In a forlorn moment, a long time faculty member said, “We’re not a college anymore.” This was surprising, and cause for a moment’s reflection—only a moment’s. The reason that some don’t think of a community college as a college is because, like high school, everybody goes now. A traditional blue collar, non-college workforce has practically faded away.
This means that the range of students includes many about whom faculty and staff used to say, “This student doesn’t belong in college.” This is still true for some students; vocational and technical training would be a more realistic approach. Yet even a community college includes those, making the umbrella vastly larger than the one of old when people talked about going to college.
The first priority in keeping a college a college is that the core courses teach college level material. The fact that some students cannot do it, or cannot do it well, does not bring a college off the high shelf of being a college. As long as the courses continue to challenge the highest level students across the core disciplines, the fact that classes are populated with a full spectrum of academic ability does not make a college no longer a college.
The key lies in creating assignments that stimulate the highest level of ability in the most academically able students. This does not mean that other students should be “weeded out”—not yet anyway, not at the community college level. What it means is that as long as transfer students can go on to universities and proudly fit right in alongside their peers, then the community college has done its job with students who are concerned that they might not be receiving a first rate education.
This means too that the community college faculty see themselves as professionals and not hang their heads as if a constituency determines a competency. True, like minds hang out; and professional groups convene, train, and certify their practitioners. Every profession has its standards. However, many of these professions send their practitioners out to practice the same skills repetitively among the general populace with the expectation that skill levels be cherished and maintained.
There is no reason why a community college system that includes the range of students seen in high school should take its identity from its attendees to the extent of losing its identity. There is no need to lose the ability to challenge the full range of students, from the most academically able, down to those who may struggle mightily, but yet persist in the hope of an education that is realistic and vocationally relevant.