Opinion Piece is a new feature of the Catalyst. Occasional pieces will be presented where individuals react to or present provocative material related to the practice of continuing education and community services in the community college. The editors invite your reaction to these pieces and your contributions.
The Transforming of America's Community Colleges: The Effect of Continuing Education and Community Services
Betsy Smith DuBose
Provost, Community Programs
Pensacola Junior College
Hans A. Andrews
Dean of Instruction
Illinois Valley Community College
Are America's community colleges changing? And is that change driven by the orientations inherent in continuing education and community services activities? The Fall 1991 issue of the Community College Review contained an article by Lee Teitel that raised these questions and stimulated us to discussion and eventually to writing this article. Teitel's article, "The Transformation of a Community College,"is a study of how the continuing education (CE) philosophy has been introduced throughout a community college. This is a case study of one institution; he labels the institution "Ellsberg" Community College and generalizes from that institution to all community colleges. Teitel makes a strong argument that the institution has been transformed and "dominated increasingly by the 'CE mentality'" (p. 9). He sees this as a transformation that has occurred over time and impacted the processes of the institution.
In his analysis Teitel draws upon Cross's distinction between the horizontal and vertical integration of the community college. Horizontal integration includes courses and services developed to serve specific community needs. Outreach activities such as noncredit courses for adults, training activities for industry, contract courses, and cultural activities represent horizontal integration of the community college with its community. Vertical integration includes linkages with other educational institutions through transfer and traditional technical/vocational college programs that connect with other higher educational institutions. In his summary statements Teitel leads the reader to believe that colleges such as Ellsberg Community College will never reverse the process of changing to a "horizonal approach" based on the model of CE and away from the "vertical approach" based on the transfer function. Teitel concludes that, "...it is a process that will move along inexorably as long as the internal and external ingredients for the change are present" (p. 13).
Responses from the Field
The following responses to Teitel's descriptive article on what took place at Ellsberg Community College are from one person who is a senior administrator in continuing education with its horizontal integration and from a second person who is a senior administrator in instructional affairs with its vertical integration (the second author was previously in a leadership position in community services/continuing education). It will be our approach in responding to Teitel's positions and/or statements to present his key statements and viewpoints followed by our responses to each one.
Statement 1: "...the two arms of the college have different organizational structures as well as different attitudes about what kinds of activities are appropriate for the college" (p. 12).
Response: This is true but not necessarily a negative. The transfer arm of the college must be responsible to the university system. It is also logical and rational that the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the college have different attitudes and perceptions about activities. Both philosophies--the entrepreneurial, customer service orientation of continuing education and the traditional academic and professorial orientation of instructional affairs--can and should exist.
It is possible to view the "vertical" approach with a "horizontal" perspective. In the academic area, the entity with which the college must work is the university system. Loose coupling occurs in both the academic as well as in the CE area. The college must maintain constant communication with the university system. As changes are implemented at the university, the community college must be aware so that the same type of changes are implemented for its transfer students. This attention to communications and change allows the community college transfer function to be proactive rather than reactive.
In the area of articulation, joint university and community college committees act much in the same way as do advisory committees that meet and advise continuing education and technical/vocational program personnel. The technical/vocational programs depend upon their advisory committee members to assist in determining the need for new courses and in the placement of students into the world of work. The joint university and community college articulation group helps assure minimum placement problems for transfer students into the university system.
In summary, we feel that the functions of the "two arms of the college" do not have clearly defined differences as suggested by Teitel; rather, they have very parallel functions in terms of reacting to change in their service areas and to needs of the clientele they serve. The difference is primarily in the different learners served and their different educational needs.
Statement 2: "At Ellsberg, and to a large extent throughout the country, the horizontal approach is paying off while the vertical is not" (p. 12).
Response: This appears to be a gross exaggeration as many community colleges are doing very well in preparing students for transfer to the university system and will be for many more generations. The "paying off" concept promoted by Teitel undoubtedly means that he sees the CE function generating a profit from the fees that are being charged for these programs. He does not see the transfer function making such a profit. It would be a shame if colleges were subdivided and ranked by which divisions of the college can charge its clients enough to turn a profit and, therefore, be given more status.
The transfer function in any number of community colleges is "paying off" in terms of student success upon transfer to the university system. In fact, many community colleges can provide research to show that their transfer students are outperforming the native students who begin at the university by the time both sets of students are juniors and seniors. The community colleges take great pride in the teaching quality that has evolved for freshmen and sophomores in the transfer programs.
At the college of one of the present respondents, "paying off" can be interpreted in many ways. This college has a self-supporting CE program with income expectations at the same level as the credit program. The self-supporting program in CE has to generate approximately $3,600 per Full Time Equivalent Student. This would price most classes out of the market in the college district. If the college has the option of making $1,500 on a self-supporting class or $3,600 on a credit class, the wise business decision for the college is to offer the class as a credit class. The very economics of this decision insures that the credit function will maintain its current power and status within the institution.
All educational entities need to examine their policies and procedures to insure that, indeed, these policies enhance the student's experiences and do not create obstacles for the students. In addition, registration and financial aid functions need quality control checks to assure that the students are being provided a service and not being provided an experience that they can brag about surviving. As in the CE division of the college, students in the transfer and technical/vocational programs are becoming more mature and expect to be treated as "consumers" who are able to go elsewhere if not properly taken care of by the college.
Statement 3: "If the payoffs for the horizontalapproach continue to exceed those of the vertical,no amount of talk will reverse the direction ofthat change" (p. 13).
Response: If one reviews the national statistics, it is obvious that, while horizonal growth in programs and students served have dramatically increased, the transfer students continue to be a substantial group and maintain a strong position within the two-year comprehensive colleges of America. This is, of course, not the same in the technical/vocational two-year colleges where the transfer function is near to nonexistent by design.
