Got quality? The quiet evolution of community colleges |

Got quality? The quiet evolution of community colleges

CMC CornerLinda Crockett and Bill McGreevyGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

It’s well-known that community colleges offer accessible education for a reasonable price. What many don’t know is the degree of educational quality and investment in student learning they embody. According to the American Council on Education’s Center for Policy Analysis, enrollments were up by 14 percent at American community colleges in the 1990s, 5 percentage points more than all of higher education, which increased 9 percent during that period. Dependent students from higher-income families were more likely to attend four-year institutions. However, as independent students’ income rose, they were more likely to attend a community college. Eleven million students, or about 44 percent of undergraduates, attend community colleges, according to the Sallie Mae website. Can 11 million students be wrong? Among the most-cited reasons are low tuition, convenient locations, favorable class schedules, open admissions policies and comprehensive course offerings.Is this a choice of convenience or of educational quality, or both? A quality education is determined in large part by the ability to best meet students’ needs. For students, a community college education emphasizes a student-centered approach, as reflected in smaller class sizes, accessibility of the instructor and flexible scheduling. Many community college students value their faculty members’ emphasis on teaching and learning, rather than conducting research. Instructors at community colleges frequently bring extensive practical experience to their subjects. Full-time community college faculty spend more time in the classroom than faculty from any other sector of higher education. With open enrollment, professors and staff of community colleges must be particularly mindful of working with students to support their academic achievement.As part of earning accreditation through the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Colorado Mountain College participates in stringent quality monitoring through an evaluation process known as AQIP (academic quality improvement program), which is monitored through the accrediting body. Another way CMC ensures educational quality is by conducting student and community surveys. From recent surveys of CMC graduates, students’ academic goals at the college included, in descending order, earning an associate degree, earning a professional certificate, transferring to a four-year college, obtaining a better job and career skills, training for job advancement or maintaining a professional license. It’s of critical concern that community colleges adequately prepare students to meet these goals. For those who plan to continue their education at four-year schools in Colorado, CMC courses taken under a common, statewide numbering system are guaranteed for transfer to public institutions within the state. Sometimes the transfer can be accomplished without the student even needing to leave home. Specialized inter-institutional agreements enable CMC students to obtain a bachelor’s degree through distance education, allowing them to take courses that fulfill requirements for that four-year degree. For a variety of educational needs, community colleges are gaining momentum as vital, progressive features of the educational landscape, and as gateways to the lifetime process of learning. If you’d like to start that process for yourself, contact your local CMC campus soon, as registration for spring semester is now open. Bill McGreevy is an assistant dean at Colorado Mountain College’s Roaring Fork Campus, and Linda Crockett is the CMC public information editor.

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