I have taught in a variety of settings at the community college level over the last few years, and in that time I have learned a great deal about the important niches that community colleges fill in higher education. Community colleges prepare students for a wide range of careers that universities and four-year colleges ignore, particularly in specialized technical fields. Because of the greater flexibility in program changes, community colleges can also adapt more quickly to the demands of the 21st century workplace.
The significantly lower tuition costs at American community colleges allow a greater number of students to gain access to the post-secondary training they need to compete in an increasingly global marketplace. In addition, many undergraduate students find that required core classes can be completed at local community colleges, saving them valuable tuition dollars as compared with four-year colleges and universities. Moreover, for students who are unsure of their educational and career goals, the reduced cost of a community college means that the process of finding one’s way in the world is considerably lower.
Most importantly, community colleges typically serve a more diverse student population than four-year colleges and universities. Most community colleges offer evening and weekend classes, and I have found that community colleges are much more willing to invest in the technology to create an effective learning environment for online courses. In fact, one major Midwestern university at which I recently taught (Fall 2008) did not offer a single history class online. This is in stark contrast with the two community colleges at which I have taught, and both colleges had better developed DL course offerings than most four-year colleges and universities. Moreover, community colleges serve important roles with non-traditional students, especially adults returning to school and students who are the first in their families to attend an institution of higher education.
In short: the demands of an increasingly global and technologically advanced workplace require the next generations of American workers to possess academic and technical skills greater than at any time in the history of the United States. Long gone are the days when a high school diploma was sufficient to prepare a person for the workplace, and American community colleges will play an ever greater role in the preparation of 21st century citizens for the future wok environment.