• Prose and Purpose

    After 25 years on the job, a former provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.

Title

The Community College Proposal

There is no question that the credentials required for more and more job opportunities include more and more education. Opportunities that in the past required a high school education now require a college degree.

January 18, 2015
 
 

There is no question that the credentials required for more and more job opportunities include more and more education. Opportunities that in the past required a high school education now require a college degree; opportunities which used to require an undergraduate degree, now require an advanced degree. Often these escalating requirements make sense and, yet, there are certainly times when these changes just serve to reduce the pool of applicants rather than enhance job performance.

President Obama’s proposal, to give all students access to a community college education helps facilitate education so that more people can take advantage of job opportunities in a more sophisticated work force. For as far back as I can remember, our society provided the opportunity for every student to receive an education through high school.  But as is clear, a high school degree when I was growing up and a high school degree today signify very different levels of accomplishment and provide very different opportunities. Providing at least two years of college for everyone begins to adjust for the rising expectations of educational achievement.

And yet, the President’s proposal, based on an already existing program in Tennessee, removes an important element of choice that every student should have. Why provide a two year community college education rather than provide the same dollar support but allow every student to choose the post secondary education that makes the most sense for that person’s needs or ambitions?

As the president’s proposal stands at this time, it will increase the number of students in community colleges and likely decrease the number of students in (non-selective) 4 year colleges. A greater resource commitment to higher education will serve our society well. It will be as the President has said, “a game changer.” Opening the door to these opportunities will result in a more productive work force.  However, closing the door to four year schools to fulfill this need doesn’t save on resources and needlessly reduces choice. If a major goal is simply to increase the size of the public sector, clearly the President’s policy will accomplish this goal. But if the goal is to make sure that maximum choice is preserved and that every potential student can pick the program that best serves his or her needs, at the same cost to society, the proposal, as it stands at this time, is not serving that purpose.  Increasing opportunity should not come with such strings attached.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

 

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