This key cog in American higher education was in the news last week when President Obama’s administration announced the American Graduation initiative, a 10-year, $12 billion plan to invest in community colleges.
The president said they could play a key role in helping boost the ailing economy for years to come. He noted that jobs requiring at least an associate degree are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs requiring no college experience in coming years.
ACCORDING TO the CNN television report, the initiatives include:
• Community college challenge grants, to help underfunded colleges that are dealing with limited capacity and to build partnerships with schools and businesses.
• The Access and Completion Fund, to provide performance-based scholarships and give colleges the tools to design more programs around work schedules.
• Modernization of community-college facilities, with $2.5 billion to help renovate facilities and keep up with maintenance costs. The renovations will create jobs, Obama said.
• Open online courses, to create options online as a tool that some think can be more effective than classroom instruction alone.
THE EAST TEXAS Oil Boom that began in 1931 provided the impetus for the founding of Kilgore College, which opened for business in 1935. In easy commuting distance for Upshur County high school graduates, it has been a less-expensive alternative to both public and private 4-year colleges and universities.
But more than that, Kilgore and other community colleges ease the transition from high school to college and independence in the adult world. Freshman and sophomore classes in large universities are often taught by graduate students, while tenured faculty are preoccupied with research and teaching a few upper-level courses.
Faculty at community colleges are likely to be capable and student-oriented enough that some of them, at least, make lifetime positive impacts on their students.
ADVOCATES OF community colleges have pointed out the advantage of students’ being free to explore a variety of subjects before committing to a course of study. Then, once they know what they want, they can commit to a bachelor’s degree program and spend just two years at a 4-year college as opposed to four, five, or even six years.
Officials of the University of Texas at Austin have made note of this problem in their discussions of how they might reduce total enrollment below the 50,000 mark and make room for more students who are outside the top 10 percent of Texas high school graduates (who are required by law to be admitted).
The possibility of requiring a bachelor’s degree to be completed in no more than five years has been discussed.
Complementing President Obama’s plan to aid community colleges is a goal outlined by the non-profit education group the Lumina Foundation to raise the percentage of college graduates from 39 percent of students to 60 percent by 2025 .
TO REACH THIS target, an additional 16 million Americans would have to earn 2-year or 4-year college degrees over the next 10 to 15 years. The total number of students who currently attend the nation’s 4,300 colleges and universities is 19 million.
Tyler Junior College, founded in 1926, also plays a key role in this area’s higher education, and has not suffered, as some feared it would, by the establishment of UT-Tyler as a 4-year university.
Northeast Texas Community College, now occupying a beautiful campus on 375 rural acres, has done an outstanding job of designing classes to fit the needs of business, industry and trades in the area.
Kilgore College, besides its main campuses in Kilgore and Longview, offers classes in 25 locations, including Gilmer and Gladewater.
Staff of both Kilgore and Northeast Texas Community Colleges have met with Upshur County Economic Developer Ronnie Morrison to discuss increasing their presence in Upshur County. So look for good news on that front.
Perhaps the surest evidence that community colleges’ low profile is being raised nationally comes in the form of a new NBC television program scheduled to premiere on Sept. 17.
Community will star the comedian Chevy Chase.
It will follow a group of community college misfits who form a very unlikely study group.
Perhaps this begins the process of raising community colleges in the public’s perception to the level of doctors and nurses, lawyers and law enforcers, and other such subjects that are all over the TV dial.