Community colleges serve two equally important, but different (and sometimes highly divergent) goals.
- Provide an inexpensive and effective general academic education that a student can use as a springboard to a four-year university.
- Provide effective and market-relevant vocational training for students who (a) do not want to attend a four-year ‘academic’ university or (b) are already working but want to enhance a particular skillset related to their career goals.
Community college may also be referred to (and has been in the not so distant past) ‘technical college’–and this is just as accurate, though it focuses on the vocational training aspect of these institutions.
The two goals often come into direct conflict, and I hear the complaints, especially from students, quite often (“why do I have to take history and English if I just want to do IT!?”).
It’s difficult serving two purposes with extremely limited budgets and staff, but my institution (NOVA) does quite an excellent job…and yes, I know I’m biased :). However, we have a very high transfer rate to four-year institutions while also maintaining a large enrollment in our “certificate” and other vocational-focused courses. In fact, we work with George Mason University and George Washington University, as well as the likes of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the NSA.
I planned on writing more on this topic, especially as it relates to community colleges and broader public policy goals…hopefully I will get around to that soon..ish…. 🙂