Monday, February 18, 2008

The Significant Community College

My last post seemed to hit a nerve with some people who responded and shared their insights and passion for what makes community colleges, and MVCC in particular, so successful - I appreciate all of the responses. Part of what is playing into what I hope is a change in the perception of community colleges is the fact that the community college itself is changing. The common theme of "success" brings to mind the quote Jim Collins used in his book Good to Great. He opens the book by saying that, "Good is the enemy of great" - it's easier to go from mediocre to good than good to great. Along a similar line, two colleagues and I wrote an article a few years ago that argued community colleges are indeed successful. However, amidst turbulent change of all sorts, our communities need us more than ever and therefore, community colleges must pursue a level of significance that goes beyond success. We titled our article The Significant Community College. https://email.mvcc.edu/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0HCZ/is_1_33/ai_n15623952
An excerpt from the introduction of our article is as follows: "American community colleges face a future marked by contrasts. Demand for services is increasing. Support from communities is strong. Business and industry leaders are increasingly turning to community colleges as their workforce providers. Large foundations are increasing their support. Projections for further growth challenge the projections for future resources. But demands for accountability continue to accelerate. And while as community college professionals we pride ourselves on being more responsive and more nimble than our four-year brethren and while we brag about our role as the gateway to opportunity for the underserved and underrepresented, we have to face the fact that our job is more challenging than ever.

Graduation and retention rates are largely unimproved. The aging baby boomers and dynamic demographics of our communities are increasing the pressure on our models for workforce development. Our K-12 partners are struggling to address the new challenges of less prepared students and more transient families. In this complex environment, Barr and Tagg's (1995) Change article provided a direction during the past decade as community colleges engaged in the learning paradigm, a shift from emphasizing instruction to focusing on learning. Community colleges are now more respected, better understood, and better positioned than at any other time in their history. But our challenges have risen with our status, and we must now impose a new paradigm upon ourselves."

This series of postings on my blog provides the background and context for something I've been thinking about for a number of years now. In the 1990s, everyone said things were changing and would continue to change at an accelerated rate. Everyone generally seemed good with that and worked hard to stay on top of it. This year I complete a four-year term as an officer on a national board for community college instructional administrators and the view I take from that wider perspective is that we, as a collective group of American educators, seem somewhat fatigued with managing change - perhaps hoping someone will tell us that what we're doing is just fine and we can keep doing it the way we've always done it.

In contrast, when I hear our students speak and then listen to the needs of our local employers, I again feel that sense of urgency that, as our community's college, we must do everything we can to stay out in front...or at least stay even with the change curve. Somehow, we need to find ways to weave a certain comfort level with change into our internal beings - so that we can cope as individuals - as well as within the collective fabric of our organizational culture. Only by finding ways to receive feedback, develop new strategies for change and make the ability to change part of who we are will we be able to move MVCC from a successful community college to a significant community asset.