Forces Motivating Institutional Reform. ERIC Digest.
by Yee, Jennifer Agnes
Orchestrating change is a key responsibility of community college leaders,
who must respond to perennial calls for institutional reform. Community
colleges feel the pressure to change from both external and internal sources.
This Digest provides an overview of trends and issues driving change on
community college campuses.
The desire for change within community colleges often results from trends
beyond classroom walls and off campus grounds. Key sources of externally
motivated reforms are:
Societal needs and expectations. Community colleges face increasing
pressure to respond to shifting societal trends. For example, the Community
College League of California expects its institutions to assist the state
in addressing the challenges caused by the growing diverse population (1993b).
Also, Parkland College in Illinois established a campus-wide action committee
to respond to the changing demographics of its students, faculty, and staff
(Harris & Kayes, 1995). In these diverse contexts, simply accommodating
change is inadequate; community colleges are being asked to evolve. Most
often, the expectation is for the institutions to become focal points in
a network of social services (Lorenzo & Lecroy, 1994; Travis, 1995).
The changing population also calls for increased multicultural awareness
(Harris & Kayes, 1995) and an understanding that students are consumers
who may seek post-secondary education from alternative sources (Community
College League of California, 1993b). Workforce 2000, a study commissioned
by the U.S. Department of Labor in 1987, predicted that the labor force
would add more older workers, women, people of color, and immigrants. As
a result, community college leaders have altered their institutions to
serve as training grounds so students can learn how to interact with diverse
peoples in the wider socio-economic context (Harris & Kayes, 1995).
International competition. Concomitant to these domestic changes, industrial
globalization requires workers highly skilled in adapting to international
cultures. Community colleges therefore should recognize their students
as members of a global community who need to develop the social and labor
skills necessary to work well with people of all backgrounds (Harris &
Educational competition. Community colleges can further help to solve
economic problems by ensuring all workers access to skills training or
retraining (Community College League of California, 1993b). In this effort,
community colleges face competition from the growing private education
sector. To maintain a competitive edge, community colleges need to solidify
their current funding base and establish new sources of income to ensure
quality public education (Community College League of California, 1993b).
Another approach is to revise curricula to meet students' future needs
through "school-to-work" or "tech-prep" programs (Harris & Kayes, 1995).
Technological developments. Linked to economic and labor force pressures
is the need for students to gain technological literacy. Community colleges
that are flexible enough to incorporate the latest hardware and software
will be better equipped to increase educational access, because technological
developments are stimulating new ways of thinking about educational service
delivery. "Electronic colleges" may provide "instruction and student services...24-hours-a-day
at home, in the office and even in the car" (Community College League of
California, 1993a, p. 5). Technology may also provide access to students
who previously could not take courses because of schedule conflicts or
geographic location. O'Banion (1997) proposes that an improved "learning
college" may build its foundation on technology because technology is "ism-free"
(i.e., racism, sexism, ageism). However, technology causes concern if its
usage perpetuates classism and prevents access to students who cannot afford
computers at home (Community College League of California, 1993a).
Legislative action. In some instances, reform is not voluntary but mandated.
The state governments of Florida and New Jersey and several other states
for example, have legislated the use of standardized tests to measure community
colleges' performance and to provide data for accountability (Capoor &
Morante, 1990; Florida State Postsecondary Education Planning Commission,
1995). The Community College League of California calls for establishing
"postsecondary education as an inalienable right in California" (1993b).
Such legislation would have enormous ramifications for all aspects of institutional
planning and resource allocation.
Funding. Decreasing public investment in education at the state level
can also stimulate reform efforts. As program development is placed on
hold and budgets are trimmed, community college leaders have been forced
to pursue new funding sources. Private development efforts, innovative
financial aid solutions, and altered student fee structures are examples
of measures undertaken to ensure quality public higher education (Community
College League of California, 1996).
From within the community college system, an agenda for reform emerges,
often in response to external trends. Internally stimulated reforms involve:
Changing academic values. The values underlying teaching and learning need
to be critically examined. New pedagogy is needed for teaching students
how to successfully manage changing environments (Lorenzo & LeCroy,
1994). This emphasis on "outcomes-based learning" shifts the learning paradigm
from being behaviorally-oriented to being developmentally-oriented (Shipley,
1995). That is, the goal is to move students from accomplishing discrete
tasks to knowing how to accomplish those tasks. The former implies memorization
and practice; the latter implies synthesis and analysis, two critical components
of lifelong learning. Because of the fluidity of technological change,
those who commit themselves to lifelong learning will adapt better to social
and economic changes (Travis, 1995).
Faculty. While technology may provide major advances in access and educational
delivery processes, faculty relations with students will still comprise
a major component of the community college experience (Community College
League of California, 1993a). Faculty will help to improve educational
services by revising curricula and adopting new technologies (Community
College League of California, 1993a). In another vein, limited resources
may alter the faculty make-up. Tenure may be less available to full-time
faculty, and colleges may opt to employ part-time faculty more often (Lorenzo
& LeCroy, 1994).
Curricular reform. The curriculum conveys implicit values and institutional
priorities. Valuing multiculturalism, community college practitioners have
responded to changing student demographics by incorporating diverse literatures
into their curricula and by acknowledging new research on students' learning
styles (Harris & Kayes, 1993). The development of new technologies
has also caused faculty to reexamine their educational delivery methods
(Travis, 1995). Additionally, "tech-prep" and "school-to-work" movements
have stimulated faculty to collaborate with high school faculties and to
incorporate more skill-building into the curricula (Horan, 1995).
While this Digest highlights only a smattering of the ongoing pressures
for reform, these forces illuminate the interrelated nature of the community
college sector with the wider social, political and economic landscape.
As institutions address these internally and externally stimulated pressures,
questions regarding the community college mission will no doubt arise.
Nevertheless, fostering a socially responsible citizenry through accessible,
quality education still remains their unified goal.
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