What makes a good community college?

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By David Podos
Campus News

So, how does your community college stand up with the rest? Why were you attracted to your college, versus another? Many students will take the time to do their due diligence, and hopefully along with family members and friends, research the many community colleges we have across the country and make an informed decision.FROM-ADJUNCT-DESK copy According to The American Association of Community Colleges’ 2012 census, America has 1,132 community colleges, giving students many choices.

There may be many reasons why you picked your school; for a large and growing number of students, a community college makes perfect economic sense for others it is a way to “test the waters” so to speak to see if in fact they are college material before investing in time and money for a four-year school. For others it’s just simply logistics or family commitments; they do not want to or are unable to travel to distant schools and prefer to stay within their own communities. For whatever reason or reasons you chose your school, community colleges are the cornerstone of higher education and provide critical skills and many other valuable assets to students.

I have often made the analogy of building a house when I speak about the importance of our community colleges. You cannot put a house on a poorly built basement; anyone with a modicum of construction knowledge knows this. You have to start out with the basics, the strong foundation will hold the house steady and give it structure, much like your two-year degree does (or should). It will give you a solid base and structure if you happen to go on for a higher degree, or if you don’t , it will (or should) give you a solid education, valuable skills and knowledge that are directly transferable to the work community.

Taking in what has already been mentioned, here is an abbreviated list of what I feel a student should look for when deciding on a community college.

First, does the school offer a wide array of majors and or certificate programs? Not all students who come to college are interested in a two-year degree; rather they are looking for specific skills that they can learn rather quickly and that are fairly easily transferable and needed by the work force, such as certificates in welding, masonry, small appliance repair, and small business management certificates, to name a few.

Secondly, does the school have a solid advisement department? Those of you who have read my past OP-EDs only know me as an Adjunct Instructor, but I also hold a part-time position as a College Adviser. Most of our advisers are generalists, and we work with a myriad of student requests and questions, from new student advisement (an advisement appointment with a new incoming freshman) to help with scheduling, student computer accounts, prerequisites errors, financial questions, and change of majors, to name a few. I have come to appreciate the importance of this work over the past two and half years, because with a strong advisement department we guide that student to make the best choices and get them off on a good solid path, again structure, setting the foundation to build upon. I have often told colleagues and administrators of the advisement program; that since I have been involved in the advisement department it has made me a better Instructor because I get to see the student more holistically, something that would be, I have to say, difficult do in my 50-minute lectures.

Thirdly, how connected into the local business community is your college? Community colleges should have strong connections to all areas of local businesses, and for a number of reasons. First, many businesses rely on their local community college to provide necessary training for existing employees, whether this entails the employee coming onto the college campus to take a course, or for the business to offer their employees an onsite educational environment where the instructors come to teach; ensuring that employees have the required knowledge , skills and abilities to perform their duties is critical and makes for a more vibrant and prosperous workforce which in turn can enhance the local economy. It is also important for students to know that their school is looking out for them and has these relationships with business; for those students who prefer to stay locally and find meaningful work after graduation, this is critical.

Continuing along this line of thought, a strong connection to the local workforce can help with any internships the student may have to do in order for them to complete their degree. While not all majors have internships, many do; and it is important for those students to have a number of choices in picking the “right one.” My own personal as well as professional views are quite strong on this. I believe that all majors should have internships incorporated into their curricula, making it mandatory that the student spends a minimum of 50 hours in a mentoring relationship with a local business. This kind of experience is extremely valuable. A professional in your field of study who mentors you throughout your two degree program can take your textbook knowledge and increase your capacity of understanding through real-life experiences as they arise in real time at a workplace site. This amounts to less than 1.3 hours per week throughout the typically two years it takes for most students to receive their degree.

Finally, and no surprise here from my past readers , the importance of Adjunct faculty. Now, while I’ll freely admit this part is somewhat self-serving, Adjuncts play such a huge role in the importance of quality education it cannot be dismissed, or marginalized. Yes, we see a growing number of part-time faculty at our campuses today, and it does not seem to be letting up (at least anytime soon). For many colleges, the increase in the use of Adjuncts is a necessary evil; while the colleges may prefer full-time Professors who hold Ph.D.’s , the economic realities of many of our schools of higher education are bleak, with the rising costs of doing business and falling numbers of college applications. Adjuncts save schools money, period! Saving money is not a bad thing, however, give those part-time faculty their due. I propose that any school that has utilized Adjuncts, where they have instructed for at least three consecutive semesters, have the Adjuncts added to the schools faulty/staff directory. Furthermore (and this goes for all faculty and staff, full-time and part-time), each should have a brief bio. This way, students can get further information about their Instructors. Most schools have faculty and staff names listed on their web sites and/or in their college catalogs. However, not all schools share a biography. Information on associations, authored work, and past work experience outside of academia would be valuable information that I feel a student would appreciate.

Like buying a car today, the buyer is not the subject of asymmetric information, where the seller knows all David-Podosabout the vehicle (good or bad), and the buyer knows little. Buyers today have a myriad of ways to obtain information on just about anything that they are deciding on to purchase, and it should be that way. It is the same with education; the buyer  (student) should have available to them everything that they can to make informed choices. So, let’s give them the transparency and added value that they need. And, by doing so, we give our students strength and structure – a solid foundation to work from, which gives them the stability to move forward.

David L. Podos is an adjunct instructor for the Center for Social Sciences, Business and Information Sciences at MVCC.

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