An Overview of Community Colleges and there importance

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Community colleges have been an integral part of higher education for more than a century. The first community college was established in 1901 (Vaughan, 2006). In 1968, Hazard Community College (HCC) was established as a component of the University of Kentucky. HCC served Hazard and Eastern Kentucky for nearly thirty years before becoming part of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System in 1997. Eventually HCC merged with the Hazard Vocational School and became Hazard Community and Technical College (HCTC). In forty plus years, community colleges have undergone several major changes.

Leadership in community colleges has historically been a hierarchical approach, authority delegated from the top down. HCC and later HCTC was much the same. However, in 2007 that approach underwent a major change when a new President/CEO was hired. His vision of an organizational structure was an all inclusive approach stressing involvement and good communication. A visual would be to view the old organizational chart and turn it upside down. The community needs have been responded to quickly by faculty and staff with this new approach.

Community colleges were built to provide access and opportunity for students in our communities. Colleges challenge students of every background to develop their intellect, character and abilities; achieve their educational goals, and serve their community in a diverse and changing world. Historically community colleges attracted the younger students. According to the AACJC Directory, data shows that the average (mean) age in 1980 was twenty-seven, middle average (median) age was twenty-three, and the most (mode) was nineteen (Cohen, 2003). At HCTC the 2000 data shows the mean was 28, the median was 23 and the mode was still 19. A change occurred in 2005 data, the mean was 26, the median was 22 and the mode was 18. This data shows that more students are coming right out of high school to college. But at the same time, the number of part time students has drastically increased as well. The rise in the number of part-time students has been attributed to the increase in the number of students combining work and study. In 1970, 47 % of the total enrollment was part-time, in 1997, that figure was 64% (Cohen, 2003). Between fall 2000 and fall 2009, HCTC saw an increase from 39.4% to 61.7% in part-time students, partly due to the decline in the job market (KCTCS, 2008-2009).

Community colleges continue to face students that are ill-prepared for college. Ill-prepared students were noted in the early 1960's and are continuing in the twenty first century. They are lacking reading, writing and arithmetic skills to excel. At HCTC, 4,000+ students (Fall 07 enrollment) 86% were under prepared in basic skills (KCTCS, 2008-2009). Students are not getting the proper education while in high school for some reason or another. Many professors find themselves frustrated by teaching such students, and many of the students drop out. Colleges have developed placement procedures to help these students. Placement testing has been known to help, by placing students in a precollege course before enrolling in a degree program (Cohen, 2003). Community colleges must also have mechanisms in place to help students persist and reach their educational goals. Hazard Community and Technical College has developed such a mechanism through our Career, College, and Life Planning Center. The CCLP supports student success and retention. This structure assesses student interest so that each can explore a life path, set realistic goals, and fully plan each step through-out their time at HCTC. We have found this has improved student persistence rate and the attainment of their education goals.

HCTC has established a working relationship with our P-12 arena to facilitate student success from early childhood education, to raise the educational levels in the eight counties that make up the Kentucky River Area Development District (KRADD). This epidemic of under preparedness is everyone's problem, including college faculty, staff and community. We cannot afford to leave anyone behind. Developmental education is a crucial part of the commitment to access, student success, and community building (Vaughan, 2006).

Financial burdens continue to be change agents in the community college systems.

Community colleges will likely continue to raise tuition and fees to cover their operating cost. KCTCS has had to continually increase tuition due to budget restraints; in 2001 the cost was $48 per credit hour as opposed to $121 per credit hour in 2008-09 (KCTCS, 2008-2009). When tuition rises, students must find additional means of financing their education. This may include working more hours, applying for more financial aid, or taking out loans. HCTC data shows that between 2006-07, 96% of our students were receiving financial aid and 18 % were receiving loan aid (KCTCS, 2008-2009). Many folks are seeking funding to provide for their day-to-day living expenses, rent, car, cell phones, movies, and pizza. Financial aid funds have not grown in the past several years even though tuition has increased, students have less discretionary funds remaining from their grant. The only way students feel that they can afford the additional cost is to apply for loans.

