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More Colleges Consider Dropping ‘Community’ from Their Names

By Corey Murray

As the role of the traditional community college continues to evolve, administrators and other stakeholders representing a handful of two-year colleges are contemplating a name change.

Is there such a thing as a two-year education?

That’s the question administrators at a handful of U.S. community colleges must consider as they debate whether to drop the word “community” from their institutions’ names.

It wouldn’t be the first time the issue has been on the table. As recently as a few years ago, administrators at several U.S. community colleges debated whether nixing the word community from their official nameplate would liberate their institutions from the stigma that too often attaches itself to the career and technical college label.

These days, though, it isn’t the stigma that institutions are trying to shed — two-year colleges have never been more revered in higher education circles; rather, it’s a fundamental truth: The role of the nation’s community colleges is changing.

That’s the thinking in Seattle, where The Seattle Times reports that all three of the city’s community colleges have plans to drop the word from their names this fall.

Like a lot of two-year institutions, district chancellor Jill Wakefield told the paper that the city’s community colleges are evolving. Formerly regarded primarily as professional skills training and associate- and certificate-granting institutions, today’s career and technical colleges are being called on to play a larger role in meeting the demand for higher education.

“With the same open-admissions policies and the same low tuition, local students can start at a local college that can eventually take them all the way to a bachelor’s degree,” Wakefield said.

Many community colleges even offer four-year degrees on campus. More and more administrators say students need at least that much to land a job.

“As you know, the education requirement for today’s job market is extremely competitive, with hundreds of people competing for every job,” Susan Kostick, who heads up communications for the Seattle Colleges (formerly the Seattle Community College District), told the paper.

A rising trend?

Community colleges in Seattle aren’t the only two-year institutions to consider making a change. In 2009, Washington state’s Bellevue College dropped the word community from its name. The college has been expanding ever since.

Elsewhere across the country, other colleges are considering a switch. Henry Ford Community College in Michigan wants to lop the word from its name. A story in the Dearborn Press & Guide says a decision could come as early as this month.

Administrators say more students at Henry Ford are using the college, traditionally billed as a trade and technical college, as a stepping-stone to a four-year degree, and some stakeholders feel a name change would better reflect that purpose.

“We are looking at how we serve our students,” president Stan Jensen told the paper.

The college reportedly offers a variety of “3-in-1” programs, in which students can spend three years on the Henry Ford campus and one year on a partner university campus en route to earning a bachelor’s degree.

Last summer, Jackson College in Michigan formerly dropped community from its name. At the time, president Dan Phelan told MLive that the change better reflected the college’s offerings, including a larger number of bachelor’s degrees and programs for international students.

Not for everyone

But a name change isn’t for everyone. Critics say community colleges can adapt to the changing environment without altering their names.

Back in Washington state, officials at two institutions — Everett Community College (EvCC) and Edmonds Community College — told The Herald that they would keep the word community as part of the schools’ names, despite also offering bachelor’s degrees.

“We think it’s a pretty accurate reflection of what we do,” John Olson, vice president of college advancement for EvCC told the paper. “We have no plans to drop it.”

What do you think? Does dropping the word community accurately reflect the changing environment on the nation’s two-year career and technical college campuses?

Corey Murray

is editor of the 21st-Century Center.

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