by Victoria Shah
This paper will address five policy issues facing the community college (CC): educational attainment, remedial education, workforce development, general education, and fiscal pressure. For each of these five issues, I will briefly describe some of the major concerns, debates, and research as explained in recent literature. In addition, for each of these five issues, I will identify two questions that emerge from the research and suggest how to research one of them.
The issue of educational attainment has primarily been examined in terms of retention and transfer rates of CC students. Dougherty (1994:85), describes concern over the high drop-out rates revealed in recent studies of CC students (42.6%) as compared to four-year college students (30.6%). He explains that part of this gap may be explained by differences in student characteristics (i.e. aspirations, academic preparation, race, and class). However, after controlling for different background characteristics, attrition rates for CC students still remain over 10% higher than those of native four-year college students due to “institutional effects” (pp. 86). Dougherty (1994) explains that CC’s provide less support for students in the areas of: financial aid, academic and social integration, on-campus residence, faculty confidence, and interaction with students. Dougherty also expresses concern over low transfer rates of CC students to bachelors degree programs and higher levels of post-transfer attrition. He explains that students who survive their first year of CC face continued institutional obstacles to earning a BA degree. He cites: inadequate academic preparation, poor transfer counseling, lack of coordination between CC and four year programs, difficulty transferring credits, obtaining financial aid and admission, and also the logistical and psychological adjustments to a new campus.
Recommendations in the current literature to address the problems of poor retention include a wide array of programs targeted at first year students where the bulk of attrition occurs (Jalomo, 2001:264). Several freshman orientation programs help to enhance academic preparation and aspirations, along with academic, social, and community integration. (Jalomo, 2001). Mentoring, counseling, and multi-faceted approaches such as learning communities have also been advocated (Jalomo, 2001& Laden, 1999:183). In addition, programs that increase the “emotional capital” of institutions by responding to the needs of at-risk and non-traditional students are also recommended (McGrath & Van Buskirk, 1999:34-35). Institutional commitment to a fostering a “culture of support” is said to effectively engender the coping skills, self-confidence, competence, positive feedback, hope, and determination that students need to overcome obstacles on route to academic success. Laden (pp.174) adds that CCs can facilitate student involvement and success in academic programs and necessary transformation of institutional culture by embracing new students’ diverse experiences, cultures, knowledge, values, histories, and multiple ways of knowing. Laden (pp.183) cites the importance of minority role models, mentors, and counselors, informational workshops to encourage transfer, and CC tranfer centers to help facilitate the transfer process. In order to further increase CC transfer rates, Ignash and Townsend (2001) insist that state-level transfer and articulation agreements must be further developed. Their research reveals a vast array of existing agreements in terms of their coverage, criteria, faculty and student involvement, strengths and weaknesses. Ignash and Townsend (pp.189 and Dougherty, 1994:257) emphasize the need for articulation agreements to embrace the array of general education coursework that may have been taken in private, for-profit, and/or vocational institutions. In addition, Ignash and Townsend (pp. 190) stress the importance of continuous faculty involvement and evaluation of state articulation agreements in order to promote quality, efficiency, and currency. Dougherty (pp. 270) suggests some radical structural approaches to increase baccalaureate attainment of CC students including the conversion of CCs into state university branch campuses and also for CCs to explore granting their own bachelors degrees.
After reviewing the literature cited above, I have questions about the actual level of student intent for baccalaureate attainment. Because many students who attend CCs may never intend to persist or earn degrees, I fear that for some students this need may be overemphasized in the current research (Grubb et al, 1999a, also talks about this). In addition, while Dougherty suggests that the low retention and transfer rates at CCs are due to structural problems, limited research is available on the outcomes on BA attainment of the radical structural reforms he suggests. It would be interesting to study how conversion of CCs to state university branch campus effects BA attainment. A multi-site study may help to indicate which programmatic features best help to increase BA attainment. In addition, recently several CCs in Canada and the U.S. have begun granting their own bachelors degrees. I would like to see some research on the costs of these institutions expansions both in terms of government expenditures and tuition costs, in order to see if they actually provide a greater return on investment than existing four-year degree programs. In addition, I would like to see future research on the democratizing effect of the CCBA in terms of assessing increased access to BA degrees for students who otherwise would not have earned them (as compared to diverting students from existing viable opportunities).
