What's the Best Fix for Community Colleges?

By Abbie Ruzicka


May 7, 2012

bunker hill community college

Gov. Deval Patrick's plan would put Bunker Hill Community College and its 15 counterparts under a centralized authority. (Wikimedia)

BOSTON — Massachusetts is home to some of the best four-year colleges in America. Yet higher education advocates said on Monday that the state’s community colleges have been neglected even as they try to manage booming enrollment in the face of shrinking resources and an aging infrastructure.
Gov. Deval Patrick has proposed sweeping changes to the state’s community colleges, including merging the authority of the 15 community college campuses into a centralized board and streamlining coordination among the campuses. 

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Community colleges in the state are not in favor of the proposal and are resistant to the proposed uniform model of education, as the colleges serve a wide variety of educational needs that vary by location. Community college students are generally older than their four-year college counterparts; most have families to care for and many are lower-income. Students' goals vary as well: Some attend community colleges for job training, while some plan to transfer to four-year universities and some are looking for a career change.
However, community colleges need reform in order to function effectively in the 21st century, said Julian Alssid, executive director of Workforce Strategy Center and a co-author of the Boston Foundation report on community colleges upon which Patrick based his proposal.
Alssid said he conducted interviews and focus groups with 55 business and education leaders in Massachusetts. He learned that employers don’t look to the state's community colleges as a trainer of choice because many feel the curricula is out of sync with the workplace, the process for developing and updating curricula is too slow and inflexible, and there is a lack of alignment from one college to the next.
“One of the big points they described was the uncomfortably large gap between the skills students learn at college and those needed in the local workforce,” he said.
Massachusetts Community College Council president Joseph LeBlanc said a better way to improve community colleges would be to hire more frontline employees — those who work directly with students. He said community colleges do not get consistent state funding, and he pointed out that as enrollment in community colleges has increased over the past 10 years, hiring of full-time faculty has not increased.
“We’ve seen our aid from the state drop by 25 percent in the last 20 years, and we feel like we’re in a rollercoaster of aid — it goes up and down, and it’s in no way predictable,” LeBlanc said.

> > READ: The Boston Foundation report (pdf)


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