CATALYST V21N4 - Community Services New Frontier: Establishing the Ties That Bind

Volume XXI, Number 4
Fall 1991

Community Services New Frontier: Establishing the Ties That Bind

George B. Vaughan
Piedmont Community College

Editor's Note: This paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Region III Deans of Community Services in Baltimore, MD, on April 26, 1984.

Originally published 1984, XIV(3).

This paper will present a very brief look at the historical roots of community services in the community college. I hope that the historical perspective, be it ever so brief, will help you to understand better the intent of the author.

As early as 1925, leaders such as Leonard V. Koos and Walter Crosby Eells saw the need for local junior colleges to be responsive to their communities. Eells went so far as to suggest that serving community needs meant going beyond serving the needs of the regular student body. In 1947 the President's Commission on Higher Education recommended that community colleges--a name coined by the Commission--take education to the people by every effective means. Jesse P. Bogue, executive secretary of the American Association of Junior Colleges, argued strongly in his 1950 book entitled The Community College that adults have a right to an education for many of the same reasons that anyone has a right. Bogue urged that the needs of adults be met for as long as the needs existed, or in today's terms, he argued for lifelong learning. Moving quickly into the middle of the modern era of community college development, two important works were published in 1969 that greatly influenced the development of community services in the community college. These were Ervin Harlacher's book entitled The Community Dimension of the Community College and Gundar Myran's thin volume entitled Community Services in the Community College . Finally, in 1971 the first issue of the Community Services Catalyst was published (Atwell, Vaughan, & Sullins, 1982, pp. 9-11) .

This brief summary serves to demonstrate that community services is no newcomer to the community college scene. Yet in spite of a proud heritage, community services continues to suffer an identity problem. Indeed, I believe that the search for a proper identity is more pronounced today than it has been since the early 1960s. To combat this identity problem, community services leaders must now establish ties that bind community services intricately and permanently to the community college mission. But before suggesting some ways in which I think these ties can be forged, let me briefly offer my suggestions as to why the identity problem exists to the extent that it should be a significant concern to community services leaders.

I believe I have a reasonable explanation as to why community services has suffered some identity problems. In the search for the roots of the identity problem, let us, for the moment, resort to the use of metaphor. The metaphor I suggest is that we view community services leaders as frontier scouts. As the nation moved westward, the frontier scout was always at the edge of civilization, charting new courses for the waves of civilization that were to follow. The westward movement, according to the great historian Frederick Jackson Turner, promoted individualism that in turn promoted democracy. Individualism and democracy, coupled with a nationalistic zeal, powerfully affected the nation. "The result is that to the frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics. That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism ... these are the traits of the frontier..." (Turner, 1920, p. 17) .

As American civilization developed, the frontier constantly moved farther and farther westward. First came the cattlemen, then the farmers, then the merchants, and finally urbanization with its factories. In 1890, the United States Census Bureau announced that the frontier was closed, thus officially bringing to an end one of the most exciting and influential movements in the history of our nation and perhaps in the world.

But what happened to those innovative, strong, often intelligent, personifications of rugged individualism, the frontier scouts? They had two choices: they could either reject the waves of civilization and be content to have their deeds become part of the American legend; or, they could join those forces that were threatening to engulf them and their way of life, content that they helped shape the very forces that were threatening to destroy them.

Pursuing the idea of the community services administrators as the frontier scout of the community college movement, one can conclude that the community college's frontier has constantly been pushed to the edge of its mission, or symbolically speaking, westward. Community services administrators lead the way in developing night courses for full- and part-time students, in taking education into prisons, in establishing child care centers, in working with older members of our population, in working with business and industry, in working with women's groups, minorities, children, handicapped--the list is truly endless. The frontier of learning was pushed so far that Alan Pifer (1974), who was president of the Carnegie Foundation at the time, called for the community college to think of its role primarily as one of community leadership and only secondarily as a part of higher education. Edmund J. Gleazer, Jr. , in his 1980 volume entitled The Community College: Values, Vision, and Vitality, advocated a similar role for the community college, with it serving as the nexus of a community learning system devoted to lifelong learning, with community as both process and product.

