"Who dares to teach must never cease to learn." - John Cotton Dana

The creation of community colleges at the turn of the 20th century allowed American society to tap the enormous potential of millions of citizens who otherwise would not have the opportunity for higher education. Throughout that century, community colleges educated a large share of the nation's workforce and contributed to the development of the highest standard of living in history. Since the Depression of the 1930s, community colleges have proven to be responsive to their community's workforce and general education needs.

As we start the 21st century, community colleges are once again in a position to make a critical contribution to America's future. In their 1999 bestseller, The Coming American Prosperity, Wall Street Journal writers Bob Davis and David Wessel identified community colleges as one of three primary forces driving the U. S. economy in the next twenty years (computer technology and globalization were the other two). Community colleges educate more than half the nation's undergraduates, or more than 100 million people since 1901.

Despite the remarkable success of the community colleges they continue to face significant challenges:

  • Funding in most states is a political "football" tied to the economy, and vulnerable to partisan politics
  • Throughout the system there is a significant demand for faculty and for effective leadership
    • In California, for example, there is an unprecedented need to hire more community college faculty by 2010 in response to the projected 35 percent student population growth and faculty retirements. Approximately 18,700 new full-time faculty will be needed to meet enrollment projections and replace retiring faculty.
    • Where once there were three or four qualified candidates for every leadership job, now there are perhaps three positions for every good candidate. A recent report issued by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) warned that the “leadership of community colleges is in peril.” The AACC report concludes that, “With the retirement of these leaders, inestimable experience and history as well as the intimate understanding of the community college mission, values, and culture will be lost, leaving an enormous gap in the leadership of community colleges.”

In order to better acquaint you with the community college system, this section will take a look at the development of community colleges in the nation and how their mission and goals have evolved over the last century.

State Information:

Nowhere are community colleges more important than in California. Community colleges provide a comprehensive and inexpensive education for millions, establishing the most productive workforce in the nation. In this century, community colleges may even be more critical to the state, for two reasons:

  1. "Tidal Wave II": A huge influx of new students will be entering colleges in the next 10 years. Since the UC's and CSU's will not be able to handle the projected 600,000+ new students, the task will fall to community colleges.
  2. Retraining needs: Lifelong learning is no longer a clever phrase but an economic reality for millions of workers.

California will meet these challenges through a complex community college system that is unique from any other in the United States in two ways:

  1. California community colleges have multiple functions:
    • Preparing students for transfer to a 4-year college
    • Providing technical training
    • Contributing to the economic development of the community.
  2. Our tuition, $11 a unit, is by far the lowest in the nation. (It's actually gone down in the last few years!)

California faces the same problems as the rest of the nation, yet these problems seem to hit California more deeply.

  • Funding has been inconsistent from year to year with many colleges serving students unfunded by the legislature. In addition, while 80% of funding comes from the state, that funding is not evenly distributed. Some colleges receive as little as $3,000 per FTES from the state, while others receive over $5,000 per FTES.
  • While Boards of Trustees appear to dictate policy in the California Community Colleges, Proposition 13 (enacted in 1978) moved much of the true power to the state legislature due to their funding role.
  • The faculty and administration hiring crisis is reaching monumental proportions:
    • 44 percent of California’s community college faculty reached the age of 65 by 2002. From 1997 to the present, many replacements have come from the part-time pool; however, that pool is now significantly diminished.
    • Largely due to the ratio of salaries and our high cost of living, California is challenged in finding diverse candidates and in attracting and retaining quality faculty. Lack of ongoing support for professional development further hinders recruitment, as do relatively high teaching loads, when compared with other states.
    • More than 5,000 new adjunct positions will open by 2005. Adjunct instructors educate more than 40% of the system’s students.
    • In the next ten years, the California system needs an estimated 360 more community college academic administrators, for a total of up to 700 new administrators (when retirement replacements are considered).
    • The average tenure for a community college chief executive officer is 4.4 years in California compared to an average of 7.5 years nationally.

- by Andy Howard and Kristina Kauffman


This module contains the following main readings:

  1. Significant Events in the Community College Movement
  2. The Changing Role of the Community College: Economic Development


By the end of this module you should be able to:

1. Identify significant events in the history of community colleges.

2. Discuss the changing role of the community colleges in light of developments in Ed>Net initiatives, contract education, and workplace learning resource centers.

3. Define the role of community colleges in community education.


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Knowledge Check

Community colleges have multiple functions. These include preparing students for transfer to a 4-year college, providing technical training, and:

A. contributing to community economic development.

B. acting as grades 13 and 14 for high schools.

C. performing advanced scientific research.

D. supporting local political organizations.