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 missions that should form the foundation of a democratic society and have squandered effort and resources in an attempt to “be all things to all people.” Advocates of both sides of this controversy have compelling arguments. On the one hand, it seems logical that excellence can best be achieved with a precise focus and a clear sense of mission. Yet community colleges have strengths and resources that give them advantages in providing many of the functions that they have taken on. And in many cases, the colleges can use strengths and skills built up in one function to build a solid foundation for new activities. We do not try to resolve this controversy. Rather, we have two objectives. Our first is to clarify some of the underlying assumptions and move us closer to a concrete analysis of the optimal set of missions for the colleges. Despite the passionate and long-standing controversy, little of the discussion is based on concrete evidence of the benefits or costs of combining missions and activities; most conclusions are based on logical arguments and inferences, rather than empirical data and information. Our second objective is to report preliminary findings from a national study of the missions of community colleges. This project involves intensive fieldwork in ten community colleges and five public, regional universities, in five states. The project is designed to explore the extent to which the different functions and missions in the colleges are actually integrated or come into conflict.
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