Community college - American EducationA two-year, degreegranting public institution of post–secondary school education, designed to serve the needs of the local area or community. Still evolving, community or junior colleges, offer one or more of four broad curricula: academic curricula leading to an associate degree in arts or science that serve to bridge the gap between high school and four-year colleges; vocational and occupational education leading to an associate degree or professional certification; remedial programs; and adult and continuing education, which may or may not lead to an associate degree or certificate.
Community colleges evolved out of the vast expansion in the number of public and private colleges, universities and institutes in the halfcentury following the Civil War. Some were founded for special purpose such as nursing, mechanics and other occupational skills that only required two years of formal classroom training. Others emerged from a process of institutional growth or contraction determined by market demand in particular areas. Thus, some academies (see academy) grew into colleges, while many of the mostly three-year colleges, either shrank into two-year “junior” colleges or expanded into four-year “senior” institutions. Of the two-year junior colleges most were private institutions, and the term junior college continues to be used to differentiate private from public, or community, colleges.
By the turn of the century, most professional schools required only two years of college education, thus permitting junior colleges offering thirteenth and fourteenth grade education to send their students directly into professional school without spending four years at conventional colleges. After professional schools imposed bachelor degrees requirements for admission, junior colleges became bridges between high school and four-year colleges, serving those students who had not fulfilled their secondary school academic requirements for admission to four-year colleges. That role expanded after World War II, as returning soldiers took advantage of college scholarships offered under the G.I. Bill of Rights. Those who had not finished their secondary school education or were otherwise unqualified to enroll directly into four-year colleges, enrolled in junior colleges to obtain the needed academic qualifications. As the demand for such education expanded, state funds were used to build public junior, or community, colleges.
As four-year colleges began adopting OPEN ADMISSION policies in the early 1960s, community colleges faced a loss of their traditional constituencies, and they were forced to turn elsewhere for new students. They expanded into two new areas: the booming adult education market and vocational education, geared to the needs of their communities. The result was an expansion in the number of community colleges from fewer than 600 in 1960 to 980 in 2004. There are also 148 private twoyear colleges in addition to the public community colleges, and together, America’s two-year colleges now enroll nearly 12 million students— 6.6 million in credit courses and 5 million in noncredit courses—compared with only 750,000 in 1960.
Most community colleges try to specialize in one or two areas of vocational training, such as health care, which meets the needs of nearby employers. Many community colleges have cooperative VOCATIONAL EDUCATION programs with local industries, whereby the college and a local company or companies join to provide a “total,” integrated vocational education package. The college provides most of the necessary classroom education, often paying company personnel as adjunct instructors, and the company provides students with paid, on-the-job training.
Other community colleges have so-called two-plus-two, or tech-prep programs, which offer students a four-year vocational education program that begins in the student’s junior year of high school and continues through community college.
Community colleges offer students advantages unavailable at most other institutions of higher learning. Aside from low fees, they offer students an opportunity to perfect academic skills while learning a new craft or occupation. They allow students to attend part-time and keep their jobs while continuing their education. They usually set no minimum time to complete the work for a degree or certificate, and students may enroll in as few or as many courses as they want. Because teachers tend to be part-time adjuncts, many are actually professionals in the fields they teach.
Beginning in 2001, some community colleges with extensive two-year associate degree programs in specialties such as teacher training or health care expanded course offerings to permit students to obtain baccalaureate degrees. By early 2006, a dozen states, including Florida, Arkansas, Nevada and New Mexico, had passed laws allowing community colleges to award bachelor’s degrees in specific areas. A critical shortage of teachers and nurses motivated the change in Florida, while California and Arizona expanded community colleges to absorb the expanding student population without incurring the costs of building new four-year colleges. Arizona has only three public universities and no room to accommodate the increased numbers of high school graduates demanding entry into four-year degree programs. Because of their more Spartan facilities, community colleges charge only about $60 a credit hour, or half the cost of four-year colleges.