Community Colleges: Their Finest Hour?

The White House summit on community colleges occurred yesterday. It marked what the Washington Post called “perhaps the finest hour in the 109-year history of ‘junior’ colleges.” Finest in terms of recognition, though perhaps not in terms of actual policy changes. As Daniel de Vise wrote in the Post:

Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife and an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College, led the session and oversaw an audience of about 150 college presidents, faculty, students and VIPs. It amounted to a star-powered but otherwise ordinary afternoon conference, with break-out sessions on raising the 22 percent completion rate in two-year colleges and simplifying the sometimes bewildering process of transfer to four-year institutions.

One goal of the summit was to unite scattershot programs into a national effort to raise completion rates, train students for in-demand jobs and ease transfer to four-year colleges.

At a time when the administration is considering ways to improve the quality of community colleges, we thought it might be best to take a look at some past articles the Monthly has produced about that often-neglected segment of higher education.

In the May/June 2010 issue Jamie Merisotis and Stan Jones wrote about a way we might make America’s community colleges effective jobs training programs in “Degrees of Speed.”

In the September/October 2010 issue Erin Carlyle wrote “Shakespeare with Power Tools.” In it she revealed what it is that makes Saint Paul College arguably the best community college in America. It’s nothing special; the college merely expects a lot out of students, and then provides them with the tools to make that happen.

Back in September/October 2009 Camille Esch wrote in “Higher Ed’s Bermuda Triangle” about what’s really wrong with community colleges: their remediation programs just don’t work.

The last issue also featured our list of the country’s best community colleges.

There are a lot of issues here that policymakers might want to consider when making reforms. Luckily the Gates Foundation also announced a $35 million competitive grant program at the White House summit. The grant is designed to help improve college completion.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer