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Community Colleges Change With Society
MISSISSIPPI STATE - In a time when everything appears to be changing, community colleges in the South have undergone a transformation to become key players in economic development.
As of the late 1990s, the United States had 1,132 community colleges serving the needs of more than 9.2 million students, according to the most recent information released online by the American Association of Community Colleges. These two-year institutions provide vocational, technical and academic degrees and certifications. They offer the first two years of a four-year academic degree as well as specialized and technical training for students.
The Southern Rural Development Center, headquartered at Mississippi State University, commissioned a study of the South's community colleges and their role in today's society. The study concluded that the economy has prompted changes in community colleges' missions, which vary with rural and urban colleges. The report is part of a series on "The Rural South: Preparing for the Challenges of the Millennium."
"Because of their nearness to the communities they serve, an important new mission of community colleges is to support regional economic development," said Dr. Bo Beaulieu, SRDC director. "Their focus is toward the workforce, offering training tailored to industry needs and serving as a catalyst for economic change."
Dr. Stuart Rosenfeld, president of Regional Technology Strategies, Inc. in Carrboro, N.C., wrote the report for the Center. He said community colleges have shifted from transitional institutions to workforce development and economic development institutions, especially in rural areas.
Community colleges offer the skills, credentials and degrees that support the local economy, Rosenfeld said. Ideally, he said, students should be able to accumulate community college credits so that not only are they learning skills they can use immediately, but these credits also can apply to college degrees.
Rosenfeld looked at the best practices being used today in community colleges around the world and proposed seven policies for community colleges to follow. His suggestions include:
* encourage four-year institutions to accept transfer of applied science and technology course credits;
* provide flexible scheduling and delivery of education;
* use new ways to assess learning outcomes, expand funding for educational research on teaching methods and provide more in-service training for faculty;
* invest in research into and development of new teaching methods, such as simulation and other advanced methods;
* support faculty travel and opportunities for the sharing of ideas and learning among institutions;
* support student and faculty exchange, international meetings and cross-border joint ventures; and
* provide more start-up funds for centers based on special expertise and contributions to the local economy.
With four-year institutions being the traditional next step in education after high school, Rosenfeld said community colleges have never had a secure place in society. This issue is both an advantage and a disadvantage.
"The biggest negative has been the ability to generate financial support. There has never been federal legislation aimed at community colleges," Rosenfeld said. "The advantage is that they are less inhibited by the traditions, alumni associations or other expectations that influence the work and missions of universities and high schools.
"Community colleges have the flexibility to use part-time faculty, create new programs more quickly and respond to the specific needs of a community," Rosenfeld said.
Contact the Southern Rural Development Center at (662) 325-3207 for copies of this report.
Contact: Dr. Stuart Rosenfeld, (919) 933-6699