The Continuing Evolution of the American Community College

Terry U. O'Banion

When William Rainey Harper, President of the University of Chicago, and J. Stanley Brown, Superintendent of Joliet Township High School in Illinois, roomed together at Baptist conventions, they often talked late into the evening about their students. They were equally concerned about quality and opportunity.

Brown came to Joliet in 1893 as the principal of Joliet High School and became a strong advocate of encouraging low-performing students to consider attending college. He transformed the local high school into one of the best in the region, employing faculty and creating a curriculum that impressed area universities. As early as 1894, Brown included courses with college-level content, and several universities, including the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan, accepted these credits for transfer.

On June 2, 1896, Professor Francis W. Kelsey of the University of Michigan wrote to Brown:

I am much pleased to learn that you have taken your students over more than the required preparatory work. If you will kindly give to those who come to the University of Michigan a certificate to the effect that the extra work has been well done, I will see that advanced credit is given for it. (Sterling, 2001, para. 5)

Harper came to the University of Chicago in 1891 as the first president at the invitation of founding philanthropist John D. Rockefeller. Harper was a distinguished professor of religion, one of the great innovators of his time, and an organizational genius. President at the age of 35, he was known as a “young man in a hurry.” He was indefatigable in his effort to make the University of Chicago the prototype of the great American university, and he succeeded.

Through their Baptist connections and roles as educational leaders in Illinois, Brown and Harper began to discuss how their institutions could work together to help underprepared students attend college—a value they both strongly championed. Their collaboration led to the creation of Joliet Junior College in 1901, housed in Joliet High School. The first class enrolled six students and soon became a feeder institution to the University of Chicago. It was a simple model in which Joliet Junior College would serve as a junior academy to the University of Chicago’s senior academy.

Brown and Harper had not planned for their idea to become one of the most important and substantive ideas in the history of higher education—an idea that has been evolving for 118 years and will likely continue to change for decades to come.

What Is This Thing; This Community College Idea?

In his February 1, 2018, speech to a Republican congressional retreat in West Virginia, President Donald Trump said, “A lot of people don’t know what a community college means or represents.” He elaborated on his views: “And I think the word ‘vocational’ is a much better word than, in many cases, a community college. You learn mechanical, you learn bricklaying and carpentry, and all of these things. We don’t have that very much anymore.”

Trump was right about a lot of people not knowing what a community college means or represents because, as a dynamic institution, it has been changing for decades. Advocates and critics alike have tried to pin it down and tag it with a name—a name that appears briefly in the literature until the next new name comes along. Here are some perspectives on what a community college is, culled from a variety of sources:

  • A handmaiden to the university, a junior academy serving the senior academy, a bridge between high school and the university, an institution to catch the overflow when universities are full
  • A high school with ashtrays, a college for the dumb rich and the bright poor, a part-time college for part-time students taught by part-time faculty, a holding place to keep students off the street
  • A technical college, a vocational college, an occupational college
  • A junior college, a two-year college, a community-junior college
  • A second chance college, all things to all people, the nexus of the community.
  • The workforce engine of the nation, a college for remediation, a college for general education
  • The teaching college, the learning college, the institution of student access, the institution of student success
  • The innovation college, the flexible college, the responsive college, an entrepreneurial college
  • The people’s college, democracy’s college, tomorrow’s college, the comprehensive community college

In 2019, and for several years to come, the most ubiquitous and most accepted name for this institution is likely to be “community college.” The name avoids the pejorative and the hyperbolic and is generic enough to include a variety of values, missions, purposes, programs, policies, and practices under its big tent. However, with the rapid changes in American society fueled by advances in technology, pharmacology, social justice, economic justice, demographics, climate change, global issues, and science, nothing about the future is guaranteed.

The community college, responsive to its local community and increasingly to the global community, will continue to change rapidly. It will mutate into new forms, grow appendages to respond to special interests and needs, lose energy because of political gridlock, and be attacked because it does not deliver on its promises.

In the worst scenario, the community college could fall into the hands of fascists and become a tool of the state to train followers. In the best scenario, the community college will continue to evolve into an ism-free force that serves all the people with its key goal intact: helping students make a good living and live a good life.

Thirteen Ideas That Transformed the Community College World

Walter Bumphus, President and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), recently said, “We need to completely reimagine community colleges for today and the future.” And that work is underway in hundreds of community colleges across the nation. Never in its history has the community college been so deeply and substantively engaged in such a period of creative transformation.

This period of transformation has, in great part, been created by a number of special circumstances. Since 1996, the Community College Research Center has issued 493 reports, chapters, articles, and briefs on the community college and community college students. Since 2008, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has granted more than $50 million for targeted initiatives, programs, research, and evaluations to help improve and expand student learning and success in community colleges. In the last decade, federal and state agencies and legislative bodies, along with foundations, corporations, policy institutes, and national associations, have embraced the community college as a full partner in keeping America great.

In March of 2019, the American Association of Community Colleges and Rowman & Littlefield will publish 13 Ideas that Are Transforming the Community College World, which will include 23 authors representing 12 national organizations. The transformative ideas in this book are the engines that will drive the continuing evolution of the American community college through this period of transformation and far into the future.

The thirteen ideas were identified by a group of national leaders as the most significant ideas impacting the contemporary community college. In addition, the national leaders identified most of the authors—also national leaders—who share their insights and experience with readers. The book is designed as a primer for trustees, administrators, faculty, policymakers, legislators, and community leaders who want to be better informed about the key issues that affect our students and our nation.

In the following sections, the author, and editor of the book, summarizes the 13 ideas and provides his perspectives on each one. In the book’s Epilogue, he suggests that the curriculum is the elephant in the room, overlooked by current reformers as one of the most important ideas that could transform the community college world, and proposes an approach to the creation of a new curriculum—Essential Education—that will help students make a good living and live a good life (O’Banion, 2016).

Idea 1 - The Learning Paradigm

In the League for Innovation in the Community College’s monograph, Focus on Learning: A Learning College Reader (2010), this author wrote the following:

Institutions of higher education in the United States have achieved worldwide recognition in pursuit of three key missions: research, teaching, and service—missions valued by their stakeholders primarily in that order. The great centers of university research have produced breakthroughs in every field of science that have made [American] universities the envy of the world. Because of their success, “research” has become embedded as one of the cardinal values and purposes of higher education. Leading four-year colleges and community colleges have established “teaching” as a second cardinal value as many four-year colleges provide ideal residential communities for selected groups of students, and community colleges provide innovative approaches to assist great numbers of underprepared students in achieving success. All levels of institutions ascribe to “service” as an expression of their core values as they work to improve society at the local, state, national, and international level. Research, teaching, and service have provided a rich harvest from the higher education enterprise for American society and the world.

