Free community college? What does that mean?

Monday, February 16, 2015

By John Garmon

Community College Daily

 As many have pointed out, President Barrack Obama’s proposal to make community colleges tuition free is something that is already happening. As many as 60 percent of community college students are able to qualify for Pell grants, which in most cases takes care of the costs of tuition and fees.

However, it is good to see that the president’s goal has already brought new attention to the importance of community colleges for people who want to gain skills for jobs and knowledge for better lives.

A big question is how community colleges can deliver. In many cases, too many colleges are using part-time faculty members to serve students. This would be a good idea, if these adjunct facultymembers are truly current in the subject areas in which they teach.

Community colleges must have the very best qualified faculty in order to meet employers’ demands for graduates who possess relevant skills. A common concern is that graduates, from both community colleges and four-year colleges, may have the paper that says they are ready to do the job, but their job skills are not up to employers’ expectations.

America has a great higher education system, but it can be much better. If community colleges are to be the producers of highly trained, excellent workers, they must have outstanding, well paid, full-time faculty members. In most cases even part- timers with excellent skills do not have the time to give their best to students. A better learning experience

We know that only 10 to 20 percent of community college students complete their courses of study and become graduates. Perhaps President Obama’s proposal will help community colleges recruit better- prepared, more-capable students. Does this mean that the students who are currently being served and who receive Pell grants are in a “lower class” category? This runs the risk of community colleges being regarded as the same as other American institutions that keep people off the lists of the unemployed, such as prisons and the armed forces.

Maybe the president’s proposal will bring attention to the need for excellence in teaching and learning, as well as the opportunity for non-Pell eligible students to attend. Some people believe such a situation will bring about higher standardsbecause it would bring in a higher grade of student.

As one who has served community colleges throughout this nation as both a faculty member and administrator, I was happy to hear President Obama’s proposal. However, there are some conditions that need to be considered before this good idea is implemented. No one wants to see community colleges become merely extensions of high school, where students are kept out of the job market for an additional two years without gaining skills and knowledge for entry into the jobs of the future.

The    president’s    proposal    gives community colleges an opportunity to prove their worth for the learners of today and tomorrow – and for the employers who need people with the job skills for today’s business and industry.

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