The Potential of Community Colleges as Bridges to Opportunity for the Disadvantaged: Can it be Achieved on a Large Scale?

Jenkins, Paul Davis

Community colleges are receiving increased attention from policy groups and funders concerned with alleviating poverty because of their potential for expanding access by disadvantaged individuals to post-secondary education and careers. To many in community college world, this attention may seem curious, since most community colleges have long served disadvantaged students. In fact, many if not most of the millions of students community colleges serve each year face at least some barriers to success in education and employment. It is precisely because community colleges serve such large numbers of disadvantaged students that they are receiving so much attention. This interest is piqued in part by frustration among many in the anti-poverty field of the relatively small scale of efforts successful in enabling working poor individuals to advance to jobs that pay family-supporting wages. The central argument is that most community colleges fail to fully realize their bridging potential for two main reasons. First, many find it difficult to make the connections – between remedial and college-credit programs, between academic and occupational degree programs and between degree programs and jobs – that are necessary for creating pathways of advancement for disadvantaged students. Second, it is obviously expensive to serve disadvantaged students and yet community colleges tend to be poorly funded. In the hierarchy of community college programs, those that serve disadvantaged students are the least well funded. As a result, many community colleges opt to focus their limited resources on serving more advantaged students in programs popular with employers and policy makers, rather than to risk serving students whose success is by no means assured.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Community College Research Center
Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
April 3, 2014