At the end of the 20th century another key mission or purpose—a corollary of research, teaching, and service—began to sprout in the landscape of higher education. The new mission was not new at all, but it had not been as visible as research, teaching, and service in the policies, programs, and practices of institutions. Awakened from its dormancy, it began to claim territory that could establish it as more than a graft or a mutation of the historical missions rooted for decades. As the 21st century got under way, it became increasingly clear that “learning” had broken through the traditional hardpan of higher education and had established its own patch in the Groves of Academe. For some who toil in the vineyards of higher education, “learning” will be no more than an upstart, an inconsequential sprout destined to wither and die. For others “learning” is the core business of all educational institutions—a transcendent value that arches over research, teaching, and service—providing a sharply focused perspective that will greatly enrich the work of the educational community.

As a newly-articulated mission of higher education, “learning” has been cited by several leaders as part of the triumvirate of traditional missions. In a letter to the editor of Change in May of 2000, James Bess, Professor of Higher Education at New York University, said, “Institutions of higher education must maintain their unique roles in society—as extraordinary places where teaching, learning, and research can unfold, unfettered by the crass, short-term expectations of profit” (p. 6, emphasis added). Two years later, in the lead article of the Association of Governing Board’s newsletter, Berberet and McMillin stated, “It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to know that a college or university fulfills its multiple missions—student learning, discovery of new knowledge, and community engagement—chiefly through its faculty” (p. 1, emphasis added).

It is noteworthy that learning is now reflected in key mission statements by major universities and national organizations.

In the last twenty years, a learning revolution has spread rapidly across all levels of American higher education. George Boggs and his colleagues at Palomar College in California were among the first champions who launched the idea that the learning paradigm is the overarching purpose of all of higher education. In the 1990s, publications such as Business Week and TIME magazine released issues focused on the learning revolution. In addition, the first national conference on the learning paradigm, sponsored by Palomar College, was held in San Diego and the Association of Community College Trustees released a special issue of the Trustee Quarterly devoted entirely to the learning revolution.

In 1997, the American Council on Education and AACC jointly published A Learning College for the 21st Century, which, for the first time, outlined the principles and practices of a learning college. In 1997 and 1998, the League for Innovation and Public Broadcasting Service sponsored three national teleconferences on the learning revolution and the learning college. In a few short years, the learning revolution took American higher education by storm, and community colleges were found to be particularly committed to implementing the learning revolution (O’Banion & Wilson, 2010).

Idea 2 - Community Colleges and the Ladder of Student Success

The purpose of the Access Agenda is to make it easy for students to enroll in college.

The purpose of the Student Success Agenda is to assist students in meeting their individual education and career goals.

The Completion Agenda is a part of the Student Success Agenda with a more targeted goal of doubling the number of students in the next decade who complete a certificate or associate’s degree or who transfer and complete their credential at another college or university. (O’Banion, 2013, p. 1)

This statement from Access, Success, and Completion: A Primer for Community College Faculty, Administrators, Staff, and Trustees sets the context for this idea by two of the key players in the student success/completion agenda. Suzanne Walsh and Mark Milliron, working with their colleagues at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, were the architects of the Completion by Design initiative, which is helping to change policies and practices about student success. Creating policies, programs, and practices and engaging personnel in initiatives to improve and expand student success is not an easy task. According to Complete College America (n.d.),

The barriers to student success are clear: low credit enrollment, poorly designed and delivered remedial education, overwhelming and unclear choices, and a system out of touch with the needs of students who must often balance work and family with their coursework. The result is a system of higher education that costs too much, takes too long, and graduates too few.

But the student success movement is well underway and making progress in spite of these and other barriers. Never in the history of the community college have so many foundations provided so many funds to support student success. Never in the history of the community college has there been so much research on what works to improve and expand student learning. Never in the history of the community college have so many stakeholders in community colleges, states, and the nation been so deeply engaged in this very focused agenda. Increasing student success has become the overarching mission of the nation’s community colleges.

Addressing the idea of the student success agenda, the authors provide a new gestalt, a new framework for bringing all the pieces together to better understand the foundation that will lead community colleges to achieve the goals of the student success/completion agenda. Walsh and Milliron propose a student success ladder that includes four key steps, about which they say,

The access step remains essential to allow for any kind of advancement for students, of course. Yes, it’s a century-old work in progress; but it’s still in need of expansion and even repair. The learning step has always mattered but received significantly more attention over the last 25 years. Focused and sometimes frenzied construction on the completion step has been the work of the last decade, however, and is still galvanizing the higher-education practice and policy world in compelling ways. The coming together over the last five years of the access, learning, and completion step work is showing the powerful potential of the larger student-success ladder. Given that the larger higher education field is diving deep into more of these multi-step, comprehensive student-success efforts, examples of this work will be a major focus here. However, the need to begin more intense work on the last step, post-graduation outcomes, will also be explored.

Each of the key steps is placed in historical context by the authors and linked to national initiatives and actions by national organizations. Walsh and Milliron also include another framework created by the Gates Foundation—the Loss-Momentum Framework, which allows colleges to determine at what points on their journeys students lose momentum. Students begin in this framework at connection and move through entry, progress, and to completion. It is a more detailed framework that undergirds the student success ladder and has been used by nine colleges in three states participating in the Gates Foundation’s Completion by Design initiative. These concepts of ladders, frameworks, and initiatives are providing the conceptual foundations for student success and completion for millions of community college students.

Idea 3 - The College Promise: Transforming the Lives of Community College Students

In April of 2017, candidate for president, Senator Bernie Sanders, introduced a bill with support from Elizabeth Warren, Keith Ellison, and other members of Congress that had the potential to transform higher education. The College for All Act was designed to eliminate tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities for students from families that make up to $125,000 per year. The bill would have made community college tuition-free for all income levels. Hilary Clinton, former president Obama, and many progressive leaders and organizations supported the bill which did not become law. But the bill was the tip of an iceberg that has been floating in the seas of higher education for decades. While it did not catch hold this time, it motivated many other efforts to create tuition-free colleges, led by the idea of the College Promise reviewed by the current leaders—Martha Kanter and Andra Armstrong—of the national College Promise Campaign.

