Some will argue that America will not win the skills race and strengthen the middle class without greater might at two-year institutions, and I agree with them.
The presidential candidates need to read and digest a study commissioned by the College Board, “Winning the Skills Race and Strengthening America's Middle Class: An Action Agenda for Community Colleges,” which illustrates that community colleges carry a disproportionate student load with inadequate resources.
Amazingly, community colleges enroll nearly 47 percent of those who attend higher education, an increase of 18 percent over the past decade. As a former university president for more than 20 years, I regard these invaluable institutions as America’s overlooked asset.
The study is the work of the National Commission on Community Colleges, a nationally recognized group of educators who
In the century since they were founded, community colleges have become the largest single sector of American higher education, with nearly 1,200 regionally accredited two-year colleges enrolling 6.5 million students annually for credit and another five million for noncredit courses.
Students range in age from teenagers to octogenarians, annually taking courses in everything from English literature, biochemistry and statistics to foreign languages, the arts, community development, emergency medical procedures, engine maintenance and hazardous waste disposal.
These proven, and often underappreciated, institutions give many students the required tools to navigate in the modern world. Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, said after reviewing the study, “If the United States intends to remain competitive and shape international life, there must be a federal commitment to community college access and success, building opportunity and strengthening the middle class.”
He said the report was long overdue, noting that community colleges were built through local and state understanding and support. “Nearly half of all jobs in the next 10 years will require some postsecondary education,” he noted.
Much of that education will have to come from energized and fairly funded community colleges. It is that simple, and more and more members of Congress are seeing the light. U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska predicts the two-year schools will be the focus of unprecedented attention.Significantly, the report calls for a national commitment to universal access to two years of education beyond high school. “Such a commitment would do much to guarantee international competitiveness,” said Augustine Gallego, chancellor emeritus of San Diego Community College District and chair of the National Commission on Community Colleges.
While many elite universities worry about adding to multibillion-dollar endowments, community college presidents worry about how to accommodate growing numbers of students with quality teachers. The contrast is stark and telling.
Despite their limited resources, unsung community colleges accomplish the following:
As a graduate of McCook Community College in Nebraska,
Gene A. Budig is president emeritus of Major League Baseball’s American League, and former president/chancellor of Illinois State University, West Virginia University and the University of Kansas. He is a College Board professor in New York.
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