Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Economic, Social and Educational Challenges that Community Colleges Face

How the Recession is Deepening Issues within Community Colleges

Community colleges face many challenges and bear burdens that could result in diminished opportunities for low income students that are trying to advance economically and socially. Unfortunately the recession has amplified these challenges which will contribute to the increasing gap between the rich and poor.

Community colleges offer students the opportunity to continue their education, transfer to a four-year college and advance professionally. The focus on community colleges is increasing due to initiatives to expand educational and vocational opportunities to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Despite the increased popularity of community colleges, they are still facing many difficulties that they must overcome to provide a quality education to their growing population. Community colleges could provide a viable solution to the notable skills gap in America and the astronomical costs of a college education. Instead of forgoing an education and settling with dead end jobs, students could gain in-demand skills. Instead of taking on crippling debt, students could begin education at a community college. Students could get the chance to get accustomed to the college life, develop a hunger to get into a university which could result in an increased appreciation of education and gain discipline. Competitive and academically advanced community colleges could also boost the local economy since many businesses like to locate in the midst of an educated populace. However, in order for students to gain these benefits community colleges need to be well funded and staffed so that they can continue to progress. We should not allow the "Great Recession" to affect community colleges so much that it puts a permanent dent in their advancement.

Limited Budget
Many times, community colleges are perceived as less of a priority when funds are allocated throughout the college system. State governments generally distribute more funds to prestigious state universities and research institutions, since people usually prefer to maintain the status quo. For example, according to a MSNBC report, Northern Virginia Community College had to bear a 23 percent cut in state funding. State universities often have stronger lobbying efforts, direct connections to those involved with allocating funds, legacies and more established loyalties. In addition to decreased state funding, students of lower socioeconomic statuses and without stable employment are more likely to pursue an education at a community college. Therefore, fewer students are able to pay for schooling without requesting financial aid. A limited budget reduces the number of quality professors hired, restricts the upgrades in technology, reduces the amount of resources, prevents community colleges from improving infrastructure and curbs student enrollment.

The number of high school graduates seeking a college degree has increased dramatically in response to the rise of employers requiring post-secondary education. As a result many community colleges are experiencing unprecedented overcrowding. The Ohio Board of Education has noticed that “enrollment has tripled in the past decade for Community Colleges and Regional Campuses”. Also during economic hardship, low income students often turn to community college as a low cost option to gain vocational education and increase their professional opportunities. The rise in enrollment has caused some community colleges to turn away students. In the California system, almost 200,000 were at risk of not being able to enroll in 2010, according to the Washington Post. Because of larger class size, students receive less feedback from each other which creates a less warm and participatory environment. Quality interaction with the teacher is also strained. This may negatively impact the students' learning experience which decreases their chances for success in professional world. A lack of successful alumni results in less financial, credibility and opportunities for future students. Since many community college students do not live in dorms and there is not a strong presence of student organizations, a result is alienation among the students. Overpopulation exacerbates this issue, reducing the chance for community college students to network with one another and decreasing the comfort level to explore the resources that are available at college and in the surrounding area.

Students That Are Unequipped for College
The study, Divided We Fail, conducted on 250,000 California community college students over a period of 6 years by the Higher Education Leadership & Policy at California State University Sacramento, found that fewer than 30 earned their degree or certificate or transferred to a four year college. Many students who enroll in community college are from school systems and households that did not adequately prepare them for college. Other students did not aspire to attend a demanding college or were not motivated to set high standards for themselves while others may be immigrants or first-generation college students. As a result, the majority of students need remedial courses. This makes it difficult for community colleges to expand their higher level courses. They must instead use their restricted budgets to reteach high school curriculum to college students. The lack of rigorous courses holds back students that are seeking to transfer to a top 4 year college. Unfortunately it can be difficult for them to get back on track once they do transfer. Many community colleges are also not able to expand support services such as tutoring or counseling due to inadequate amount of staff and qualified students with abundant time and resources. In 2007 the Community College Survey of Student Engagement found that 310, 000 student from 500 colleges received little to no attention from advisers in the first four weeks. In other instances lower income students are faced with personal issues that interfere with college. For example students with major responsibilities may be unprepared to take on a heavy workload. Therefore their risk for dropping out is high which also puts a major burden on the budget. In addition to being academically unequipped for college, many students are emotionally and personally unequipped for college. If students have struggled with poor economic conditions and come from abusive or unsupportive homes, this could continue to harm their emotional and mental well-being. Depression can hinder academic performance and is a major cause of students drooping out of college. In other instances the students could be suffering from undiagnosed cognitive disorders such as ADHD. Without the proper support and study skills, many students' dreams of completing college are abandoned.