California is a case study in the history of free and low tuition for community college students. When Fresno High School opened its collegiate division in 1910 as the first such effort in the state, courses were free to residents of the school district; nonresidents paid a tuition charge of $4.00 a month (Witt, Wattenbarger, Gollattscheck, & Supinger, 1994). In 1984, California authorized its first-ever per-unit fee for community college students. Fees were initially set at $5.00 per credit unit with a maximum cap of $50.00 for 12 credits or more. Although the 1960 Master Plan called for tuition-free public higher education in California, the precedent was set to charge students for taking classes—even if the charges were called fees instead of tuition (Boggs, in press). 

The College Promise, building on past efforts, is the major attempt today to finally make college tuition and related expenses free to community college students. As the authors note,

The College Promise is based on the proposition that a community college or technical education should be as universal, free, and accessible as high school has been since 1929. . . . A growing number of four-year colleges and universities are also launching the College Promise, many in partnership with community colleges and others on their own or by state legislation. But community colleges are dominant in this dramatic expansion of College Promise programs. In August 2018, the College Promise Campaign in Washington, DC reported quadrupled growth, from 53 identified in 2015 to more than 200 College Promise programs underway in 44 states, with 23 established at the statewide level.

Kanter and Armstrong review the history of efforts to secure free tuition and feature some of the most outstanding state efforts that lead the way today. They include references to the initial support from President Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, who made a strong case that the College Promise would help fulfill the American Dream by addressing issues of social and economic justice. National, state, and community leaders have also become advocates because they understand how the College Promise will improve and expand the local and regional economy, provide opportunity for underserved students, and contribute to the general welfare of the nation.

Idea 4 - Guided Pathways to College Completion and Equity

Counseling and advising students on which courses to take and which services to use has been a hallmark of community colleges for many decades. In the early days, community colleges and high schools created articulation agreements to ensure that students would have clear markers to follow on which courses to take. The idea became more focused in the College Tech Prep program in 1990 supported by the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Act, a federally funded program. College Tech Prep represents a high school through college program with a seamless, rigorous sequence of academic and technical coursework culminating in postsecondary degrees and/or industry-recognized credentials.      

Career pathways emerged from the work on tech prep and were defined as “a coherent, articulated sequence of rigorous academic and career courses that embed the knowledge and skills necessary to prepare learners to pursue a wide range of career opportunities” (League for Innovation in the Community College, 2010, p. 52). At the same time, the concept of the career pathway was gaining acceptance; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Pennington & Milliron, 2010) and the Community College Research Center (Jenkins, 2011) began to champion the Student Success Pathway for all students. Even the American Association of Colleges and Universities (2011) weighed in on its value:

After many years of research on enhancing student engagement and success, higher education now has explicit articulations of what is needed to support student success as well as a roadmap for getting there. . . . students need a ‘compass’ or a clearly delineated pathway to support their success, and the academy itself has needed such a thoughtful and documented pathway for supporting students. (para. 18)

At the beginning of this decade all the key organizations committed to student success through various pathways converged on a key idea: The pathway is not a jungle through which students hack their own trail; it is a roadmap students can count on for direction. The organizations also agreed to champion the term “guided pathways,” suggested by Tom Bailey and his colleagues at the Community College Research Center.

We argue that to improve outcomes, colleges need to move away from the prevailing cafeteria-style model. Instead, they need to engage faculty and student services professionals in creating more clearly structured, educationally coherent program pathways that lead to students’ end goals, and in rethinking instruction and student support services in ways that facilitate students’ learning and success as they progress along these paths. In short, to maximize both access and success, a fundamental redesign is necessary. We refer to the resulting strategy as the guided pathways model. (Bailey, T., Jaggars, S., & Jenkins, D., 2015, p. 3)

Kay McClenney has played a key role in shaping the model of the guided pathway and has been engaged with her colleagues at AACC in implementing a national project to test out the model in 30 community colleges. The project goals reflect the recommendations set forth in the report of the 21st Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges, Reclaiming the American Dream (AACC, 2012). In particular, the commission’s report emphasized the imperative for community colleges to fundamentally redesign students’ educational experiences, and it identified a specific implementation strategy that became the foundation for AACC’s Guided Pathways Project:

Construct coherent, structured pathways to certificate and degree completion. This strategy should aim to incorporate high-impact, evidence-based practices; integrate student support with instruction; promote implementation at scale; rigorously evaluate the effectiveness of programs and services for students; and courageously end ineffective practices (AACC, 2012, p. 16).

McClenney notes that by mid-2018, over 250 community colleges across the country were implementing guided pathways. Leading and supporting the work is a network of national organizations, scholars, state officials, state-based student success centers, and institutional leaders at all levels who have the vision and courage to undertake transformational change in the interest of students. With this many colleges, organizations, officials, and national leaders involved—including foundations supporting projects with millions of dollars—the concept of the guided pathway is well positioned to become one of the most transforming ideas of this generation.

Idea 5 - The Community College Baccalaureate Movement: Evolutionary and Revolutionary

For almost 80 years from the time the community college was founded, no leaders talked or wrote about the idea of adding a bachelor’s degree to the community college mission. Two years was the absolute parameter for community college programs accepted by legislators, accrediting associations, foundations, policymakers, and community college leaders. A few two-year institutions dreamed about becoming four-year institutions—and a few did, but this was a very limited movement. The idea of adding a bachelor’s degree to the mission was soundly criticized as “mission creep” when the idea finally emerged. James Wattenbarger, state director of community colleges in Florida, known as the father of the Florida community college system, was a major critic who was concerned that adding the bachelor’s degree would destroy the idea of the two-year college.

But it was an idea whose time had come, according to Deborah L. Floyd and Michael Skolnik, who say,

The original community college baccalaureate (CCB) idea was to add a new function to the mission of the community college: offering four-year bachelor’s degree programs in applied fields of study for which there was a demand from industry. According to its proponents, the community college baccalaureate (CCB) was intended as an addition to other community college functions, not a replacement for them.

In the 1980s, the first such program was established at Parkersburg Community College in West Virginia, and in the next few decades growth has confirmed the CCB to be an emerging mission in the community college. Today, there are 957 CCB programs offered by 136 institutions; 24 states allow community colleges to award baccalaureate degrees and several more have recently proposed legislation.

Florida was one of the first states to adopt the CCB idea as a statewide effort, and today 27 of Florida’s 28 community colleges offer the applied baccalaureate. They include teacher education, organizational management, applied health sciences, nursing, supervision and management, dental hygiene, information technology, cybersecurity, business and management, paralegal studies, orthotics and prosthetics, health services administration, energy technology management, emergency management, electrical and computer technology, radiologic and imaging sciences, cardiopulmonary sciences, and international businesses and trades.