While studies clearly show the increased need for remedial education (Perin, 2001:3; Grubb, 1999a:171), there is little consensus on: the purpose of remediation (Shaw, 2001:193), if and how to determine placement and completion of remedial programs, and how and where it should be taught. While some programs utilize remediation strictly to enhance students’ academic and vocational skills (Spann & McCrimmon,1994: 164), others incorporate broader goals such as helping students to develop communication skills for real life (Grubb: 186), or to prepare citizens for social responsibility, leadership or global competition (Spann & McCrimmon:172). If the purpose of remedial education is to increase access and equality of educational and economic opportunity, Shaw (also McGrath & Spear; Clark,1960; and Karabel, 1972) question the diversionary impact of tracking and stratification that take place when students are relegated to remedial or lower level programs. Shaw notes that racial and ethnic minorities (and also first generation college students) are disproportionately relegated to remedial programs. Perin and Shah (2001), both citing McCabe’s research, express concern over the likelihood of minorities to be found most severely academically deficient. Shah, Shaw, and Orr (1998) all point to the need for improved quality and coordination in the K-16 system.
Shaw (2001:195), Perin (2001:13), Grubb (1999a:175-179), and Shah (2001), all note the wide range of tests and varying criteria used to assess need for remediation. There is no clear national standard that defines college readiness nor links high school graduation with college level work (Shah and also Roueche). While some states have taken the lead in determining the criteria for college level coursework in their public colleges, these standards, and their validity (Grubb 1999a:175), vary widely across the country. Perin (pp.13) and Shah also express concern over the lack of mandatory pre- and post-assessment and placement.
In addition, the appropriate environment for student remediation is hotly debated. While some argue that remediation should not be allowed on college campuses due to the risk of reducing the level of education (CUNY system as explained in Grubb, 1999a), others insist that forcing remedial students to attend community colleges lowers their chances of earning a bachelors degree (Dougherty, 1994) and is a form of class-based segregation. Perin (2001:4) attempts to consider whether or not remedial coursework should be mainstreamed (integrated into regular academic departments), if it should be centralized (housed in separate organizational units dedicated to remediation), or if it should be offered in learning centers that students may choose to pursue independently (Grubb, 1999a:180; Spann & McCrimmon,1994:168). The degree to which basic academic and study skills should be contextualized (Perin pp. 8, 15-56) or vocationalized has also been debated. While some argue that vocationalized academic skills training helps to create meaning, others argue that this limits students’ exposure to wider issues. After reviewing the literature on remediation, I have several unanswered questions. Firstly, I am unclear on what specific criteria should be utilized to best assess and predict readiness for college. While I am familiar with a plethora of assessment tests and state policies, I am not sure which one creates the best necessary balance between access and excellence at the CC level. I think that there is a clear need to take a broader systems approach as suggested by Shaw (2001) in order to more clearly align high school educational standards, community college level entry requirements, and four year degree expectations. I also am unclear on the most effective approaches for college level remediation. As Perin (2001:18) explains, there is not sufficient research to determine whether mainstreaming or centralization is most effective, nor is there consensus on which types of pedagogical approaches work best for which types of students (Perin: 7). I think that these kinds of questions could be answered with in-depth, carefully controlled studies that examine the impact and benefits of different structures and approaches for different subsets of students. In addition, qualitative research including focus groups and in-depth interviews with different types of students and their instructors may reveal useful insights.
