Refocus the community college mission and redefine institutional roles
Refocus the community college mission and redefine institutional roles to meet 21st century education and employment needs.
To ensure that students learn what they need to learn, community colleges should move toward a more open learning environment in which students can access services from a network of colleges, customize their learning, and choose from multiple modes of delivery. At the same time, institutions must explore new partnerships, staffing patterns, and business models, including consortium arrangements.
How Can Colleges Do This Work?
Advice to colleges focuses on six actions:
- Develop the role of community colleges as brokers of educational opportunities rather than solely as direct providers of instruction. Colleges can build a network of institutions and other service providers to meet students’ varied educational needs. In this model, the individual community college sometimes provides services directly and sometimes directs customers to alternative providers, much as Amazon serves its customers. One possibility, for example, is the creation of a college consortium with a shared curriculum so students can draw from the programs, courses, and delivery modes of every college in the network. A large regional network, or ultimately a national network, could have a universal catalog of defined competencies. Variations on that model include university centers that are coordinated by local community colleges and provide convenient access to upper-division and graduate education.
- Strengthen the role of community colleges in advising, learning assessment, and credentialing. Students are increasingly acquiring knowledge and skills in many settings and through many media over time. Thus, there is a growing need for expertise in helping students figure out how their individual learning adds up to credentials with value in the labor market. Developing community college strength in this role is timely, given increasing emphasis on competency-based learning. Evaluating each student’s progress as she or he acquires knowledge and builds skills enhances individual and institutional productivity. It allows each student to focus on what he or she wants and needs to learn, and it minimizes time wasted on unnecessary work. And, with competency-based learning the value of credentials is clearly defined in terms of what students know and are able to do.
- Redefine faculty roles. Redesigned and more effective student experiences will require multiple dimensions of faculty expertise. Mastery of content will remain essential, but equally important will be expertise in effective teaching practices, curriculum pathway design, instructional technologies, learning assessment, student development, and so on. Colleges, therefore, must staff pathways with teams of educators that bring a great variety of talents and skills to the table. Making the most of each faculty member’s knowledge and experience may require rethinking how faculty collaborate and define roles.
- Create conditions in which part-time faculty can make their best contributions to student success. In a sector where well over half of courses are taught by contingent faculty, colleges must rethink the ways they support these individuals so that they can fully contribute to the institution’s effort to strengthen student learning and attainment.
- Incorporate ingenious uses of technology in instruction and student services. Technology companies and local institutions are developing useful tools to support individualized advising, academic planning, monitoring of student progress, learning assessment, early academic alert and intervention, and so on. Flipped classrooms and other technology-enriched approaches make the most of technological innovation while preserving the human connections that are critical to community college student success. Social media, texting, and creative uses of QR codes can promote students’ connections to one another, to college faculty and staff, and to information about their studies and the support services available to them.
- Empower students as partners in developing their paths and achieving their educational goals. In the end, community colleges can advance the completion agenda only by intensively engaging students—in goal setting and choice of an academic/career pathway, in high-impact educational practices, and in purposeful interaction with other students, faculty, and advisors. Part of this engagement must include support for student development in critical areas, such as effort, tenacity, and skills for college success.