ERIC Identifier: ED477829
Publication Date: 2002-08-00
Author: Schuetz, Pam
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Community Colleges Los Angeles CA.
Emerging Challenges for Community Colleges. ERIC Digest.
In just over a century, the American community college system has expanded
from a single institution to over one thousand colleges serving almost half of
all students enrolled in public higher education. While community colleges have
adapted successfully to waves of changes over the years, a unique combination of
demographic and socioeconomic changes predicted for the next decade promises to
challenge the resilience of these low-cost, open-access institutions.
This digest is drawn from "Next Steps for the Community College" (New
Directions for Community Colleges, Spring 2002) and summarizes three overlapping
challenges facing colleges in the coming decade: educating a more diverse
student body, assessing student outcomes, and maintaining the educated workforce
needed to meet the increasingly complex needs of the students and institutions.
EDUCATING A MORE DIVERSE STUDENT BODY
typically serve students from a wider range of socioeconomic backgrounds, ages,
levels of academic preparation, educational aspirations, work and family
responsibilities, and levels of English fluency than do four-year institutions
(Williams). Mirroring the changing demographics of the nation, the community
college student body will continue to grow in size and diversity over the next
decade. Community college programs and services will be called upon to adapt to
what Helfgot calls a "continuing wave of the unders," a student population
increasingly composed of "the underprepared, the underrepresented, the
underachieving, the underclass" (as cited in Williams, p. 68).
Almost half of all students entering community colleges enroll in at least
one remedial course. One recent study indicated that 60 percent of this remedial
population are traditional-age students enrolling in college immediately after
high school graduation (as cited in Oudenhoven, p. 39). The other 40 percent are
adult students who may be pursuing personal interests, preparing for transfer,
upgrading job skills, or preparing to change careers. While many students
require some remediation, 80 percent of the remedial population needs only one
or two courses, with math the most common area of remediation (Oudenhoven). The
type and extent of remediation needed varies by students' socioeconomic,
academic, and cultural backgrounds as well as by their educational objectives.
The projected increase in the number of underprepared students raises
concerns that limited college resources may be overwhelmed by demands for
remediation and that other desirable college programs such as transfer programs,
career and occupational programs and noncredit and continuing education
offerings may be adversely affected. Some taxpayers or state boards of education
argue that remediation should not be offered in college, saying that the public
is being charged twice for what should have been learned in high school and that
remediation "dumbs down" the college curriculum. Others argue that as long as
colleges admit underprepared students, they are responsible for providing them
with the help that they need. Remediation is central to the emerging assessment
and accountability movement in higher education, and represents one of the more
important educational, social and economic issues in the United States today
ASSESSING STUDENT OUTCOMES
The ultimate purpose of
assessment of student outcomes is to improve teaching, learning, and delivery of
services to students. Assessment is increasingly linked to accreditation,
accountability, and performance funding in higher education (Seybert). While
similar to four-institutions, assessment of student outcomes in community
colleges reflects the greater diversity of the student body and the broader
educational mission of these institutions. In particular, community college
assessment measures tend to focus around student learning outcomes in the major
academic areas common to most community colleges, including transfer programs
and career and occupational programs.
The transfer function has been a primary component of the community college
mission since two-year colleges were first created. At the state level, transfer
outcomes can serve as a measure of these institutions' educational outcomes,
providing a perspective by which stakeholders can assess the effectiveness of
community colleges in baccalaureate degree attainment. Three core indicators are
typically used to assess the transfer function: the number of students who
transfer in a given year, the transfer rate (usually defined as the number of
"students who transfer" divided by the number of "students who could have
transferred" over a particular time period), and the academic performance of
students after transfer (Alfred, Ewell, Hudgins, and McClenny as cited in
Seybert). Common methods of defining and tracking these indicators have proven
elusive and questions remain as to whether simple calculations can adequately
represent increasingly complex, nonlinear student transfers among high school,
community colleges, and four-year institutions (Townsend).
Almost half of the community college student population enrolls in vocational
education programs each year. Community college programs prepare much of the
nation's mid-skilled workforce, which includes three-quarters of all American
employees, for jobs in business, health care, engineering, computer and
information technologies, and child care (Bragg).