In my review of recent research on workforce and economic development issues faced by the CC, several themes have emerged. The role of the CC in community economic development is seen as expanding beyond furthering students’ opportunities for employment to include more direct and customized on-site training for employers (Grubb et al, 1997 & Dougherty & Bakia, 2000). They cite several possible benefits of the increased entrepreneurial focus to the CC, in terms of increased revenue and enrollment, more up-to-date faculty and curriculum, as well as new economic and political allies. However, there is debate about who should pay for this training, who should control the curriculum, and how to better connect workforce development with other forms of education.
Dougherty and Bakia (2000 and Grubb et al.,1997: 229), express concerns over the powerful influence that business may have over the curriculum. In particular, conflicts may arise between the comprehensive mission of CCs to increase access and opportunity to the marginally employed and poorly academically prepared (Grubb et. al, 1997:49) and the perhaps narrower self-interested focus of business to increase the profit generation of their workforce. Dougherty and Bakia (2000) also question whether or not CCs should be subsidizing corporate training. Grubb et al (1999:51) also express concern over the decreased role of CC’s in welfare reform due to the change in focus from “human capital solutions” to poverty to a new focus on immediate work with drastically limited opportunities for education and training. Orr (1998:103) also notes the lack of integration between existing CCs and the K-12 system. She stresses the importance of creating complementary, collaborative, “seamless, academically challenging, and occupationally relevant” K-14 workforce preparation programs.
After reviewing recent research on the workforce and economic development role of the CC, I have several questions that may be answered with additional research. Dougherty and Bakia (2000) believe that CCs may be providing subsidized contract training that would be provided without public assistance. I would like to know the extent of wasted public resources in order to channel that training toward people and locations where it is urgently needed. In addition, Grubb et al. (1997) emphasize the critical role that CCs could play in providing long term solutions to reduce poverty. I recommend that longitudinal studies and cost-benefit analyses be conducted to compare the impacts of education and training programs with immediate employment programs. I’d like to know what the long-term impacts are of different programs in terms of reducing poverty among welfare recipients in order to most effectively use public funds.
The major issues surrounding the general education (GE) debate are: (1) How is it defined, what is its extent and form? (2) What the purpose should be of GE? (3) What requirements should be made for different types of students? (4) Who has the authority to implement them?
General education has been defined in different ways and to serve different purposes. Eaton (1993: 21) explains that GE can be considered with either a “skills and abilities” approach or a “curriculum-bound” approach. This could mean teaching basic competencies such as communication, critical thinking, and computer skills (Dougherty, 2002a: 63), or GE could be based on a core curriculum of requirements in different subjects such as reading, math, western civilization or global history. Higginbottom and Romano (2001: 247-248), and also Jacobs (1993), ask us to view the debate about the purpose of GE in terms of vocational utility vs. a more liberal arts oriented focus. And, Jacobs (pp. 75) and Eaton emphasize the increased needs of American business in terms of basic academic skills to do our jobs. Jacobs (pp. 80-81) suggests that technology, work requirements, and even ones’ career are changing so rapidly that GE should include learning how to think critically, gather new information, and adapt in new work situations. Higginbottom and Romano (pp. 243), Eaton, and Rhoads (1999) also ask about the appropriate emphasis in GE on “western culture preservation” vs. a more multi-cultural perspective. Rhoads (pp. 105) pushes us beyond the notion of using GE to develop the capacity to work successfully with diverse co-workers, to broader considerations of participation, inclusion, and the “cultural politics” or biases that exist “within social hierarchies.”