Tarnished Image
As competition for jobs increase, attending a name brand college is becoming more important to prove your intelligence and get your resume to stand out. Elitism is rampant and employers enjoy the ease of only sticking to colleges well-known for their advanced curriculum and innovative students. Due to their high acceptance rate, lack of history, professors without world renowned reputations and low funding, community colleges are unfairly or even fairly perceived as less credible and inferior. William Green, a community college graduate and CEO of Accenture, lamented that community colleges are often “overlooked and underappreciated.”Although the negative images of community colleges are waning, motivated students often avoid community college because they are usually associated with less qualified teachers, unmotivated students, poorly delivered lessons and fewer opportunities. Because of this stigmatized image, it is more difficult for community colleges to garner funding and prestigious professors. Employers often demand bachelor's degrees, which further pushes ambitious students away from the two-year community college track. There are also rumors about the difficulty of transferring to a prominent college since the acceptance rates are low and many classes do not transfer. Therefore students who could benefit financially from transferring feel forced to forgo this option.

Without stepping stones, hope can be lost and people may turn to corrupt institutions instead. Take the time to support legislation and public officials that advocate for community colleges. Community college is another avenue to improving education, granting opportunities to marginalized segments of society and stabilizing the economy through the expansion of skills. Therefore they must be preserved, initiatives must be taken to develop them and hold to them higher standards. 
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Dianne Heath said...

@ Rachat De Credits
I appreciate your lovely comment!

michael said...

I recently read Marc Bosquet's book How the University Works. After that I followed up by reading In The Basement of the Ivory Tower, by Professor X. These two books, coupled with talking to other very intelligent and well-educated young people in the Bay Area, and this blog post of yours about community colleges...all this coupled with the increasingly hideous socio-economic-political landscape: DIRE!

And this education thing isn't a national discussion. I'm amazed how many people have no idea that our higher education is more and more run like the disastrous "managed care" Americans have: we pay more and get far less than 34 other countries. More and more people who are working can't afford the insane rates for health insurance. And unless you're a PhD candidate in computer science, biotech, or chemistry, you may be - as the kids say these days - SOL. Good luck with your PhD in some Humanities! You've spent 8 years writing your dissertation and getting paid to teach undergrads whose parents are paying insane amounts for their kids while you are getting what a manager of a Starbucks is getting for teaching...but when you finally get your PhD: you get turfed. Now you're "worth more" so they give your job teaching undergrads to someone else. And good luck paying off your college loans!

This is complete insanity! (Now try not to remember that the Goldman Sachs guys wrecked the economy, we bailed them out, they gave themselves monstrous bonuses, and refused to lend.)

Dianne Heath said...

I agree! It's all quite ridiculous. To touch on your last point, the fact that the government gave money to private institutions without adequate tracking the money or demanding verifiable results is mind blowing. The government is lucky that their populace feel so disconnected and helpless that they don't act.

The books that you posted sound pretty interesting. I think that all the signs point towards a crumbing educational system that leaves people hopeless. Like you stated, either you have to be genius in the sciences/math or you have nothing. It leaves people in a desperate situation and of course give these same private institutions that we bailed out even more power.
Education is becoming a national discussion but people are not focusing on the correct issues. For example, people should not have to do just math and science to become successful. Clustering into one field or that one top college is not going to solve our issues. There are root issues...like where is the money parents are paying going? Why is coffee more valued more than education that the manager receives the same pay as a professor? Thank you for such a thoughtful comment.

Anonymous said...

Really great article with very interesting information. You might want to follow up to this topic!?! 2012

Dianne Heath said...

@ Anonymous
Thank you for commenting! That's actually a great idea. Just today I was thinking about how great it would be to have a few competitive community college, almost like a community college that resembles an IVY League.
Hopefully in 2012 community colleges will be doing a bit better. I'll make sure to do an update :)

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