Community college often gets a bad rap, but for years these institutions have helped many students — especially those trying to balance work, family and going to school — get the education and training they need. President Obama has called community colleges one of the keys to America’s economic future, and the new attention and increasingly bigger draw is bound to mix things up in the coming decade. Here are a few examples of what we predict will evolve and even improve about the community college experience. We can’t make any promises that any ideas will come to pass, but by the look of things today, they’re pretty likely. In fact, they could fundamentally change the role of community colleges in higher education and how the majority of Americans see the opportunities they offer.
- More students will head to community collegesThere is no getting around it: college is expensive, and it’s only getting more so each year. Recent media reports have even speculated that a traditional four-year education will soon be out of reach for the average American family. Public and private colleges can cost anywhere from $9,000 to $35,000 (and more) to attend each year, but for many, community college provides a much more affordable option. The average cost of tuition at a two year school is only $2,713 annually, a considerably smaller sum than even the cheapest four-year counterpart. With debt mounting and college degrees increasingly becoming a prerequisite for even lower-level positions, more and more students will head to community colleges for education — even if only to complete required courses before moving on to a bigger “name” school.
- Colleges will be forced to evolve if they hope to meet the increasingly common non-traditional student’s needsThese days, the non-traditional student — older, juggling work, school and a family — is the norm at community colleges. In fact, a full three-fourths of enrollees today already fall into that category, with half of them — 12 million nationwide — attending such schools. Catering to the needs of this new student breed will likely require community colleges to evolve their current programs, curricula and approaches. For some schools, this may mean expanding or adding online programs, for others, increasing the number of practical training programs or offering a wider variety of night classes. Whatever it means for an individual institution, it’s clear that the non-traditional student will play a major role in defining 21st century community colleges.
- Community colleges will reach out to local businessesCommunity colleges in the coming years will increasingly reach out to local businesses for input on better tailoring programs and courses. Some schools are already paving the way. In New York, businesses and community colleges are partnering to help students learn about degree programs that could help them land a job in select industries currently experiencing a hard time finding skilled workers. These jobs often fall into fields like health care, technology and viticulture, and offer students a wide variety of ways to change and grow with the companies — even adapt their own career goals. Partnerships will benefit colleges and businesses, who both gain from training a workforce to power a variety of local industries. Such hookups can have other advantages, too, especially when it comes to meeting the demand for community college courses when budgets are tight. Local businesses are often more than willing to help support community college degree programs that will ultimately provide them with employees.
- Technology will become a key component in a large portion of community college coursesTechnology is already a dominant force in education at nearly all levels, but in the coming decade community colleges can expect to make a significant investment in new breakthroughs if they hope to stay competitive. This means offering degree programs in growing tech fields, providing more online classes and ensuring that everyone enjoys access to the latest computers and training devices they’ll need to stay competitive. For many schools, providing technology may become a major marketing force as students scramble to train themselves for the latest job wave.
- Community college administration and leadership will see a shiftMuch of the way community colleges are currently managed is fairly outdated and doesn’t adequately reflect the changing economic realities, nor help to push schools effectively into the place they’ll need to be for a solid, sustainable foothold. Some professors and administrators are only hired on a temporary basis, giving them little vested interest in truly helping or changing a school. Because community colleges aren’t weighed down by the regulations and oversights that many other public schools face, they have the freedom to make some pretty radical changes. We predict that in the coming years, new leaders and administrators will start making some of these major changes in order to build a stronger academic culture and operational environment. If they don’t, some schools may not survive into the coming decade.
- Schools will change and adapt with the needs and desires of studentsStudents are increasingly specific in what they want and expect, and community colleges must pay special attention to what they’re saying if they want to keep up. With funding cuts, schools will be forced to be especially careful where they spend their money, and must ensure that the programs they’re supporting best meet the needs of the community and students. As many are already finding out, this can be a very difficult thing to do. Some are turning to private donors and business to help meet student demands.
- Academic counseling and student support groups will play an increasingly important role in community college studyStudents at community colleges come from a wide range of backgrounds, and often have little chance to get to know one another or form the kinds of bonds their counterparts on traditional four-year college campuses do. In recent years, these schools, including New York’s City University have seen great success in programs helping students get to know one another and work together. Enrollees are required to go full time their first year, helping them create a much stronger support system on a campus where few often take similar courses — or even speak the same language. Academic guidance and support will also play a significant role, helping students better prepare for the future and tailor academic choices to their ultimate career goals.
- Community colleges will increasingly focus on programs that train students for the most in-demand jobsWhile four-year colleges often do a great job of preparing students for the working world, not all in-demand careers require their degrees for entry-level positions. For some, it may be smarter to get a two-year degree and enter the work force, as many companies are willing to pay for all or some of an employee’s training if he or she decides to later pursue a full undergraduate degree. We think community colleges will start setting themselves apart from traditional schools by promoting these kinds of high-need degree programs, many of which will help students more easily land jobs in fields like green energy and health care. These industries are in high demand, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future — a key selling point in an uncertain job market and economy.
- Attitudes about community college will changeCommunity college has been viewed by many as a “lesser” alternative to attending a four-year school. While big-name institutions will always hold a certain cachet, we predict that there will be less of a stigma attached to community college classes in the coming years. Much as online education has become a more respected way to get a degree or earn college credit, these schools will become not only more widely accepted as an educational choice, but also more popular. Why? We think two factors will play a major role: economics and a change in offerings. More and more students will be heading to community colleges due to financial reasons, and with such schools offering a wider range of training programs in high-demand fields, they’ll seem a lot more appealing — even to students who love a brand name.
- Community colleges will increasingly have to compete with private colleges and training programsCommunity colleges aren’t the only options these days for students looking for an affordable and flexible way to get a degree. More and more private businesses are getting in on the college game, and many provide access to not only two-year degrees, but bachelor’s and graduates as well. This may be hard for community colleges in some areas to compete with, especially as the trend moves more and more towards online education. These schools will have to evolve and change in some substantial ways to keep up, including promoting an increased focus on technology, offering more degree programs and even moving some training online.
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