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Panel Calls for Ties Between Schools, Community Colleges

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WASHINGTON--Community colleges should strengthen their links with schools to help broaden educational and job-training opportunities for disadvantaged youths, a national commission concludes in a new report.

Such efforts, it says, should include beginning student recruitment as early as junior high school and making some programs available to 11th and 12th graders.

The two-year institutions' "explosive'' growth over the past 40 years, said Ernest L. Boyer, the panel's chairman, represents "the greatest success story in postwar American higher education.''

"Community colleges have been the colleges of choice for minority students, disproportionately to their percentage of the total population,'' Mr. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, said at a press conference here last week. "That, we celebrate.''

However, he added, such institutions must do more to help minority youths complete school and obtain postsecondary training.

In particular, the report recommends, two-year colleges should develop new four-year programs in cooperation with high schools and four-year colleges, and strengthen their core academic curricula.

Most of the proposals would require institutions to "reshift priorities,'' rather than spend a great deal of money, according to Dale Parnell, president of the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges, which sponsored the report. He said the panel would remain in existence for another two or three years to monitor the implementation of its recommendations.

'Undervalued' Sector

The commission's report, "Building Communities,'' assesses the future of a sector of education that has been "undervalued and unrecognized'' by school and college reformers, according to Mr. Boyer.

Despite that lack of attention, the report notes, community colleges have become "the largest single sector of higher education in the United States.''

Enrollment at community colleges grew by 240 percent between 1965 and 1975, it says, and now represents some 43 percent of the nation's undergraduates and 51 percent of first-time freshmen.

The country's 1,224 two-year colleges will become increasingly critical to the economy in the next decade, according to Mr. Parnell, because the overwhelming majority of new jobs will require some postsecondary training.

"The associate degree will take on new importance in that environment,'' he said. "It provides a quality assurance to employers that their employees can read, write, and compute.''

But in order to meet that challenge, the report says, community colleges must "define, with greater clarity and sophistication, their distinctive mission.''

'Early Identification'

In particular, it states, community colleges must enroll more minority students and ensure that they complete their courses of study.

"This, then, is the central mandate,'' it says. "The community college must continue to offer all students an open door, and reaffirm to minority students the promise of empowerment through education.''

To that end, the report recommends that each college create an "early identification program'' with local schools, focusing on junior-high-school students. These programs would provide counseling and language instruction to ensure that students have the proper academic preparation for postsecondary instruction, the report says.

Once students are enrolled, it adds, the colleges should ensure that they remain until they receive degrees. It urges community colleges to reduce their dropout rates by 50 percent over the next decade.

General Education

Community colleges must also restructure their instructional programs to include a core general-education curriculum for all students, the report concludes.

Currently, about two-thirds of community-college students are enrolled in career and technical studies, and few of these receive instruction in academic subjects, it notes.

"I worry that we prepare people for short-term job entry, who perhaps lack the language skills that make them able to be more flexible in the job market,'' said Mr. Boyer.

To ensure that all students receive both types of preparation, the report urges schools and community colleges to join together in arrangements that allow students to begin technical training in the last two years of high school and complete their studies in two years of college.

In addition, it proposes, four-year colleges should encourage "inverted degree'' programs that enable students to follow a two-year specialized program in a community college, followed by two years of general-education studies in a four-year institution.

The report also recommends that:

  • Community colleges become models for effective teaching. Such institutions, it says, "should define the role of the faculty member as classroom researcher--focusing evaluation on instruction and making a clear connection between what the teacher teaches and how students learn.''
  • Arrangements facilitating students' transfer from two-year to four-year colleges be strengthened.

"While not every two-year student should move on to complete the baccalaureate degree,'' Mr. Boyer said, "the need to keep this option open, especially for black and Hispanic students, is essential.''

Copies of the report, "Building Communities: A Vision for a New Century,'' can be ordered, at $15 per copy, by calling, toll free, (800) 336-4776, or in Virginia, (703) 823-6966. They can also be purchased from the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges, Publications Department, 80 South Early St., Alexandria, Va. 22304.

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