13 pp. (ED 358 883)
National Center for Education Statistics. Digest of Education Statistics.
Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, October 1995.
National Center for Education Statistics. Projections of Education Statistics
to 2005.Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, January, 1995.
National Center for Education Statistics. Trends Among High School Seniors,
1972-1992. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, June, 1995.
Phelps, Donald G. "What Lies Ahead for Community Colleges as We Hurtle
toward the 21st Century?" Community College Journal, 1994, 65 (1), 22-25.
Russell, Alene Bycer. Faculty Workload: State and System Perspectives.
Denver, CO: State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, 1992.
82 pp. (ED 356 728)