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2012 March 5 - 12:00 am

POV: Colleges Must Not Lose Sight of General Education Role

Donald Generals

Many professionals in the community college sector are talking about a new normal. It is a realization that the model that has prevailed for over fifty years – providing prosperity to generations of middle class Americans along the way – will struggle to sustain itself in its current format given the emerging social and economic realities. That narrative has taken on numerous meanings. Sometimes it refers to the budget realities; and, sometimes it refers to the expanded academic role needed to meet the challenges of a growing heterogeneous society. Both are equally important, but the expanded academic role warrants special consideration.

President Obama called upon community colleges to lead the way in increasing the number of college graduates by 2020. Everyone agrees the effort will place the nation on par with developing nations who continue to pose a threat to America’s economic hegemony. But with a focus on workforce preparation, community colleges should not lose sight of their broader mission to prepare the whole student for enlightened citizenship. This is achieved when the students are given an educational experience that blends the vocational and technical skill areas with their general education abilities and knowledge. The challenge for community colleges is to prevent the general education curriculum from being marginalized or becoming routine at the expense of the national push to produce technicians, clinicians and other job-ready citizens.

Central to the concept of the new normal is the understanding that community college enrollees are not merely passing through on their way to a bachelor’s degree; nor are they simply trainees seeking entry into the world of business and industry. In fact, they are a sizeable portion of the American population entering the job market and assuming positions of authority and civic responsibilities. They are school board members of local cities and towns; they are the coaches for little league and high school athletic teams; and, they are the community activists who will organize voter registration drives and petitions on behalf of their communities’ interests. Of all the students currently enrolled in higher education in America, nearly half are community college students (approximately 8.2 million). Therefore, It is reasonable to expect a significant part of the nation’s future leaders to be educated, in part or in whole, by a community college. Many will graduate and continue their education at the next level; many more will come and go as their lives permit. Similar to the transformative role played by the comprehensive high school at the beginning of the 20th century, the community college has become the institution best positioned to respond to the emerging needs represented by a landscape of economic and demographic changes. Community colleges are charged with preparing the next generation with the vocational and technical skills necessary for the nation’s economic success; but equally important, they should prepare that generation to assume their civic responsibilities as participants in a modern democratic society.

It’s YOUR TURN!  CCW wants  to hear from you!
Q:  How does your college strike a balance between vocational training and general education?
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