A friend of mine who writes professionally, Suki Wessling, recently wrote on her blog about her experience at Cabrillo College, our county’s community college (In praise of adult ed – The Babblery):
There’s a lot of wrangling going on right now about the purpose of community college. The combination of limited funds and the push for “college for everyone” has incited discussion on whether community colleges are for the community as a whole or just for the specific purposes of helping young people on to four-year colleges and giving specific technical degrees.
Personally, I have always loved the “community” aspect of community college, and I think it would be sad to see it go. I have both taught at and been a student at a few different community colleges, and I think they only benefit from mixing the “young divas” with the more, ahem, seasoned members of our community.
People who want to separate the community college from the community are probably unaware of how much learning takes place in a classroom that seems so informal. They are also probably unaware of (or unconcerned with) how important intergenerational learning can be to many of the eighteen-year-olds who end up drifting into community college simply because nothing had gelled for them yet.
Although the majority of their students are young adults (though typically a bit older than at 4-year colleges, since community college is the most common route for students to start going back to school after a break), community colleges serve a wide age range. Cabrillo College also runs a number of enrichment courses for middle-school students in the summer, so they really are spanning a very wide age range, from 10-year-olds to 80+.
Our governor seems intent on stripping community colleges of most of their missions, leaving them only with transfer preparation, which currently accounts for a relatively small fraction of their students. I seriously hope that he does not succeed (or, better, gets educated about the true value of the other missions of the community colleges).
The community college is essential for the home-school community (though the home-schooled students make up an insignificant part of the college’s enrollment), the theater community (the musicals produced there each summer are a major part of the county’s theater experience, reaching much larger audiences than the productions that UCSC puts on, though not as big as Santa Cruz Shakespeare), and the arts community (the art classes at Cabrillo are very popular with people of all ages). These functions are essential to the community, but are not part of the transfer-prep mission.
My son and my wife have taken courses at Cabrillo and found them valuable, even though neither was preparing for transfer to a 4-year-college (my son was in high school and my wife was a decade or so past her BA). Although I have not yet taken any community college courses (it is a bit far for me to cycle to when I’m busy), I expect to when I retire. I’m not sure exactly what, as my hobby interests tend to change every 5–10 years, but it probably won’t be stuff from the IGETC (Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum), but more idiosyncratic stuff that requires in-person classes.
I sure hope that the fun courses still exist when I have time to pursue them and haven’t been thrown away in the name of austerity.