The CE function is also greatly influenced by national, state, and local economic conditions. When the economy is in an upward swing, there is more money made available for training and upgrading of employees. On the other side, when the economy is in a slump or recession, employers pull back such training funds and often lay off a significant percentage of their work forces. In an almost reverse trend, the transfer function usually shows a sharp increase in enrollees when the economy is down and jobs are not as plentiful. This pattern is well documented over the past three decades.
Statement 4: "In many parts of the country, asnumbers of curriculum-area students decline,increased interest by state and local governmentsand businesses and industries in the communitycolleges has led to a relative increase in statusand power of the horizontally oriented program"(p. 12).
Response: In the two states (Illinois and Florida) represented by the present respondents, student enrollments are starting to exceed the states' ability to fund the colleges properly and the open door is on the verge of closing for a number of students. The CE function, on the other hand, maintains its power and status due to the commitment it has made to economic development activities. It also is largely dependent for success on the close attention it pays to customer service and the dynamics of the area in which it is located. While CE is somewhat slowed during economic downturns in the economy, it does retain outside power and status from the community or external measures. It is often viewed by community and state leaders as the place "where the action is" for economic development efforts. On the other hand, the transfer program's effectiveness measures remain internal to the educational system of two- and four-year colleges.
Statement 5: Teitel quoted Deegan and Tillery(1985) in their prediction that, "the`comprehensive' phase of American communitycolleges would end in the mid-1980's and someother dominant form would evolve between 1985 and1995," to show this transformation is not`unanticipated' (p. 7).
Response: Here again, it appears that Teitel's use of Ellsberg Community College, while fitting his need to show that there is a CE based transformation taking place in the community college movement, has been exaggerated and perhaps, at the national level, the transformation has not been realized. There is, in fact, a national movement to strengthen the transfer function. Enrollments in the transfer course programs in the early 1990s challenge Teitel's predictions.
There are some factors presented by Teitel that do point to some changes if not transformations that have been necessary for Ellsberg and other community colleges to become more responsive to CE needs:
Factor 1: A new president arrived at Ellsberg in 1979 who had a CE outlook and looked for growth using the CE approach.
Factor 2: A new dean of instruction arrived in 1983 and collapsed nine academic divisions into five. Most of the career programs were placed under a new technical division headed by a former CE administrator.
Factor 3: Faculty development funds were placed with the CE department of the campus and came with strings attached that made users of such funds come back with a commitment to the CE concept.
These three factors definitely point to a change in college philosophy starting with the top leadership. They created changes that were in some sense forced upon the vertical division of the institution. It also appears these factors created an air of antagonism between the transfer faculty and the other faculty when faculty development funds are located in the CE division of the college and must be tied to CE if used by transfer division faculty (as appears to be the case as presented by Teitel).
Teitel's description of the transformation of Ellsberg Community College created a dilemma for these respondents. On the one hand, it is rewarding for persons with a strong CE background to see Ellsberg Community College adopting much of the CE techniques and philosophical basis for its operation. This would appear to be a movement toward an "ideal college" transformation. It points to identification of and responsiveness to community and student needs. It also signals that flexibility, hiring of community-oriented faculty and staff, and adaptability have all become important cornerstones of the college.
On the other hand, it is appalling to see the manner in which the transformation at Ellsberg Community College has occurred as reported by Teitel. Continuing educators know and practice coalition building and inclusive management and planning. One of the basic tenets of continuing education is customer service. It appears in Teitel's article that the heavy handedness of the change coming about partially "out of resignation," through the "grinding, wearing-down process for faculty," and the "attrition of soul" dominated the transformation process. These processes are in direct contradiction to the philosophy of CE.
For more than twenty years continuing education professionals have explained to academicians that continuing education/community services are not threats or competition to the credit class divisions of the college. Numerous studies have been conducted that show noncredit classes serve as a recruiting tool for the credit classes. Other research has documented the fact that a large segment of the noncredit student population already have degrees. In Teitel's article, he states that CE/CS was encouraged to compete with the credit program. Cooperation would have probably led to the same result and with much better internal relations among staff and faculty.
Faculty and staff development has been a part of every continuing education program. It is our opinion that the continuing education arm has supported and nurtured the faculty and staff in most community colleges and not held them hostage as depicted in Teitel's article. While CE/CS practitioners pride themselves in being change agents, few pride themselves in accomplishing change through heavy handedness and through over-aggressive behavior.
The transformation of the American community colleges is an ongoing process. From their inception, community colleges have been dynamic and have become more and more community oriented. Because of the comprehensive nature of most community colleges, both vertical and horizontal functions exist and flourish. Both functions can and do learn from each other to make the colleges successful and to provide the best service and education for both the students and community.
Part of the transformation that Teitel is so enthusiastically willing to accept at Ellsberg Community College can do much to destroy many of the in-house relationships that are necessary for a healthy environment among staff in a comprehensive college. It is the observation of these respondents that Teitel's enthusiasm in reporting the transformation to a stronger CE orientation at Ellsberg Community College has led to a skewing of what actually has taken place in terms of responsible steps to a successful and meaningful transformation for both the horizontal and vertical elements of the college.
Cross, K. P. (1985). Determining missions and priorities forthe fifth generation. In W. Deegan & D. Tillery (Eds.),Renewing the American community college (p. 34). SanFrancisco: Jossey-Bass.
Deegan, W., & Tillery, D. (Eds.). (1985). Renewing the American community college. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Teitel, L. (1991). The transformation of a communitycollege. Community College Review, 19(1), 7-13.