The CCB has been successful because it filled a gap and a need. Universities around community colleges did not offer four-year degrees in the applied sciences, so students with a two-year degree in information technology or cybersecurity could not transfer to an area university to continue their education. Many students could not afford to attend universities, even if they did offer such programs, because of the costs and travel that may have been required. Business and industry increasingly needed workers with more than a two-year degree. Community colleges could build on existing applied programs to create four-year degrees, and they had faculty who could teach at this level. The community college baccalaureate is an idea totally compatible with community college philosophy and values, and its time has most definitely come.

Idea 6 - Institutional Effectiveness: From Intuition to Evidence

For decades, institutional effectiveness (IE) was caught in a web of compliance with regulations issued by the federal government and state government. Effectiveness was measured in terms of how efficient and timely a college could be in meeting the always expanding set of regulations. And when institutions failed to meet regulations, they could be punished with fines, delays in service, and public embarrassment.

It was not until the culture in higher education changed to focus on student success as the overarching goal and a culture of evidence provided the means that a new perspective emerged on the meaning and role of institutional effectiveness. Today, all regional accrediting agencies have made institutional effectiveness their central goal. And that means all institutions of higher education have made IE a central goal as well. That does not, however, mean that all institutions of higher education agree on a definition of institutional effectiveness.

In a survey of community colleges holding membership in the Higher Learning Commission, Barbara Gellman-Danley and Eric Martin report that only 20 percent of respondents agreed that IE “has been appropriately defined.” Forty-two percent indicated IE “has not been appropriately defined.” Colleges in the survey had different perceptions about the definition:

  • Meeting the mission of the institution and serving the needs of students and the broader community (Front Range Community College, CO).
  • Institutional effectiveness supports a culture of inquiry, evidence, accountability, and continuous improvement related to all college functions and activities (Gateway Technical College, WI).
  • Institutional effectiveness is the degree to which the organization is achieving its mission-based objectives (Jackson College, MI).
  • An organization’s effectiveness is a product of its collective self-awareness, its propensity for self-evaluation and self-reflection, and its obsession with achieving excellent results. For an institution to be truly effective, every single employee needs to be actively involved in improving performance (Kankakee Community College, IL).
  • When you measure everything, how do you know what really matters? And how do all these measures lead to improvement for the individual student? (Lamar Community College, CO).
  • Institutional effectiveness is the result of the college reaching or exceeding its measurable goals and objectives as defined and informed by the college’s mission and vision and external legal and accreditation expectations (Northwest Arkansas Community College, AK).
  • With decreased state funding of community colleges, as is seen in Illinois, an effective institution would be one that just stays open (Sauk Valley Community College, IL).

Seymour and Bourgeois (2018) in the Institutional Effectiveness Fieldbook provide an explanation for these various definitions:

The challenge of defining institutional effectiveness is largely due to its not being a smaller, more circumscribed idea. Instead, IE is a boundary-buster that infringes on organizational turf and defies the pigeonholing that makes organization life easier for many individuals. But that more robust, cross-functional aspect is also what makes it a powerful force for creating coherence and driving positive change. (p. 11)

Recognizing the challenge of creating a universal definition for institutional effectiveness, the authors, nevertheless, note its central value to improving colleges and universities with assistance from the regional accrediting agencies. In addition, they recommend six strategies for colleges to support and embed IE into institutional culture:

  1. Work collaboratively across the institution to agree upon a definition of IE and how it will be measured.
  2. Be certain that IE is a priority for the CEO and governing board.
  3. Integrate IE into all strategic plans, including those of the institution, each department, and for individual employees.
  4. Educate everyone at the institution about accreditation standards, criteria, and expectations, both regional and specialized, when appropriate.
  5. Identify organizational structures to elevate IE as a priority.
  6. Participate in national initiatives and research available to strengthen IE for community colleges.

Idea 7 - From Recognition, Reform, and Convergence in Developmental Education

“Remedial” has become such a pejorative word in the community college world that it has been shunned by leaders, practitioners, and policymakers. The rejection has something to do with perceptions that remediation is not an appropriate function for college-level work. Some colleges show their rejection by assigning the remedial courses to adjunct and new faculty. The rejection also has something to do with the fact that remedial education has been a constant thorn in the side of the community college for decades, reminding community college leaders of their failure to “remediate” students.

So, community college leaders and practitioners agreed to change the name to “developmental,” which suggests a process of maturing, more acceptable as a function of college over the idea of fixing something that had failed. The problem, however, is that in the new developmental education programs these same leaders and practitioners continued to do the same thing they had been doing for decades in the remedial education programs. That is, entering students were still assessed primarily with one national examination and, based on these scores, were placed into developmental math, writing, and English courses with very little additional support. Nothing changed except the term used to label the students and the programs. Still, anywhere from 60 to 70 percent of students were placed in these programs, and there was no increase in completion of these developmental courses and no increase in completion of college-level courses for which the developmental courses supposedly prepared students.

Finally, several decades ago, bold leaders, fed up with the failures of traditional developmental education, began to experiment with different models. Byron McClenney and his staff at the Community College of Denver experimented with accelerating students through these courses by placing them into college-level courses and providing supplemental instruction, tutors, and technology supports; they also made extensive use of open-entry, open-exit, and self-paced instruction. Research on these new models indicated that students in the accelerated programs, compared with students in traditional developmental programs, completed the developmental courses earlier, completed college-level courses at a higher rate, and earned more credits. The Community College of Denver was on its way to closing the achievement gap between, for example, students of color and White students.

The success at the Community College of Denver was soon reflected in a number of other community colleges experimenting with a variety of models: Community College of Baltimore County, MD, Los Medanos College and Chabot College, CA, and the I-Best program in Washington State, where the contextual learning model of combining a developmental course with a college-level technical course proved effective. These programs and others have been subjects in a variety of national studies that have triggered a revolution in developmental education.

Bruce Vandal reviews the research on what has moved the needle on developmental education, noting there is an emerging convergence on how developmental education can be successful:

New evidence is proving that access can be achieved, and quality learning can be maintained through a fundamental recognition that the problems of student success were never about the lack of academic readiness of students or the inability of faculty to maintain high academic standards in diverse classrooms. By merely recognizing the learning students demonstrated in high school and focusing instruction on students passing gateway courses, colleges can see dramatic improvements in gateway course success and ultimately greater college completion rates.

