Arthur M. Cohen
Director, ERIC Clearinghouse for Community Colleges
University of California, Los Angeles
Cortes (1994, p. 6) stated,
"We do not march into the future. We back into it ... dragging the heavy hand of
Projecting the future for the community
colleges of the early twenty-first century involves projecting the future for the nation
in general: its demographics, economy, and public attitudes. The demographics are
apparentthe potential college students are today in the lower schoolsbut the
number who will attend community colleges or other types of institutions is uncertain. The
national economy is even less certain. However, the United States is a great economic
engine, with a highly trained cadre of professional practitioners able to adjust to
shifting influences in the workplace. Barring a major social upheaval such as a war,
depression, or severe inflation, the nation will be able to continue educating its youth
and sustain lifelong learning for its adults. Community colleges will play a role in this
process similar to that which they have developed over much of this century:
prebaccalaureate, occupational, remedial, and adult education, provided to a broad
spectrum of the local population.
Public attitude, always mercurial,
influences the colleges. Periodic disgruntlement with taxation sometimes translates into
less support for education, as does the rise of other priorities such as prisons and the
criminal justice system. But as long as college degrees are perceived as the route toward
personal advancement, people will demand access and will eventually agree to pay for it.
None of the fiscal crises in any of the states has led to serious calls to close down the
higher education system.
The number of public community colleges
will not expand much; practically all the colleges necessary had been built by 1975, when
a college could be found within commuting distance of nearly all the people in all but a
few states. The number has remained constant ever since, reaching stasis at just over a
thousand. Change in this group will occur only to the extent that public universities
organize additional two-year branch campuses or community colleges upgrade satellite
centers to full campus status.
The form of the community college will
not change either. The institution offering career, collegiate, developmental, and
continuing education has become well accepted by the public and by state-level
coordinating and funding agencies.
The People Within
There will be plenty of students to share
among all postsecondary sectors. The absolute number of eighteen-year-olds in the United
States peaked at 4.3 million in 1979, bottomed at 3.3 million in 1992, and will rise to 4
million by 2004. Anticipating less school dropout, the National Center for Education
Statistics predicts that the number of high school graduates in 2004 will surpass 3
million, the same as the number that graduated when the population of eighteen-year-olds
was at its peak in 1979 (National Center for Education Statistics, 1995a).
College-going expectations keep rising.
In 1992, 78 percent of all seniors said they planned on attending a postsecondary
institution immediately after high school graduation, up from 59 percent twenty years
earlier (National Center for Education Statistics, 1995b). Although more than half planned
on attending a four-year college, many will be diverted to community college as they find
they cannot get into the restricted freshman classes at universities. Community college
enrollments will rise somewhat but the number of associate degrees awarded will show a
proportionately greater increase as strengthened matriculation and attendance requirements
reduce the percentage of casual attendees. The concept, "Let everyone in and let them
take what they want," will finally be put to rest.
Because college enrollments will grow
slowly, the number of faculty will show similarly small increases. The ratio of
full-timers to part-timers has stabilized at just under 40:60, and will likely remain
there as administrators' desires to save money by employing part-timers and faculty
organizations' ability to protect full-time positions offset one another. A high
proportion of full-timers teach additional courses for extra pay, thus making it
unnecessary to employ additional staff except in singular areas. Demands that full-time
instructors be awarded rights of first refusal when overload classes are imminent will
continue. The next professional enhancements will be led by instructors who build
reproducible learning sequences and interactive media. To the extent they can demonstrate
that their efforts have effected greater learning opportunities for less money, they will
be recognized as instructional leaders. More than managers of paraprofessionals, they will
be involved with new sets of colleagues: media technologists, script writers, editors, and
production coordinators. This will happen slowly, and only to the extent that the colleges
can make funds available for this expensive effort.
Organization, Governance, and
Few changes in the pattern of
organization and governance in community colleges are evident. The number of institutions
will grow very slowly as new colleges are formed in the few states that do not now have an
institution within commuting distance of most of their population. But for the most part,
branch campuses, satellite centers, and courses offered off campus in rented quarters will
accommodate the need for expanded facilities. Many small autonomous centers or specialized
units within larger districts will be built. Some of these centers will emphasize career
studies and recertification for paraprofessionals; others, operating much like university
extension divisions, will offer courses in numerous locations and over open-circuit
television. These types of instructional centers have accounted for nearly all the
institutional expansion that has occurred since the early 1970s.
The trend toward greater state-level
coordination will continue at a slow pace. As the states become more involved with college
policies, gaps in interinstitutional cooperation will be filled, and criteria for student
matriculation and progress will be set. Statewide coordination will provide proportionate
funding, avoiding curriculum duplication and easing the flow of students from one sector
of public postsecondary education to another.
The pressure for state control will
result in continued efforts to micromanage the colleges, but it will have minimal effect
on instruction and student services. State-level coordination relates more to reporting,
compliance with regulations, and accountability for numerous aspects of institutional
operations; there is much room for local autonomy within those requirements.
Community college instruction costs about
one-half as much per student as in a comprehensive four-year institution and about
one-fourth as much as in a public research university. Still, the colleges are public
entities. Their support depends on legislative perceptions and available public dollars.
