Multiple Missions of Community Colleges: Conflicting or Complementary?
From their beginnings in the early 1900s, community colleges have undergone a significant shift in their purpose and mission. Starting primarily as junior colleges with an emphasis on academics, the colleges are now complex institutions taking on a broad array of educational, social, and economic functions. Many community college advocates hail the comprehensiveness of these institutions, arguing that the ever-expanding mission meets a commitment to serve the changing needs of the community. But critics suggest that the colleges have abandoned educational missions that should form the foundation of a democratic society and squandered effort and resources in an attempt to “be all things to all people.” This paper clarifies the underlying assumptions of both sides in this controversy and reports preliminary findings from a national study of the missions of community colleges. In the long run, additional missions and activities will successfully be carried out by community colleges when they are functionally associated with the core activities of the college and therefore can be carried out in the colleges more efficiently than by other organizations. That is, efforts at expanding missions will be successful to the extent that they are built on complementarities or economies of scope between core college functions— teaching academic and vocational courses—and other activities.
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