The author summarizes where the field is today in developmental education by listing the key principles from a joint statement published in 2015 by Achieving the Dream, American Association of Community Colleges, the Charles A. Dana Center, Complete College America, Education Commission of the States, and Jobs for the Future:

  1. Every student’s postsecondary education begins with an intake process to choose an academic direction and identify the support needed to pass relevant credit-bearing gateway courses in the first year.
  2. Enrollment in college-level math and English courses or course sequences aligned with the student’s program of study is the default placement for the vast majority of students.
  3.  Academic and nonacademic support is provided in conjunction with gateway courses in the student’s academic or career area of interest through co-requisite or other models with evidence of success in which supports are embedded in curricula and instructional strategies.
  4. Students for whom the default college-level course placement is not appropriate, even with additional mandatory support, are enrolled in rigorous, streamlined remediation options that align with the knowledge and skills required for success in gateway courses in their academic or career area of interest.
  5. Every student is engaged with content of required gateway courses that is aligned with his or her academic program of study—especially in math.
  6. Every student is supported to stay on track to a college credential, from intake forward, through the institution’s use of effective mechanisms to generate, share, and act on academic performance and progression data. (p. 2)

Oddly, the joint statement uses the word remediation in its title: Core Principles for Transforming Remediation within a Comprehensive Student Success Strategy: A Joint Statement.

Idea 8 - The Evolving Mission of Workforce Development in the Community College

Anthony Carnevale (2014) reminds us that, “The inescapable reality is that ours is a society based on work. It’s hard to live fully in your time if you are living under a bridge” (p. xii). Work is so basic to human survival that it is hardly necessary to make a case for workforce education as a social and economic necessity. As Melvin Barlow (1976) says, “The most respected—and respectable—word in the American language is ‘work’” p. 65).

Some leaders have argued that the community college has become the primary purveyor of workforce education in the nation. According to Paul Fain (2014), “Because of their geographic accessibility and affordability, community colleges have routinely—and rightly—been identified as the U.S. higher education institution most capable of and responsible for our country’s economic and employment rebound” (para. 22). James Jacobs (2009) notes, “If there is one common mission identified with community colleges, it is workforce education” (para. 1).

In a period of one hundred years, workforce education in the U.S. has evolved through a number of movements: apprenticeship training, manual training, trade schools, industrial education, home economics, agricultural education, vocational education, and career and technical education. Barlow (1976) notes that, “By 1926, vocational education was beginning to make its mark upon the educational purposes of the nation” (p. 58). With federal funding and the need to keep the U.S. globally competitive, vocational education became so dominant in community colleges that in 2003-2004, 46 percent of associate degrees were conferred to students in the arts and sciences or general education, and 54 percent to students in occupational curricula (Cohen and Brawer, 2008).

According to the U.S. Department of Education (2014), “At the postsecondary level, 2-year institutions accounted for two-fifths of all institutions offering CTE subbaccalaureate credentials but over three-fourths of undergraduate students who were seeking such credentials” (p. xviii). Furthermore, over eight million students were seeking a subbaccalaureate certificate or degree in a CTE field in 2011-2012, with 36 percent in health sciences and 17 percent in business. Overall, “The number of students earning subbaccalaureate credentials in CTE fields rose 71 percent from 2002 to 2012, compared with a 54 percent increase in all undergraduate awards” (p. xviii). As Jamie Merisotis, President of the Lumina Foundation, said, “to deny that job skills development is one of the key purposes of higher education is increasingly untenable” (as cited in Altschuler, 2014, para. 5).

Jim Jacobs and Jennifer Worth describe the evolving mission of workforce development in the community college, noting that the history of workforce education parallels the history of the community college itself. Historically, community colleges were designed to serve a specific geographical area, such as a city or a county or several counties, and workforce development programs were limited to serving the needs of students and business and industry in the defined area. Over time, the workforce function began to expand to serve regions beyond the local geographical area, then states, then the entire nation; a number of community colleges even served an international market. This expansion created new challenges as well as new opportunities for collaborative efforts, new partnerships, and new sources of funding.

Workforce development will continue to be a significant function of the comprehensive community college, constantly transforming the community college itself as it continues to evolve to serve the nation’s economic and social interests.

Idea 9 - Eliminating the Gap Between High School and College: What the Next Generation of Transition Programs Must Do

The first schools in the thirteen original American colonies opened in the 17th century. The Boston Latin School was founded in 1635 and is both the first public school and oldest existing school in the United States. American high schools had been through 266 years of evolving development before there was a two-year college.

Joliet Junior College, the first junior college in the United States, established in 1901, was housed in a high school—Joliet Township High School in Illinois. It must have taken numerous meetings and much planning between the leaders of the junior college and the high school to create this historical alliance. And certainly, there must have been many discussions about what the junior college curriculum would be and how it would articulate with the high school curriculum. There must have been many discussions about who was qualified to teach the junior college courses. There had to be discussions about admission to the junior college, assessment of students, academic advising, course loads, recruitment, staff development, accreditation, and a host of other issues. Discussions about how to govern and manage the junior college operating in a high school must have been at the top of the agenda for many meetings.

An artifact of those early discussions about governance and management is still visible today in California community colleges, in which the title used for the CEO of districts is Superintendent/President. There is no philosophical reason to use the designation superintendent, which is a term historically used for administrators in secondary schools, but the artifact persists. Another artifact of the high school/community college connection continued to exist into the 1960s, when presidents of community colleges in Florida were required to report to county school superintendents.

These early connections between high schools and community colleges persisted for many decades, and one would have thought those connections would have blossomed into many effective programs and practices to help high school students move successfully into the community colleges. Unfortunately, that did not happen for a number of reasons: One primary reason was the need for community colleges to establish themselves as part of higher education and not be seen as part of secondary education. Community colleges were defensive about being seen as “high schools with ashtrays.”

Between the 1950s and 1970s, there was a continuing discussion about whether community colleges should be viewed as secondary education or higher education. This issue was the topic of many articles and convention programs and finally settled into a resolution that community colleges would find comfort with the designation of postsecondary education. This designation was not totally satisfactory, since it still connects to secondary, something akin to designating community colleges as pre-higher education.

Fortunately, this controversy is long forgotten by today’s leaders, and the community college is universally accepted as part of higher education. In the meantime, community colleges have built strong and effective alliances with high schools as the need to increase student success has become the overarching mission of both institutions. As Joel Vargas and his colleagues at Jobs for the Future (JFF) have noted,

Now there is a growing appetite on both sides for collaborating to increase college success and arguably a movement toward intertwined missions: high schools have been pushed to expand their goals to include ensuring that their students are prepared for college and career, and community colleges have been pushed to think more about developing the pipeline of students transitioning into their institutions.