The colleges will be asked to provide
evidence of increased productivity and specific programmatic outcomes, which will lead to
greater efficiencies. Cost savings will lead to moves toward year-long calendars and
eighteen-hour days. These will relieve capital costs but will also increase costs of
campus security, energy use, and building maintenance. The greatest savings will come from
converting more staff to part-time, hourly pay schedules. However, institutional support
is sustained in a political arena; it is only tangentially related to outcomes.
Colleges cannot expect to fund wage
increases or the costs of new programs, including the widely heralded instructional
technology revolution, through traditional budget lines. Similarly, new construction will
have to be supported by special appropriations rather than capital fund increases.
Funding efforts (for example, seeking
grants, finding public agencies with funds, training staff to support fundraising efforts,
leasing campus areas to agencies for fairs, shows, swap meets) will be pursued and
rewarded. Contract training for local businesses will relieve a portion of the
overhead.CurriculumRegardless of the spread of multimedia, interactive media, and other
distance-learning technologies, classroom-centered instruction will not diminish very much
as a percentage of instructional effort. Think of all the media that were supposed to
change the conditions of teaching. To the phonograph, telephone, radio, television, and
computer have been added laser-directed discs, satellite downlinks, and other electronic
marvels too numerous to tabulate. But the dream of students learning on their own while
their instructors are freed from information dispensing to engage in creative interaction
with them has remained just thata dream.
Career education will remain prominent.
One of the colleges' prime functions is to train workers, and ample funds are available to
support this function. Competition from universities that develop programs in the
technologies, from proprietary schools, and from publicly funded ad hoc job-training
programs that teach the more specific skills will not change the central tendency. There
is enough demand to keep them all occupied, even as programs rise and fall.
A sizable amount of basic skill
development will continue to be necessary for many years. Community colleges will not only
offer it on their own campuses, they will also expand their teaching of literacy in
universities, lower schools, and business enterprises. Whether developmental education is
funded separately, or whether its cost is aggregated along with other curricular
functions, it will account for one-third of the instructional budget.
The prognosis for the collegiate
curriculum is good. The linkage aspect of the collegiate function, centering on preparing
students to enter junior-level programs leading to bachelor's degrees in health fields,
business, technologies, and the professions, will thrive, because entrance to those
programs depends on students completing courses in the humanities, sciences, social
sciences, mathematics, and English. General education will continue being debated in the
context of distribution requirements. It cannot become the guiding principle of an
institution that is less dedicated to societal benefit than it is dedicated to each
individual's immediate concerns.
The concept of instructional productivity
will be central to the moves toward media production and accountability. In the
university, productivity coalesced around ideas of research and scholarship. In the
|The pressure for state
control will result in continued efforts to micromanage the colleges.
community college, productivity has been defined as numbers of students taught per
instructional dollar. The number of students exposed to an instructional medium, whether
in a classroom or on a television screen or on a computer terminal elsewhere, is only one
among many possible measures of productivity. Changes in instructional form and in
measures of instructional productivity will have to proceed in tandem. Eventually,
measures of student learning, achievement, and satisfaction will have to be brought
forward. More than in any other area, the specter of institutional accountability looms
over occupational programs. But they are so popular in an era of intense economic
combativeness that modest changes in format will satisfy for the present.
Last, despite the massive growth in
access to schooling and the vastly greater and diverse number who have enrolled, there is
still a question of the effect on the communities. Do schools not build a better society?
The individual mobility that they effect does not translate into reorganized cities,
changed working conditions, modified immigration policies, or much of anything else
affecting the quality of life across the community.
A view of the social conditions in the
United States at the end of the twentieth century should be considered as part of the
context for the colleges of the twenty-first century.
- High immigration both in absolute numbers and in percentages of the population, along
with demands for and counter demands against anti-immigration regulations
- Multilingualism with scores of foreign-language newspapers and a population housed in
- Overcrowded cities with unclean pavements and intractable homelessness
- Practically no fringe benefits for the workforce
- Rampant piecework in the workplace and return to cottage industries
- Increasing gap between the rich and the poor
- Producer or assembly jobs yielding wages insufficient to sustain a family above the
- Weak trade unions, representing a small proportion of the workforce
- Business entrepreneurship as the path to capital formation for the individual
- Paucity of civility, when compared with an earlier era
- Increased formation of youth gangs engaged in various criminal activities
One thousand community colleges have
not changed those conditions. And probably one thousand more would not do so either. The
answer lies, as we suggested in this article's beginning, in our ability to adjust to
shifting influences in the workplace. Institutional advocates must stop deceiving
themselves and must accept and harness the offering of technology to serve both the new
and old needs of our communities of the future.
Note: This article is a modification of the concluding chapter in Cohen and Brawer, The
American Community College. (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996.
National Center for Education Statistics. Projections of Education Statistics to 2005.
Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 1995a.
National Center for Education Statistics. Trends Among High School Seniors,
19721992. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 1995b.
Cortes, C. E. "Backing into the Future: Columbus, Custer and the Diversity
Revolution." In D. W. Brown (ed.), Higher Education Exchange. Dayton, Ohio:
Kettering Foundation, 1994.