Rhoads (1999) helps us to consider the debate surrounding the provision of GE as representative of larger unresolved debates about inequality of power, perspective, and voice. If the mission of the CC and the intentions and outcomes of coursework are aligned with more evenly distributing opportunities and resources, then students will need greater critical thinking skills. However if no opportunities are available for CC graduates for mobility in terms of employment, leadership, or even inclusion of their voices, perspectives, and backgrounds, then treating them simply as potential employees needing basic work skills should be sufficient. In terms of research to address this question, one would need to ask who should define the purposes of CC education, and what is the right design for our society (i.e. capitalism, predetermination based on class, or a truly competitive meritocracy?) While I do believe that these are urgent and important questions, I do not think that these are questions that could be addressed solely by the CC, nor that education should be forced to address all of our social ills (Cohen and Brawer). However, I think that as a manageable start, some needs assessment research could be conducted to determine what basic academic skills potential students and employers require. A study of the responsibilities of various positions for which CCs provide training may help to better understand and then tailor GE offerings to meet these needs. This could be part of an ongoing dialogue between employers and the CC, so that when the basic competencies of work requirements change, educational training can be adjusted to best meet new demands. For example, in nursing as dosing of medication is being changed from being monitored by handwritten log book to computerization, nurses may need some general computer knowledge and also some training on the particular computer system used in their immediate positions.
The major issue in the literature on fiscal pressure facing the CC is about the push to operate more like a business in order to stave off market encroachment by for-profit institutions, and in order to respond to the increasing demands for performance accountability. Zeiss (1998:69) explains that this increased pressure and competition in education and training is due to “(t)he converging forces of (1) increased employer demands, (2) increased student demands, (3) technological advances, (4) decreased public funding, and (5) increased accountability”.
Zeiss (1998:68) warns CCs that if they do not respond rapidly enough to the changing needs and expectations of students, particularly for high quality specialized training, that the for profit colleges will capture that market. However, Bailey et al’s research (2001:43) indicates, at least through 1998, that the competition threat is very small. For-profit enrollment, they found, accounted for less than 5% of all student enrollment in two-year schools, and an even smaller share of enrollment in four-year institutions. Although they admit that the for-profit institutions’ market share likely has grown, this is mostly thought, by Bailey et al, to be in the four-year degree granting arena. In addition, Bailey et al explain, that quite different from public CCs, many for-profits are not attractive to potential CC students because they lack regional accreditation, are costly, and narrowly focused in their offerings. Furthermore, Bailey et al think that for-profits may even facilitate BA attainment better than traditional public CCs for associates degree students by offering their own easily accessible BA degrees. Both Zeiss and Bailey et al (pp. 46 and 56) suggest that CCs should learn from for-profits to offer more convenient scheduling, accelerated degree completion options, and better coordinated student services such as admissions, registration, counseling, job placement and alumni tracking.
Laanan (2001) and Dougherty (2002b:1) examine the market-like pressure on CCs that has come out of the performance accountability (PA) movement in which reporting is required and budgeting or funding decisions are made “on the basis not of input variables such as enrollments [and access, (Laanan: 61)] but of output measures such as retention, graduation, and job placement rates.” However, although a lot of attention is being focused on the threat of PA and in particular on performance funding, (like for-profit competition as mentioned above), the actual budget share controlled by this movement is relatively small, only 1-6.5% of state funding (Dougherty: 9). He also explains that there is not much evidence that this extra information (although costly and time-consuming to collect ((pp. 33))) has actually substantially improved outcomes such as transfer and retention rates (pp. 15). However, Dougherty explains that the pressure of the PA movement has had a symbolic effect in terms of expressing the priority that CCs operate responsively to demands from the federal government (for receipt of funding such as WIA and VTEA), state officials (from state CC boards, state education and even commerce boards), and also accreditors. Dougherty expresses concern about the unintended consequences of PA on CCs. He says that CCs may respond by dropping worthwhile programs that weren’t fairly evaluated by the standards, or by disguising programs that don’t measure up (by shifting them into non-credit or avocational programs that aren’t being evaluated). He also fears that CCs may lower their grading standards in order to appear to be providing more successful instructional outcomes or even raise their admissions standards (thereby reducing opportunities for under-prepared students). Laanan (pp. 60) explains that the public sees the CC as a “public utility” in that “benefits to citizens [are] in the form of increased social mobility and quality of life.” However, if part of the CC mission is to provide opportunity where it is needed most, measuring its return on investment (Laanan:60) as if it were a for profit corporation, is likely to reduce the focus on the social benefits of serving the disenfranchised or educating people in depressed areas with limited opportunities for employment after graduation. Dougherty and Laanan recommend that PA standards be modified to fairly and meaningfully assess CCs multiple objectives, while responding to the increased PA demands of their external constituents.