With their extensive experience in creating, implementing, and evaluating transition programs between high schools and community colleges, the staff from JFF have documented what does and does not work. These authors review the impact and status of dual enrollment, common core, early college high schools, early assessment, career pathways, and guided pathways as the primary initiatives currently in practice to help students make transitions successfully.

The authors also caution community college leaders about depending on one or two of these strategies as the solution to eliminating the gap between high school and community colleges:

The early success of these individual strategies has ironically put them at risk of being adopted as standalone (even symbolic) solutions rather than as strategies integral to larger systemic change goals, including: authentic alignment and partnerships with K-12 systems; credentialing paths that maximize short-term income outcomes and also provide opportunities for further education; and guided pathways that create a more coherent and structured educational experience so that more students reach key educational milestones and careers. This is the next generation of work surrounding collaborative high school-college efforts, if these efforts are to contribute in a meaningful way to the equitable and large-scale success of community college students.

Idea 10 - Demography as Opportunity

In 1965, there were no African American students attending Central Florida Junior College in Ocala, Florida, although it was in a very diverse community. African American students attended another junior college for students of color across town—Hampton Junior College (HJC), named for a local dentist who championed the education of minorities. Both junior colleges were created in 1958, but HJC was created as a “separate but equal” college which reflected the culture of the State of Florida at that time. There were 12 junior colleges for African American students in Florida in the 1960s, referred to as the Magnificent Twelve (Smith, 1994). The establishment of these colleges was not Florida’s finest hour.

Professor James Wattenbarger, the Father of Florida’s community college system, noted the following:

The establishment of the twelve predominantly Black junior colleges was an undesirable but necessary action in Florida. What was believed to be undesirable in 1957 did have some positive result in terms of long-term values in the 1990s.” The products of these colleges have been “the total development of Florida’s political, social and economic growth for thousands of Florida’s citizens. (Yglesias, 1996, para. 16).

Hampton Junior College merged with Central Florida Junior College in 1966, the last of Florida’s Black junior colleges to merge with their local counterparts. The reason for recalling this brief history is to underscore the fact that segregated facilities in community colleges existed not too long ago. Facilities are now, more or less, equal; policies, programs, practices, and personnel still have a long way to go.

Nikki Edgecombe proposes a provocative idea for consideration:

Demography as opportunity is a simple idea grounded in a commitment to affirm the worth of the students who attend community colleges by being responsive to their life circumstances. As the demography of the nation changes—the United States is predicted to be a majority minority by 2045 (Frey, 2018)—human capital investment in students from racial and ethnic groups, many of whom are first generation college goers and low income, is critical to the nation’s vitality. This idea is optimistic in that it views diversity as an asset and community college graduates as central actors in equitable economic growth.

Edgecombe cobbles together the important data on the growth of minority enrollment from numerous research studies:

  • In fall 2015, 44 percent of all undergraduate students were non-White: 19 percent Hispanic, 14 percent African American, 7 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, and 4 percent Other.
  • Between 2015 and 2026, postsecondary enrollments are expected to increase by 26 percent for Hispanic students, 20 percent for African American students, 12 percent for Asian/Pacific Islander students, and 1 percent for White students.
  • Fifty-six percent of all Hispanic undergraduates attend community colleges; 44 percent of all African American undergraduates attend community colleges.

Edgecombe urges leaders not to see the increasing numbers of minorities attending community colleges as a deficit—with its historical baggage of negative perspectives—but as an opportunity to increase inclusivity and social and economic justice. Furthermore, she offers basic principles for community colleges to follow if these goals are to be reached:

  • Know your students.
  • Understand the obstacles to their success.
  • Adopt and adapt responsible policies and practices.
  • Scale and institutionalize continuous improvement.

As an under-resourced sector of higher education, community colleges struggle to implement these principles, which are applicable to all students, consistently, but especially for minority students. Edgecombe ends her review by citing examples of policies and practices that have been enormously successful in increasing student success.

Idea 11 - Catching the Waves: Technology in the Community College

Of all the thirteen ideas, technology, because of its power and its promise, may be one of the most effective forces that has and will continue to transform the community college world. The pace of change with technology is breathtaking compared with the pace of change of the other twelve ideas. As Milliron and O’Brien note, “In the year 2000, GPS was still science fiction for most, smartphones did not exist, social media sites were years away, and the Internet was dominated by technology devotees who spoke in a shorthand language most did not understand.” In less than two decades, these technological innovations have become ubiquitous in almost all world societies, with four-year-olds sometimes more knowledgeable than their parents about how to use them. For many users, there is still a lack of understanding of the shorthand language created by the age of technology.

The authors posit four waves of technology linked to access and success—the twin pillars of community college philosophy.

In Wave 1, Access and Efficiency, the authors review the importance of creating a new kind of access to higher education which, in itself, served to transform the community college world. Never in the history of the world has a society experimented with the idea that every person would have the opportunity to attend the first two years of college. The idea is not yet fully implemented, but recent efforts will bring the idea to full fruition barring cataclysmic changes.

The technology that addresses the concept of access is a basic technology designed to do more efficiently what is already being done. There were improved systems to make more efficient course schedules, registration, performance tracking, financial aid, admissions, and many business operations. No president, dean of students, division chair, foundation director, registrar, or business officer could function today without an understanding and use of these early applications of technology.

In Wave 2, Access and Learning, the focus shifted from becoming more efficient at helping students to enter college and began to link the idea that technology could play a major role in improving and expanding learning itself. This wave complemented the learning paradigm/learning college/learning revolution movement in the community college. This movement raised two key questions for educators: (1) Does this action improve and expand student learning? (2) How do we know this action improves and expands student learning? Technology plays a significant role in the answers to these two key questions.

Focused more on how technology supports learning, the authors cite examples of learning materials and learning spaces. They also review major innovations designed to improve and expand learning: online learning, blended learning, e-portfolios, competency-based education, and open education systems, among others.

In Wave 3, Access and Success, the authors explore how we know whether or not this action improves and expands student learning:

Then technology tools to capture in-class learning progression and mastery began taking shape. Learning outcomes assessment became a tool suite available to colleges that needed to map and document learning mastery for accreditation, licensure, and professional certification. As discussed in Learning Outcomes for the 21st Century, leveraging technology to help answer the “how do we know question” at this level was vital if learning-centered innovation was to expand. However, these conversations were in some ways eclipsed as the “completion agenda” exploded on the scene in 2009-2010.