The community college and its advance guard-- the community services leaders--except in very rare instances were either not able to or did not desire to reject membership in the higher education community in favor of becoming a community learning center. Instead, the pendulum has swung back to a more conservative stance that tends to discourage many of the new ideas that gave community services its vigor and appeal in the past. Indeed, figuratively speaking, about 1980, the frontier closed for community services as these services had been defined throughout much of the decades of the 1960s and 1970s.

Today, most community services administrators are faced with the same choices that faced the frontier scout; they can settle for becoming part of the legend surrounding the community college during its boom years, or they can become more fully assimilated into the mainstream of today's community college mission. Since legend status does not pay particularly well, this paper will proceed on the assumption that most community services administrators prefer assimilation and that assimilation means establishing ties that bind the community service mission to the total college mission.

Before suggesting how assimilation might take place, let me point out why I think the earlier frontier has closed for community services: (a) Community services advocates went too far in offering too many courses that were viewed as frivolous by too many powerful people; (b) funding has been cut for many community services functions. For example, during the 1960s and early 1970s when the federal government was pouring millions of dollars into social programs, it was only natural that community colleges and particularly community services emphasize social concerns. Today, however, social concerns are no longer high on the nation's agenda and thus are no longer funded as in the past; (c) community colleges are less willing to innovate (gamble) with new courses and programs; (d) a lack of funding for noncredit courses caused many colleges to offer courses for credit that rightfully should have been noncredit, thus creating a "credibility gap" for community services both internally and externally. (It is hard to justify to legislators and English teachers why "Building Your Own Front Porch: should be a credit course receiving state funding.); (e) the recent recession, coupled with the demand for "high technology" skills, has caused the community college to put more emphasis on job training and retraining and less emphasis on recreational and avocational programs and courses; (f) community services offerings have been so successful that they have been the envy of those faculty members and administrators who are now struggling to fill empty seats, thus many functions that the regular instructional program ignored are not only now legitimate but are "lusted" after by other segments of the college community; and (g) the national attitude toward community services has changed. For example, even California, the mecca of community services, has faced problems since the passage of Proposition 13. Indeed, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported in it's February 8, 1984, issue that the Board of Trustees of the California Community College criticized the community colleges in that state for offering too many nonacademic courses. The top priority should be transfer education and job training; community services should be a low priority, according to the Board.

If the community services frontier of the 1960s and 1970s has closed as I have suggested, what new frontiers are left for community services leaders? What can be done to see that community services not only remains as a vital part of the community college mission but that community services leaders are in the vanguard of the community college movement? What are the ties that bind community services to the main thrust of the community college mission? While it is always dangerous to generalize about community colleges, for they are all quite different, I nevertheless offer the following suggestions as ways of keeping community services on the frontier of community college development.

First and foremost, community services must be brought into the instruction mainstream if the college's instructional program is ever to achieve its full potential. I suggested in an article I did for the March, 1975, issue of the Community College Review that the gap between community services and the regular instructional program could be closed if 20% of all full-time faculty members' instructional time were devoted to the division of community services. This commitment would insure that the dean of community services would no longer have to go with "hat in hand" to the instructional divisions to see if anyone happened to be available to teach a course in the community services division. My suggestion was received with only minor enthusiasm, especially on my own campus. But some things have changed since 1975. The halcyon days are not only over for community services but for much of the rest of higher education. The commitment of full-time faculty to community services is not only viable today but may serve functions I had not thought of when I made my initial proposal.

Recently, I spoke with John Hakanson, president of Clackamas Community College, regarding the commitment of full-time faculty to community services. He pointed out that at Clackamas, faculty regularly teach in the community services division. At that college, and I believe the same principles apply elsewhere, teaching in the community services division does the following: (a) serves as a form of renewal for those faculty members who have taught the same courses year after year and who now find new challenges in community services courses; (b) as community needs change and as enrollments shift, teaching community services courses can be an important way of assuring that faculty members have a full teaching load; (c) by teaching in the community services division, full-time members more fully understand the comprehensive mission of the community college; and, (d) through exposing the regular faculty to community services, the college has increased its contacts with business and industry, and in theory, the college's best and brightest are not on the frontier of the instruction program. The Clackamas approach seems worthy of emulation.

