Working at a community college is not what I anticipated doing after grad school. I pictured myself on a traditional campus with the ebb and flow of semesters and summer breaks, residence halls and football games. Which now seems odd considering my focus has been adult learners (aka nontraditional students). While there are increasing numbers of nontraditional students on traditional campuses there are by far more to be found on community college campuses, online institutions, and for-profit colleges or universities.
Fast-forward (trust me, it seems like I have gone in fast-forward) 2 years after grad school and 20 months into a position at a community college and – well, it’s not that I can’t see myself at a traditional institution, but I’m finding that my passion is the community college (CC) and community college students. Which brings me to three recent readings and thoughts.
A recent posting at DistanceEd.org titled Community Colleges: The Pros and Cons was not as thorough as I would have liked, and I think it could be misleading to potential students. Yes, CCs are less expensive, and yes class sizes are smaller, but I don’t believe you will necessarily find classes geared toward adult learners any more than you would at a traditional institution. Adjuncts and faculty members, like their counterparts at other institutions, often don’t receive any training in teaching (pedagogy or andragogy). Some adjuncts come directly from high schools and teaching traditional students. However, what you will find are classrooms with a mix of ages, and depending on the CC a predominance of nontraditional students.
“Not the traditional college experience” I agreed with this statement until I read further to the statement that you won’t find “extracurricular activities, on-campus social life, intellectual discussions in the hallways” on a CC campus. Hmm – yes you will. CCs have activities and social life on campus. We strive to have these because of the retention benefits AND because students benefit from them. No, it isn’t a midnight dance at the Greek house. We are cognizant of the students’ roles in life and the demands on their time. So we might opt for brown bag lunch speakers, a 5pm ice cream social, or club meetings that occur at an odd hour when a majority of members are already on campus. No, we don’t have division I sports and stadiums that can hold a small city’s worth of fans, but we do have sports and believe it or not we have fans. As for not finding ‘intellectual conversations’ in the hallways, I would have to challenge you to find this on a traditional campus. CC students do enjoy challenging and stimulating conversations, but they may have them in the car, or via email, or at one of the jobs they are holding down in order to support a family and attend college. ”Tough to transfer credits” False! Transfer agreements are standard at most CCs, and in many states courses taken at CCs are designed to transfer to state schools. ”Limited degree options” Also false. Many CCs offer a WIDE variety of degrees and then we can also add certificates and licensure prep to those.
Inside Higher Ed published an article today titled Is Completion the Right Goal. I’m still processing most of my thoughts on this article. I see both sides of the completion issue. Is it going to water down the quality of higher education in order to push students through to completion, or is it going to challenge us to help students complete. But what stood out was something that I find frustrating almost every day.
“Hauptman also said that attention should be paid to increasing the number of certificates and apprenticeships, which are not counted in “traditional measures” of success but help meet work force needs, a point reinforced by several other speakers at Tuesday’s event.”
We need to start counting certificates and transfer students in our completion rates. Not everyone wants, needs, or is able to achieve a ‘traditional’ degree. The applied knowledge that comes with certificates and alternative degrees is just as valid as the liberal arts or professional knowledge that comes with associates, bachelors, masters, or doctoral degrees. We need to invest in students who are seeking alternative routes to knowledge and employment.
So how about some more Community College love. We are hard working professionals and our students are smart, capable, and just as important as the typical undergraduate at Important State U.