Analytics became the next hot tool in the kit of technology, as the authors note: “Analytics held the potential to move the needle on student success.” At the same time, colleges were beginning to address the issue of organizing and analyzing data and the completion agenda, almost overnight, began to dominate reform efforts with its emphasis on creating a culture of evidence.

In the last ten to fifteen years, the completion agenda has become the overarching agenda of the American community college and a number of other sectors of education. Where education places its priorities next is not altogether clear, but Milliron and O’Brien have created a student success transformation matrix that could become a roadmap for the future of the current emphasis on learning and student success.

In Wave 4, Access and Transformation, the authors use the matrix to suggest what is possible for the future:

The good news is that the upper right quadrant is becoming more crowded as it becomes more common for student success leaders to expand and improve their insight capacity through analytics and qualitative explorations. This insight is then coupled with skill and will in change management to measurably move the needle on student success work. Most exciting is that the deep work in this quadrant also holds the potential to bring more of the access, efficiency, learning, and success innovation together for students. Indeed, it may be the key to community colleges making the most of the next wave—access and transformation.

This transformation might come to a fuller fruition if leaders will heed the implications regarding institutional capacity and the importance embedded in the matrix.

As community colleges continue to evolve, it is hoped that the optimism of the authors noted in the conclusion to this chapter will be shared by the great majority of community college stakeholders and that they will also have the will and the skills to make the next decade a golden age of learning:

An exciting time is at hand. We’re poised to have more tools, techniques, and technologies at our fingertips than ever before to help students access learning, succeed on their learning journeys, and ready themselves for productive careers and lives. It’s been called the coming “golden age of learning,” when we are able to try, test, tune, and learn together all in a collective effort to watch our students make the most of their time with our community colleges.

Idea 12 - Transformative Leadership Wanted: Making Good on the Promise of the Open Door

Most species of animals have formed hierarchies of power, seen especially in primates and canines, in which the alpha male dominates as the leader. Sometimes, but not often, there are alpha females, such as those in groups of bonobo chimpanzees, who dominate as leaders. These traits have been passed on to humans through evolution, and the Neanderthals and later Homo sapiens, who emerged about 40,000 years ago, inherited these various patterns of dominance that undergird leadership styles.

Unfortunately, although there are a few examples of animal groups that are not dependent on the alpha male for leadership, there are more examples in the animal world and the world of human beings that do depend on the alpha male as the model for leadership. The behaviors of alpha males dominate literature, churches, movies, corporations, and every level of politics. Contemporary human beings have continued to evolve to the point that they have created frameworks of leadership based on scientific studies of the behavior of leaders and followers. While there are many such frameworks and theories, one common way to identify various leadership styles is to identify them as transactional leadership, laissez-faire leadership, and transformational leadership. Transactional leadership focuses on rewards and punishment to achieve compliance from followers. Laissez-faire leadership allows followers to fend for themselves with no direction from the leader. Transformational leaders take charge, create a vision for the work of the organization, engage followers as full and respected partners, and focus on achieving agreed-upon goals.

Margaretta B. Mathis and John Roueche examine and illustrate the core characteristics of transformational leadership as it has been applied in higher education, especially in community colleges. After providing an overview of some of the challenges community colleges face, and the need for new leadership styles to address these challenges, they raise key questions that will stimulate the reader to consider what follows:

Toward what are colleges leading? In their many deliberations, do leaders pause to consider, “So what?” before eliciting the many constituents in expensive and time-consuming propositions? What about the context makes an undertaking ripe for introduction and successful implementation? What is it about a vision that propels an institution (and country) forward, and what is the magic elixir that keeps stakeholders engaged and committed to the work while naysayers inevitably hover, preparing to pounce and provoke? Do our community college leaders consider the how of introducing and fostering transformation as they look toward a desired and often illusive outcome?

They answer these questions with examples of the behaviors of transformational leaders from some of the flagship community colleges in the nation. They also use a framework based on community college leadership programs for which they have provided leadership to illustrate how transformational leaders can be prepared. As they say,

No one person can “do it all.” It is the astute leader who involves internal and external institutional stakeholders in developing a culture that anticipates and builds toward a desired future, rather than being mired in the many daily operational challenges that arise. A culture of accessibility, accomplishment, quality, accountability, innovation, care, and delivery requires that these noble men and women look beyond “self” and wisely elevate and prepare the next generation to develop and foster a strong foundation that will sustain, redefine, and redirect in anticipation of economic and societal shifts.

Mathis and Roueche draw from the literature and their extensive experience working with community college leaders to create a list of the primary characteristics of transformational leadership:

  • Shared Vision, Values, and Involvement. As the Bible records, “Without a vision, the people will perish.” It is the same for religious zealots, a nation, and a college. Educators come to their work already deeply dedicated to wanting to make a difference in the lives of their students and their communities. When leaders tap into this commitment and involve a community of colleagues who share core values reflected in a common mission, they can disturb the universe that is and create the dream in which they all wish to be involved.
  • Courage, Candor, and Collaboration. If there is to be substantial and lasting change in college culture, leaders must have the courage to address the established culture and the long-held views of many of the faculty and administrators, and the stamina to withstand the backlash that will come. Leaders must be transparent and speak with candor to all members of the college staff about the challenges revealed by data and examination. At the same time, leaders are creating some chaos in the established order; they must figure out ways to ensure that all members of the college are kept informed and that there is sufficient collaboration to move forward.
  • Commitment. Change is hard for many people, especially for leaders who have spent years creating and managing systems for which they have responsibility. When a new leader suggests a new vision, or a leader on the job for years discovers a new approach, those on the firing line feel that their judgment and performance are being questioned. Transformational leaders understand these dynamics and realize the college must be in the reform effort for the long haul. They support and take care of the faculty and staff under stress, and they commit to staying around long enough to see the efforts succeed.
  • Getting Important Things Done. Leaders establish big goals and high expectations because they believe anything less sells their colleagues short. Leaders know that quality faculty and administrators like to work in an environment where leaders focus on the important things and accomplish important things. Instead of bogging down into the details of daily management, a college with transformational leaders will hum with excitement and creativity. Leaders intuitively understand the common adage that, “Management is doing things right, but leadership is doing the right thing.”
  • Persistence, Purpose, and People. Change requires commitment, but it also requires persistence linked to a clear purpose. Transformational leaders have “grit,” even recognized by grandmothers as a powerful incentive for getting the job done. As summarized by Burns (1978) in Leadership,

It is the power of a person to become a leader, armed with principles and rising above self-interest narrowly conceived, that invests that person with power and may ultimately transform both leaders and followers into persons who jointly adhere to moral values and end-values. A person, whether leader or follower, girded with moral purpose is a tiny principality of power. (p. 457)

  • Performance, Preparation, and the Courage to Lead. As the authors note, “purposeful and passionate leaders are unyielding in their pursuit of effective and sustainable solutions that will transform institutions—without overwhelming the very stakeholders who are needed to implement them. It is a compelling goal and remarkable achievement for any college leader to so transform the culture of his or her institution that when the college addresses its most challenging teaching and learning issues, the quality of the decisions can be judged by how closely they match up to its collective goals, hopes, and dreams.”