In line with the above, the University of Wyoming has found that there were a number of positive factors associated with faculty involvement in noncampus teaching. "...Faculty cited the personal satisfactions derived from off-campus teaching; the stimulation afforded by working with highly motivated, well-prepared adult learners; the enrichment provided by new teaching experiences; the valuable contacts made in off-campus communities" (Scott, 1984, p. 9) . While the Wyoming situation and the typical community college differ greatly, the positive experiences appear to apply to community colleges.

Second, I believe more emphasis must be given to program planning by community services leaders.The day is long gone on most campuses when community services can justify its existence by simply offering a potpourri of unrelated courses and activities. The day is long gone on most campuses when a dean of community services can proclaim (as one did at the 1984 annual meeting of the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges) that community services exists for only two reasons: to make money and to serve as a public relations arm of the college. The day is long gone when students can thumb their noses at diplomas and other awards. Today, students and employers want benchmarks designating achievement. Students want to see a starting place and an ending place, rather than wonder whether or not the second sequence of a course will be offered the next term. Program planning is required by community services leaders and should be done on an "academic ladder" basis whereby a certificate is the first step toward a degree, and so forth.

Third, the community services division should serve as the innovative arm of the instructional program. It is time that community services leaders cease to hide their light under the shadows of the community services program; it is time that the regular instructional program be brought into the many good things that are happening in community services. As suggested earlier, community services leaders have pioneered the way in a number of areas, yet they have rarely gotten the credit they deserved for shaping the instructional program. Where, for example, would the community college's much vaunted work with training and retraining workers for industry be without the groundbreaking work done by community services. But for community services leaders to get full credit for their work and the college to benefit fully from their work, the avenues with the regular instructional programs must be opened more fully and utilized regularly.

Fourth, community services leaders should work to see that full-time counselors are assigned to their division. These counselors should remain a part of the student services division, thus assuring that community services is tied to this major function of the college, but the counselors should devote full time to integrating such functions as career counseling, academic planning, and other traditional student services functions into the community services function.

Fifth, and finally, community services leaders can and should play a leadership role in insuring institutional integrity. For example, there are forces at work in our society that would collapse the comprehensive mission and thus restrict admissions to the community college for those people who need it most. Community services leaders must remain in the forefront of those who insist community colleges serve all segments of society; community services programs should be a "window of access" for those segments of society that need the community college so desperately. If community services fails to "open the window," the open door must ultimately close. Also in line with maintaining institutional integrity, community services leaders, perhaps more than any segment of the college community, must be sensitive to the "quality" issue. The temptation to barter courses and degrees for FTEs must be resisted by community services, no matter how much pressure is exerted to meet enrollment projections.

It would appear that those persons associated with community services have never been in a better position to provide leadership to the total college than today. New frontiers are waiting to be explored; the total college needs the experience, knowledge, and wisdom of community services leaders. The key is to explore the new frontiers, not as lonely scouts, but as members of the college team who will establish the ties that bind the community services function securely to the total college mission.


Atwell, C. A., Vaughan,G. B., & Sullins, W. R. (1982). Reexamining community services in the community college: Toward concensus and commitment (Topical Paper No. 76). Los Angeles: ERIC Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges.

Gleazer, E. J., Jr.(1980). The community college: Values, vision, andvitality . Washington, DC: American Association of Communityand Junior Colleges.

Pifer, A. (1974). Community college andcommunity leadership. Community and Junior CollegeJournal , 23-27.

Scott, J. A. (1984) . Compensatingfaculty members in nontraditional programs: A new approach.Educational Record, 65 (1), 6-10.

Turner, F. J.(1920) . The significance of the frontier in American history. InG. R. Taylor (Ed.), The Turner thesis concerning the frontierin American history. Boston: D. C. Heath.

Vaughan, G. B.(1975) . A president's formula: Involving the entire faculty incommunity services.Community College Review, 2 (4), 48-52.