After reviewing recent literature on fiscal pressure, my questions are related to how CCs and PA reporting requirements can both be operated in more efficient ways. In terms of student services and educational programs, research must be conducted on ways to best meet the needs of the students. Piloting different schedules and delivery formats for courses, registration, counseling, and other services should be explored and assessed. Also, in terms of PA, research should be conducted on ways to streamline data collection requirements, formats, and deadlines so as to minimize the costs and time involved for institutions. I suggest that an organization that represents the interests of CCs, their institutional researchers and their multiple missions, to provide the representation to ensure that the activities that CCs conduct are fairly integrated into the PA standards that may have been developed (as Dougherty asserts) with the missions of four-year institutions in mind. Collecting copies of the reporting requirements from every regional and specialized accrediting body, state and federal agency, would be a first step. Next development of a national forum to negotiate the key criteria, exact questions, instructions, and deadlines should be established. And, a regular review process would need to be initiated to account for further modifications in both reporting requirements and any changes that may be made by the external constituents and funding agencies. A final step would be to develop a central database where all information could be electronically submitted, collected, and reported more efficiently but with careful attention to maintaining individuals rights to privacy.
While the literature expresses a wide range of issues facing the CC, they may be considered within the framework of helping to define the key purposes and priorities of the CC part of the K-16 education system. As our society and economy diversify, so must the institutions that prepare our inhabitants and workforce. The issues of educational attainment, remediation, workforce preparation and general education all have arisen to address the widening range of priorities, backgrounds, goals, and values of a rapidly changing society. Each issue asks us: (1) who should be served by the CC? (2) who should decide?, and (3) how should success and future support be determined? The final policy issue on increasing fiscal pressure, begs us to clarify our mission and assess our outcomes in this increasingly competitive environment. Limited resources force us to analyze our activities, missions, and outcomes more carefully, however, they also force us to look beyond monetary inputs and outputs to what may matter to us most in terms of insuring equity and opportunity in the face of diminished resources.
Bailey, Thomas; Badway, Norena and Gumport, Patricia J.(2001, Oct.) For Profit Higher Education and Community Colleges. (National Center for Postsecondary Improvement, Deliverable #0400).
Dougherty, Kevin J. (2002) “The Evolving Role of the Community College: Policy Issues and Research Questions” forthcoming in Tierney, William et al. (eds.) Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Practice, Vol. 17.
Dougherty, Kevin J. (1994) The Contradictory College: The Conflicting Origins, Impacts, and Futures of the Community College. Albany: SUNY Press.
Dougherty, Kevin and Bakia, Marianne F. (2000, Feb.)”Community Colleges and Contract Training: Content, Origins, and Impact” Teachers College Record, Vol.102. No. 1. pp. 197-243.
Dougherty, Kevin J. with Kim, Jennifer E. and Hong, Esther (2002) “Performance Accountability and Community Colleges: Forms, Impacts, and Problems” New York: Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center.
Eaton, Judith S. (1993, Spring)”General Education in the Community College: Developing Habits of Thought.” New Directions for Community Colleges 21 (1). pp. 21-30.
Grubb, Norton, et al. (1999(a)) “Remedial/Developmental Education,” Chap. 5 in Grubb et. al, Honored but Invisible: An Inside Look at Teaching in Community Colleges. New York: Routledge Press.
Grubb, Badway, Bell, Bragg, and Russman. (1997) “Workforce, Economic, and Community Development” Mission Viejo, CA: League for Innovation. pp. 43-55.
