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States Explore Changes to Community College Systems

December 29, 2009

by Agnes Jasinski

Community colleges are enjoying a growth in enrollment numbers like never before. Nationwide, full-time enrollment at community colleges is up more than 24 percent over the last two years. The American Association of Community Colleges suggests the economic recession has led to more adults returning to college and improving upon their skills, or learning new ones. And the community colleges themselves are taking notice and planning for the future as their institutions become increasingly important on the higher education landscape.

In California, lawmakers are considering allowing the state's community colleges the authority to award bachelor's degrees, a move that is already in practice in 17 other states across the country. In Florida, for example, a number of community colleges offer nursing and teaching bachelor's degrees to address shortages in those fields across that state and, more generally, a shortage in college-educated residents. (Community colleges typically offer two-year associate degrees and certificates for a number of different professions.) While California's community college administrators agree the move would be a good one at a time when the state's four-year institutions are overcrowded and, many students say, overpriced, the state would need to budget it doesn't really have at this time to cover the costs of new programming. According to an article in the Contra Costa Times recently, California's community college system consists of 110 schools and nearly 3 million students. The campuses are also already overcrowded, according to state administrators.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, lawmakers are looking to introduce proposals that would have the state's 13 community colleges working more closely together with the state's four-year institutions. One plan would make it much easier to transfer credits from community colleges to four-year schools, something that has been a problem among students transferring after two years on the community college level. Legislators also hope to raise the state's graduation rates from both two- and four-year schools by offering remedial classes solely on the community college level rather than at four-year institutions and coming up with a broad curriculum that would remain the same across the board at all of the state's community colleges.

In Florida, the state administrators say is the best example of how a community college system should work, the graduation rate from the two-year schools is about 30 percent, the highest out of anywhere in the country. According to an article today in The Tennessean, this is thanks to how easy it is to transfer credits in Florida between two- and four-year schools. Indiana and North Carolina are also moving to similar models, making community colleges more "feeders" to four-state private and public universities rather than independent entities that only award associate's degrees.


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