October 19th, 2010

Valuing our Community College Colleagues


In a 2009 editorial, John Moore lists some impressive figures about community colleges. There are almost 1,200 of them in the U.S., and they enroll 11.5 million students a year. About 60 percent of those students are attending college part time. Their average age is 29. Especially impressive is the fact that about 40 percent of them are first-generation college students. Moore who edits the Journal of Chemical Education notes that 44 percent of the recent graduates in science and engineering have taken at least one course at a two-year college. He also points out that enrollment in two-year colleges significantly increases the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in science and engineer. I suspect that’s true for other disciplines as well.

There is a pecking order among higher education institutions, even though, given our missions and what we believe about the role of education in a democracy, there shouldn’t be. Unfortunately, community colleges (I’m really glad we’ve moved away from calling them junior colleges) are often at the bottom of that order. In my own experience working with faculty at a wide range of different institutions, I would have to say that community college faculty are often the most sophisticated pedagogues I encounter. They face many challenges in the classroom and have responded with a plethora of innovative and exemplary instructional strategies. I have learned much from them.

Moore writes this about community college faculty. “We should point out that two-year colleges encourage students who might otherwise not consider science [or many other fields, I would add], but who might become super scientists of tomorrow. We should celebrate our colleagues who teach by choice in two-year colleges because they have the desire and passion to make a real difference and because they believe that every student is important. We should not expect students, even graduate students, to become carbon copies of ourselves but rather should encourage them to find out where their talents can best be used and then dedicate themselves to use those talents to improve our society.” (p. 779)

Reference: Moore, J. W. (2009). Two-year colleges: Guidelines and exemplary teaching. Journal of Chemical Education, 86 (7), 779.