"The secret in education lies in respecting the student."
 - Ralph Waldo Emerson

We've all seen the jokes on television and in the movies about the student that loses out on their college dreams and will have to attend the local community college. For a handful of our students who actually applied to the Ivy League and were rejected this scenario might apply, but for most of our students attending their local community college is not a failure; it is a dream they can't quite imagine as reality. Our students come in all abilities, financial situations and backgrounds. Some are more than capable of succeeding at any four year institution, but lack the financial resources or the vision to apply. Most of our students face significant hurdles envisioning their success.

Others are doubly handicapped because they have difficulty accepting that education is meaningful. Still others have parents who believe they should go to work, or get married, or not aspire to lives they cannot imagine. My own father didn't want me to attend the local community college because he feared he would lose me forever to a world he could not understand. This may be one reason some researchers believe that the biggest predictor of community college success is whether or not the student's mother attended college.

Most studies suggest that students drop out of a particular class due to a factor external to the class such as work or child care complications. A study completed at Rio Hondo College, in southern California, where educational options are relatively plentiful if one is willing to drive a few more miles, shows that persistence at Rio Hondo is impacted by experiences at the campus (this included the helpful nature of clerks and other staff). Increasingly students travel away from their local community college. At Pasadena City College, Mt. San Antonio and Rio Hondo College half of their students do not attend the community college closest to their home. Instead they attend the college that meets their perception of where they will be best served, or where programs of interest to them are offered, or where parking is perceived to be most accessible.

While reading this section think about the community you serve. While this lesson examines the characteristics common to community colleges around the nation and in your state we also need to understand and appreciate the specific demographics of our college. If they are available from your college you will find links to your college's demographic information. It it is extremely important to understand the community in which your students live. Learn its culture and its needs and, where appropriate, use that information to prepare examples or assignments which your students will find relevant to their experience. Students will also benefit if you are well equipped to compare and contrast their experience with that of other community college students.

- by Kristina Kauffman


This module contains the following main readings:

  1. Characteristics of Community Colleges
  2. Characteristics of Community College Students

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

1. Describe the typical makeup of the faculty in the community college system.

2. List the characteristics of the typical part-time instructor.

3. List the characteristics of the typical community college student.


notebook image

Knowledge Check

According to a 1997 report by the American Association of Community Colleges, the number of students taking credit courses exceeded:

A. 7 million.
B. 9 million.
C. 10 million.
12 million.