Idea 13 - Using Data to Monitor What Matters: A New Role for Trustees

The community college and the lay board are both American social inventions that illustrate democracy in action. The community college is an expression of access and opportunity; the lay board is an expression of citizen responsibility for oversight and representation. They are symbiotic concepts in which the lay board is charged with assuring the community college carries out its mission and goals. Each depends on the other for its success (O’Banion, 2009, p. 9).

In the United States, community colleges are governed by boards of trustees either elected or appointed. According to data compiled by the Association of Community College Trustees and reported by Smith, Piland, and Boggs (2001), locally elected boards are the norm in 13 states; boards appointed by the governor, by local leaders, or by a mix of the two are the norm in 19 states. In 4 states, boards are selected by a mix of appointees and elected officials. In all other states, the trustees are advisory or colleges are governed by a statewide entity. There are approximately 6,500 trustees serving over 600 community colleges that have either locally elected or appointed boards (Mellow & Heelan, 2008).

Most of these trustees are exceptional community leaders, elected and appointed to champion the community college mission for the communities and students they represent. These local trustees, serving as the guardians of their local community colleges, have helped create the most dynamic and innovative system of colleges in the world.

Byron McClenney notes,

As with governing boards in other sectors of higher education, community college boards have historically been focused on buildings, budgets, and bonds. Much more attention has been focused on an annual financial audit than on a report from an accreditor.

In the late 1990s, forces such as a call for accountability and institutional effectiveness and the impact of the learning revolution led to the creation of a number of national initiatives such as Achieving the Dream and Completion by Design. The purpose of these initiatives was to create programs and practices that would lead to increases in retention and graduation rates. From about 2005 to the present, the student success/completion agenda became the overarching mission of the nation’s community colleges. Never before had community colleges had so much financial support from foundations, so much relevant research to underscore programs and practices, and so much agreement from all key groups on the value and importance of the agenda.

Byron McClenney and his colleagues at The University of Texas, the Association of Community College Trustees, and AACC had championed the student success/completion agenda and came to realize that if the goals of the agenda were to be realized, trustees would have to play a major role. In 2007, they created the Board of Trustees Institute (BOTI) to train trustees in how to analyze data on student success in their colleges and how to monitor that data to improve and expand student success. These efforts have proved to be a revolutionary episode in the role of trustees and in the continuing evolution of the student success/completion agenda. In the past ten years, additional initiatives to involve more trustees in monitoring data on student success and failure has become one of the transforming ideas impacting the community college world.

So, What Is This Thing; This Community College Idea?

As noted above, a lot of people do not know what a community college means or represents because it is a dynamic institution that has been changing for decades. As an experiment in democracy, the community college is still evolving, but after 118 years, some of its basic challenges have begun to be resolved:

  1. Access and success, the twin pillars of community college philosophy, have often been pitched as ideas in opposition to each other, with access dominating for almost 100 years and success now rising to dominance driven by the completion agenda. While each might still end up on an opposite end of a continuum, leaders now pretty much agree that both access and success carry equal weight and are more like a coin with access on one side and success on the other. They are forever bonded as the foundation of the community college.
  2. The “community” in community college has had a rough ride evolving from “junior” and now disappearing where some colleges are offering baccalaureate degrees. Originally interpreted to mean a local geographical area such as a city, county, or region—and in earlier times sometimes confined by practice or law to serving only that area—it is a dynamic institution that cannot be confined. Today, community colleges serve their state and the nation; many now serve the global community.
  3. The “college” in community college has also had its ups and down. First comfortable with junior college—an institution not quite a college—it morphed into postsecondary education, still defined by its connection to secondary education. As the community college evolved, it demanded a seat at the table of higher education, where it is now, for the most part, an accepted and respected colleague of four-year colleges and universities.
  4. The community college is now also accepted and respected by U.S. presidents, federal and state agencies, legislators, business and industry, and foundations as a key player in the nation’s march to improved and expanded economic and social justice. Community colleges, made in America, are now exported to other countries around the world.
  5. The community college is the only educational institution in the history of the world to open its doors to all citizens—and even non-citizens. It is still an evolving social experiment that promises a better life for those who accept the invitation to come through the open door. It is strongly committed to diversity and leveling the playing field for those who are “different.” Equality is a much thornier issue that has not been fully resolved by the nation, much less the community college.

So, what is this thing; this community college idea? In 2019, here is a definition that most leaders would agree reflects consensus: The primary purpose of the community college is to ensure that students are prepared to make a good living and live a good life. It is an open-door institution that accepts all who can benefit from its programs and services. It is a comprehensive institution that offers a variety of programs and opportunities to meet the needs of its diverse population. It is grounded in its local community but serves national and global needs when opportunities arise. It is Democracy’s College, ever evolving. 

Rick Smyre (2018), President of the Center for Communities of the Future, has said, “Institutions that have existed for over 100 years are in the process of declining, and most will soon disappear from our society and economy” (p. 5). If this observation is true, what will become of the community college of the future which is now 118 years old?

The community college is so embedded in American culture that it is not likely to disappear anytime soon; and there is no evidence to date that it is in the process of declining. What is clear is that the community college will continue to evolve, and its future will be marked by the ideas briefly reviewed here that will become common practice. While the community college we know today may cease to exist, the community college we dream of the future will prosper and grow, enriched by these thirteen ideas that are transforming the community college world.


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This issue of Insights is a draft version of a chapter from 13 Ideas that Are Transforming the Community College World, edited by Terry U. O’Banion. This book will be published by Rowman & Littlefield and the American Association of Community Colleges in March 2019. All rights reserved. When ordering the book from Rowman & Littlefield, mention the special code “RLEGEN18” and receive a 20% discount. Copies can also be ordered from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other booksellers.

Terry U. O’Banion is President Emeritus, League for Innovation in the Community College, Chandler, Arizona.

Opinions expressed in Insights are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.