An additional impact of financial burdens is the impact on hiring of faculty members. Enrollment at HCTC has grown over the years, but faculty numbers have not. In fall 2006, HCTC recorded 120 full-time faculty and 83 part-time faculty, and in the fall 2008, HCTC recorded 104 full-time faculty and 75 part-time faculty. (KCTCS, 2008-2009). Reasons for the shortfall of faculty, would be due to our overall budget situation, faculty positions "lost" from around 2005-06 have not been replaced. We've tightened up schedules, increased course section sizes, and have more folks teaching on-line.

The primary goal of the full-time and part-time faculty is to teach. Part-time faculty are used because they cost less; they may have special capabilities; and they can be employed, dismissed, and reemployed as necessary (Cohen, 2003). The CCSSE reported that full-time faculty reported spending more hours teaching than their part-time counterparts. Part-time spent 1 to 12 hours (88%), 13-20 hours (9%), and 21+ (3%) while the full-time spent 1 to 12 hours (31%), 12-20 hours (54%) and 21+ (15%) (CCSSE, 2006).

Community colleges were designed to fulfill a need for potential college students living in more rural areas that could not commute or move to areas with larger universities. Community colleges were typically built within reasonable commuting distance so that students were more financially able to attend.   At present, community colleges have found ways to even further diminish restrictions on travel and commuting. Colleges are offering classes through distance education. Distance education embraces the concept of availability twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. With a combination of branch offices, online courses, modulized courses and telecourses there is no need for students to drive to class in order to learn new skills.  Students can be taught at a distance, across town, across the state, and across the country.  Students can opt to take a full course or modularized "chunk" of courses.  This also provides an increased opportunity for collaboration with other colleges and training providers. 

Community education is another expanded component available at the community college. Community ed includes adult and continuing education, contract services, and numerous other activities not part of traditional college programs (Cohen, 2003). The program is designed to serve individuals with educational goals that do not require college credit. Community education is a component of the Workforce Solutions department at HCTC. They work closely in the delivering of programs and services that address the full spectrum of needs faced by business and industry, as well as programs for individuals who want to upgrade their skills by delivering high-quality, cost-effective, customized training and assessment services that are designed to improve the performance of efficiency of your company (KCTCS website). Several classes also help increase our enrollment figures such as fire fighter training.

Vocational programs failed to flourish before the 1960's, partly due to the emphasis on the terminal nature of the programs, small size of the colleges, limited terminal offerings, and the prestige factor (Cohen, A., & Brawer, F., 2003). Around 1960 things began to change and vocational education has been proven to effectively merge with the collegiate arena and has continued to do so for twenty years. The Kentucky Postsecondary Education Improvement Act was passed in 1997, which moved the state's technical and community colleges under the newly formed Kentucky Community and Technical College System. The act stated that schools in close proximity would merge to increase efficiency and improve student access to programs and classes (KCTCS ). On January 14, 1998, Hazard Community College, as well as twelve other University of Kentucky community colleges, became part of this new organization. On July 1, 1998, fifteen technical colleges became a part of KCTCS, no longer governed under any university (KCTCS ).

The merger of Hazard Community College and the Hazard Vocational School drastically expanded the options for students. Not only were options greater, but the experience of attending college became more streamlined and efficient; everything was aligned. Offices for admissions, registration, transcripts, and others now served all students. For the first time in our region, students were given more available options by having career, technical, and general education under one institution. The merger has provided robust opportunities in higher education and has greatly impacted economic development through enhanced workforce development in the region (KCTCS ).

Financial pressures at local, state, and national levels of government are pushing community colleges toward entrepreneurial endeavors and collaborative partnerships (Vaughan, 2006). Community colleges cannot continue to offer services that cost more than the revenues it generates. We must encourage our representatives and senators to make smart decisions in our future, if we are to meet the needs of our communities, and to provide higher education and job skill training to all people in the community. Community colleges are making every effort to keep up with the rapidly changing economic needs, but the costs are substantial. We need to understand that offering new programs cost money. Program choice, design and implementation should reflect wise use of resources.

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