In the modern educational system in United States, community colleges have a major role to play. The role played by community colleges are unique and vital in a way that they are offering the first, and sometimes even the only, exposure to higher education for many people. A new shift has become evident with many K-12 schools converting into K-14 schools. Most of the educationists have appreciated this transition as the shift from K-12 institutions to K-14 institutions reflect the growing importance of community colleges in the US educational context.
Community colleges have an extensive and penetrating influence on the educational standards of American society. People might further pursue a four-year college or university course or make immediate application of their knowledge to the work situations. But apart from these comprehensive sessions at the community colleges would positively render the people better informed – making them potential voters and responsible members of the society. A relative newcomer in the higher education system, the community colleges need a better introduction.
History reveals that the foundation of the modern community college was laid by two radical developments in higher education system in US. The Morrill Act of 1862, initiated the process , allotting lands for special universities, that pursued the fields of practical studies like mechanics, agriculture, applied studies etc. Addressing a broader spectrum of subjects, other than the conventional and elite arts subjects, the purpose served the country’s need to prepare for a changing world of work.
Another remarkable development that complemented this egalitarian step was the foundation of the public two-year institutions – the Lewis Institute in Chicago(1896) and Joliet College. The concept of higher education went through a radical change with emergence of a new concept that all Americans have the right to access and benefit from the university or college education, even with federal assistance, in necessary conditions. The introduction of the term ‘community college’ reflects a broader sense of societal obligation.
Community Colleges in Today’s Context
Since the late 1990s the sector of community college has experienced an astonishing growth. Today, more than 1,000 community colleges in United States include public, private and tribal colleges as well. Some institutions also have multiple campuses. The real reach and popularity of these institutions can be better assessed from the statistics of the student body. Among the 5.5 million students enrolled in America’s public community colleges, a vast majority is pursuing higher education opportunities.
The introduction of these colleges are no longer viewed as an experiment in higher education. In the post-secondary education of the nation, the community colleges hold a major and integral part. In the students of the community college, a truer picture of the present and future America, is more evident in comparison to the typical four-year formats in the traditional colleges and universities. Among different segments of higher education, the demographic diversities are sharp, more so with the representation of the ethnic minority groups. This multi-ethnic population with diverse cultural backgrounds are now matriculating by the millions. The nation’s community colleges are providing them a strong foundation with standard academic preparation along with the basic training for pursuing their occupational targets. This population of students also include a large wave of immigrants from all parts the world, specially the Pacific Rim. A balanced curriculum is needed to make these students successful in future.
Community Colleges in the Context of Global Society
Internet, electronic banking etc have made the cause and effect almost instantaneous. Time and distance are no longer playing significant parts in various international processes. Economic interdependencies, global politics, agreements like NAFTA are increasingly making it essential for the students to pursue a wider spectrum of education. The community colleges can provide proper knowledge and understanding of the various economic, political, cultural and religious issues that are absolutely critical for the students.
Progressive community colleges follow some basic steps to equip the students for the practical world:
- The colleges offer an extensive courses of high standards and also provide scopes for learning-community formats and honors
- Provide the faculty with proper support to ensure professional development
- Secure benefits from the adaptability to the new delivery formats, for the distance educations in particular
Strengthening instructions would most assuredly fortify the purpose and the ability of the community colleges to execute their mission with higher education in modern America.
In 1995 President Clinton, had acknowledged the importance of these two-year institutions in the nation’s future, at an annual conference of the American Association of Community Colleges. Stressing on the federal government’s role in spreading the new awareness, Clinton described community colleges as a threshold of economic opportunities and the chief architect behind the achievement of the “American Dream”. How these colleges move ahead in their missions is critical to millions of students and the nation’s future as well.