Paper on the Future of the Community College Adopted

February
1999
Hoke Simpson,

Among the papers adopted at 1998 Fall Session was one from the Educational Policies Committee entitled The Future of the Community College: A Faculty Perspective. The paper grew directly out of a resolution from the Spring 1997 Plenary Session, S97 1.2, which "urge[d] the Executive Committee to develop a position paper articulating the faculty perspective on the future direction of California community colleges.." The paper was also intended to satisfy two other resolutions: S97 1.5, which resolved that the Academic Senate reject the use of the widely used business model, TQM/CQI, as a model for restructuring the education process, and which directed the development of a position paper addressing calls for increased faculty productivity by defining "quality" in terms of educational excellence; and S97 5.8, which directed the development of a statement that documents the success of California Community Colleges.

After a "Synopsis" and an introductory section, the paper looks at the history of the community college in California and the nation. The paper points out that the community college had its origin in "the effort to `rationalize' America's educational system, by bringing it into harmony with the economic and class structure of the larger society." The community college would "protect" the four-year colleges and universities from the masses of unqualified students who would otherwise seek to enter their doors, and would track those students into the more modest vocational paths for which they were suited, leaving the colleges and universities to train those destined to occupy society's higher economic strata. This elitist perspective was explicitly voiced by many in the educational establishment, from William Rainey Harper of the University of Chicago, who first spawned the idea of "junior colleges" and was a prime mover behind the development of the first one to open in 1901, to Clark Kerr, one of the principal architects of California's Educational Master Plan in 1960.

Fortunately, the faculty and administrators of the junior/community colleges themselves never consciously embraced the elitist program of their founders and instead took their role as transfer institutions seriously. The paper points out that there remains, nevertheless, a certain degree of "unconscious complicity," as reflected in the low transfer rates of community college students, especially when measured against the relatively high rate of desire for transfer expressed by entering freshmen. One of the goals for the future is the rejection of this complicity and a rededication to the sort of instruction that makes transfer a reality for all who want it.

From a look at the past, the paper moves on to examine the present and the calls to restructure education by turning to business models such as TQM. Here, again, the authors find an effort to bring educational and economic structures into alignment. This time, however, education is being asked to mimic, not the socio-economic hierarchy of the world of work, but rather the values and managerial techniques of the corporate world. "The aim is now," the authors state, "to impose modes of management on educational institutions in imitation of the managerial techniques of transnational corporations, with the effect of rendering educational institutions an extension of the marketplace and, in the bargain, virtually deifying those at the top of the managerial class, in both business and education alike."

The fundamental mistake of this approach, the paper argues, is to see education as an exchange of information for money. From this vantage point, the proponents of the business models have no difficulty recommending the "downsizing" of educational institutions in the interest of "efficiency" and "productivity." One particularly pernicious form of downsizing is found in the suggestion that teachers can be replaced by digitized, computer-based tutorials.

What the advocates of this vision of learning-as-commodity have failed to understand, according to the authors, is that education is the process of actualizing the potentialities of human beings to become literate, compassionate, productive participants in a democratic process. This is much more than, and very different from, the mere exchange of information. "Teaching," they maintain, "is the `business' of creating epiphanies, and this will always be best accomplished through the power of personal presence," as opposed to "complexes of hardware."

It is, in fact, in the teaching function that the authors locate the true quality and the unique strength of the community college. "The greatest strength of the community college," they write, "lies in the quality of instruction that occurs there, and this is the product of knowledgeable and dedicated individuals functioning in a virtually ideal environment [one in which the focus is exclusively on teaching and learning, rather than research]." In the vision of the future expressed in the paper, it is the extraordinary quality of community college instruction that is most needful of being preserved and developed.

As a member of the Educational Policies Committee , I am pleased with the product. I do wish that we had placed more emphasis on the marvelous support services, especially counseling, provided by the community colleges. I mention counseling, in particular, because there is an incredible irony there. Historically, counseling was introduced into the community colleges as part of the effort to "cool out" students, to provide a personal touch in letting them know that they weren't really college material. Happily, our counselors never accepted that mission, and instead they have made community college counseling into a major force in helping students attain their educational goals.

The "Synopsis" section of the paper contains a 500-word bulleted list of goals that was separated out and offered as a "Vision Statement" for the California Community Colleges. The plenary body seemed to feel that this was a bit long, and called, in a separate resolution, for the composition of a briefer vision statement. Asked what he thought of this development, Educational Policies Committee member, Ian Walton, said, "It all fit on one page. In Educational Policies, we consider that brief!"

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