Federal funding for postsecondary vocational education programs is rising,
vocational enrollments are keeping pace with increases in general enrollment,
and high school and college participation in various vocational programs is
strong. On the other hand, there is concern that most postsecondary vocational
programs are not meeting requirements for integrating academic and vocational
curricula as dictated by federal vocational legislation of the 1990s (Bragg).
While recent literature indicates that the greatest progress has been made in
assessing career and occupational programs, and to a lesser extent, in assessing
transfer and general educational outcomes, further research is needed to clarify
types, levels, and measures of desired student outcomes (Seybert).
MAINTAINING AN EDUCATED WORKFORCE
Some scholars predict
that high rates of full-time faculty retirement coinciding with a surge of as
much as 20 percent in the size of the student population over the next decade
will produce a serious faculty shortfall (Gibson-Harman, Rodriguez, Haworth).
Others suggest that this predicted faculty shortfall is illusory, since the
actual number of full-time faculty needed in community colleges will be
mitigated by fewer numbers of students attending than predicted, the
incorporation of information technology into classes and the increased use of
part-time faculty. However, even if the shortfall does not materialize, there is
consensus in the literature that community college faculty will need
professional development opportunities and incentives to adapt to the wider
range of student needs and the new place of technology in effective course
design and delivery.
If the faculty shortfall does materialize, community colleges may find it
difficult to recruit qualified faculty since few graduate programs or faculty
development initiatives adequately address the professional development needs of
community college faculty. Suggestions to offset the potential faculty shortfall
include strengthening graduate programs for prospective faculty, improving
"in-house" college faculty development efforts geared toward current faculty,
and offering part-time faculty development opportunities that lead to full-time
teaching positions (Gibson-Harman, Rodriguez, Haworth).
The number of professional staff in community colleges - defined as employees
who hold jobs requiring a master or doctoral degrees but who are not faculty,
researchers, upper-level administrators or clerical workers -- has grown
significantly over the past 25 years (Gibson-Harman, Rodriguez, Haworth). These
professional staff have educational credentials and experience equal to most
community college faculty and perform essential functions yet are consistently
paid much less and accorded lower status within the strongly hierarchical
community college organization. Enhancing the organizational status, morale, and
career mobility of professional staff will be increasingly necessary to ensure
that this vital group of educated professionals has a stake and a role in
fulfilling the mission and meeting the challenges facing community colleges.
As the size and diversity of the college-going
population surge in the coming decade, community colleges will be pressed to
meet a broader, more dynamic range of student needs and aspirations. College
programs and services face growing pressure to assess student learning and
program effectiveness while promoting professional development of faculty and
staff to meet institutional needs in the coming decade.
Community colleges offer one of the few routes toward greater social and
economic well-being for students, their families, and communities. The way in
which community colleges handle emerging demographic and socioeconomic
challenges will help shape the quality and availability of low-cost, open-access
higher education in America for years to come.
This Digest is drawn from "Next Steps for the
." New Directions for Community Colleges, Number 117, edited by
Trudy H. Bers and Harriott D. Calhoun. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Spring 2002.
Blumenthal, A. J. English as a Second Language at the Community College: An
Exploration of Context and Concerns. (pp. 45-53)
Bragg, D. d. Contemporary Vocational Models and Programs: What the Research
Tells Us. (pp. 25-34)
Gibson-Harman, K., Rodriguez, S., Hawarth, J. G. Community College Faculty
and Professional Staff: The Human Resource Challenge. (pp. 77-90)
National Center for Education Statistics. Remedial Education at Higher
Education Institutions in Fall 1995. Washington, D.C.: Office of Educational
Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, 1996.
Oudenhoven, B. Remediation at the Community College: Pressing Issues,
Uncertain Solutions. (pp. 35-44)
Seybert , J. A. Assessing Student Learning Outcomes. (pp. 55-65)
Townsend, B. K. Transfer Rates: A Problematic Criterion for Measuring the
Community College. (pp. 13-23)
Williams, T. E. Challenges in Supporting Student Learning and Success Through
Student Services. (pp. 67-76)
Key Literature. (pp. 101-108)