Grubb, W. Norton; Badway, Norena; Bell, Denise and Castellano, Marisa (1999(b), June/July) “Community Colleges and Welfare Reform: Emerging Practices, Enduring Problems” Community College Journal 69: pp. 31-36.
Higginbottom, George H. and Romano, Richard M. “SUNY General Education Reform and the Community Colleges: A Case Study of Cross Purposes” in Townsend, Barbara K. & Twombly, Susan B. (eds.) Community Colleges: Policy in the Future Context. Ablex. (pp. 243-260).
Ignash, Jan M. & Townsend, Barbara K. “Statewide Transfer and Articulation Policies: Current Practices and Emerging Issues” in Townsend Barbara K. & Twombly, Susan B. (eds.) Community Colleges: Policy in the Future Context. Ablex. (pp. 173-192).
Jacobs, James. (1993, Spring) “Vocational Education and General Education: New Realtionships or Shotgun Marriage?” New Directions for Community Colleges 21 (1). pp. 75-84.
Jalomo, Romero J. (2001) “Institutional Policies that Promote Persistence Among First Year Community College Students,” in Townsend Barbara K. & Twombly, Susan B. (eds.) Community Colleges: Policy in the Future Context. Ablex. (pp. 261-282).
Laanan, Frankie Santos (2001) “Accountability in Community Colleges: Looking Toward the 21st Century” in Townsend Barbara K. & Twombly, Susan B. (eds.) Community Colleges: Policy in the Future Context. Ablex. (pp. 57-76).
Laden, Berta Vigil (1999) “Celebratory Socialization of Culturally Diverse Students Through Academic Programs and Support Services” in Shaw, Kathleen M.; Valadez, James R.; Rhoads, Robert A. (eds.) Community Colleges as Cultural Texts: Qualitative Explorations of Organizational and Student Culture. Albany: SUNY Press. (pp. 173-194).
McGrath, Dennis and Van Buskirk, William. (1999) “Cultures of Support for At Risk Students: The Role of Social and Emotional Capital in the Educational Experience of Women” in Shaw, Kathleen M.; Valadez, James R.; Rhoads, Robert A. (eds.) Community Colleges as Cultural Texts: Qualitative Explorations of Organizational and Student Culture. Albany: SUNY Press. (pp. 15-38).
Orr, Margaret Terry. (1998) “Integrating Secondary Schools and Community Colleges through School-to-Work Transition and Educational Reform,” Journal of Vocational Education Research 23 (2). pp. 93-113.
Perin, Dolores. (2002) “The Location of Developmental Education in Community Colleges: A Discussion of the Merits of Mainstreaming vs. Centralization” New York: Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center.
Rhoads, Robert A. (1999) “The Politics of Culture and Identity: Contrasting Images of Multiculturalism and Monoculturalism” in Shaw Kathleen M.; Valadez, James R.; Rhoads, Robert A. (eds.) Community Colleges as Cultural Texts: Qualitative Explorations of Organizational and Student Culture. Albany: SUNY Press. (pp. 103-124).
Shah, Victoria. (2001) “An Examination of Students Caught in the Gap Between a High School Diploma and Preparation for Community College Level Work” unpublished paper written for ORL 5521 taught by Sheri Ranis. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.
Shaw, Kathleen M. (2001) “Reframining Remediation as a Systemic Phenomenon: A Comparative Analysis of Remediation in Two States” in Townsend Barbara K. & Twombly, Susan B. (eds.) Community Colleges: Policy in the Future Context. Ablex. (pp. 193-222).
Spann, Milton G. Jr. and McCrimmon, Suella M. (1994) “Remedial/Developmental Education in Baker (ed.), A Handbook on the Community College in America. Greenwood Press. pp. 161-175
Zeiss, Tony (1998, June/July) “Realities of Competition, Will Our Students Become Theirs?” Community College Journal. pp. 8-13.
Paper #3 – Victoria Shah – ORLD 6520 – Adv. CC Sem.- Dr. Dougherty – 5/06/02