Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Whither our Community Colleges?

It is nonsensical for students, their families and the American taxpayer to foot the bill for high school material taught at inflated college prices. (A recent blog post on this topic may be found here) As I have commented previously, the "prep" problem plays a large role in the escalating cost of higher ed in the U.S. Clearly, intro material should be completed before students enter college, in our high schools.

Community colleges offer a way to alleviate the cost burden of underpreparedness. With lower overhead (administrative and facilities), lower cost faculty contracts, less reputation cost, and no pricey dorms and dining services, most community colleges can easily underprice traditional 4-yr colleges.

It is important to consider the role of community colleges in the context of the recent surge of interest in online / distance-learning. In my opinion, community colleges should take some risk and embrace the new modes of online learning with open arms. I say this because the online providers desperately need credible sponsors; community colleges can oblige and greatly supplement their offerings. Issues such as uncontrolled testing environments, plagiarism, etc. really keep the online services from gaining broad academic credibility... and this ultimately affects the market value of the online courses and accreditation. Now might be the time for community colleges to step up and partner with the online content providers, acting as a physical location for their services, in parallel to more traditional coursework. Community colleges could partner to provide online content as well as supplementary offline instruction.  They could also provide credible and reproducible assignment grading and test proctoring services, and facilitate student gatherings and faculty-student interaction.  All of this is consistent with maintaining and even improving the community colleges' cost advantage and student throughput.

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