Date of Award


Document Type

Union College Only

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Political Science

First Advisor

Terry Weiner




community, colleges, reform, college, funding


Community Colleges were born when the Truman Commission, in 1947, demanded that “American colleges and universities… can no longer consider themselves merely the instrument for producing an intellectual elite; they must become the means by which every citizen…is enabled and encouraged to carry his education, formal and informal…”1. Today, community colleges educate over 44% of the country’s undergraduates, yet they are becoming increasingly ineffective. Unfortunately, the culture of access has taken precedence over a focus on student success. Accomplishing one’s stated educational goal is equally if not more important as gaining entrance into an institution of higher education. Because the importance of success was overshadowed for so long by the importance of the culture of access, community colleges have reached a crucial point. The purpose of my investigation was to define the current situation being faced by America’s community colleges, understand potential solutions offered by experts, produce examples of both successful and unsuccessful attempts at reform, and offer a potential solution combining all of the aforementioned variables. I begin my first chapter by introducing the American community college. How and why this institution has played the critical role that it has in educating and producing degree holding individuals for decades. They offer the chance at higher education to many students whom would not have the opportunity to attend or enroll in higher education courses were it not for the accessibility, affordability, and open access admissions programs practiced at community colleges. Yet, at the same time, over the past decade, available statistics prove that student retention and success rates have dropped significantly. Community colleges have become a breeding ground for students to enter, and leave without accomplishing their stated academic goals. This theory has been titled the “revolving door” theory. This concept is based on the notion that students enter community colleges and exit without accomplishing their stated academic goals and then re-enter at some point in the future, and continue this cycle on and on. Chapter 2 discusses the opinions of various scholars and research institutions across the country that have devoted time and energy into understanding community college reform. I discuss reports and reform efforts produced by the following: The Brookings Institute, the College, the New America, the Lumina Foundation and MDRC. Each report and reform effort, or experimental model, surveys the issues plaguing community colleges and then establishes potential reform solutions. Although each report has its own thesis and each offers slightly different approaches, they all recognize that there are basic necessities that community colleges must embrace in order to restore their effectiveness. The chart, in chapter 2, identifies the similarities and differences between each report and experimental reform effort. The five main reform efforts established by some or all of the reports include the following: accountability, greater funding, learning communities, shifts in federal policy and shifts in state college mission. The issue of accountability is one that has continuously plagued community colleges. The traditional measures of accountability, or performance measurements, utilized by four-year institutions do not adequately depict the situation in community colleges. Some suggest that this means that the colleges should not create their own measures of accountability but I, along with other scholars, disagree. A universal standard needs to be established, broadcasted and accepted that suits the type of institution that the community college is, one that serves multiple purposes; academic, vocational and the like. A tried and true way of accomplishing accountability is through an office of institutional effectiveness (IE). Miami Dade College, who participates in the Achieving the Dream effort, has an IE office. The IE office is responsible for institutional research (IR), outcomes assessment, placement and exit test administration, student feedback, surveying, strategic planning, and extensive support for accreditation review. This is one of many potential ways of accomplishing greater levels of accountability. All of the expert reports call for higher levels of accountability. The issue of disproportionate funding of the American public educational system has been a constant concern for community colleges. Based on their stated mission of providing local, low cost education for all Americans who so choose to seek it, community colleges are forced to rely heavily on government funding as well as hope to receive private funding. While both public four-year and two-year institutions encumber similar expenses, public four-year colleges receive up to three times more federal support per student than community colleges. This “resource gap” is then magnified because enrollments in community colleges are swelling as we face tough economic times coupled with state/federal budget cuts. This specifically harms the funding streams of two-year colleges because they are unfairly yet widely considered to be at the “bottom of the barrel” of the American public education system. Therefore, all of the reports call for greater governmental funding for community colleges and an overall more balanced system of funding for the American education system. Through adequate funding, community colleges are able to experiment with potential reform efforts. One such effort is the notion of learning communities, which has only recently come to the forefront of community college reform discussions. The effectiveness of learning communities has been overwhelmingly established. Learning communities serve to improve student engagement and success. Learning communities involve both academic and non-academic supports. Students surveyed who participate in learning communities claim that stable institutional supports are crucial to their success. The final effort toward reform is the call for an enhancement of federal policy toward community colleges. The recommendations for federal policy include the creation of national accountability goals, better and more balanced funding streams, as well as greater support for over-all community college reform efforts. The mission of community college(s) has traditionally been focused on the idea of open access. However, with the recent focus on abysmal attrition rates, low success and retention rates, much focus has been placed on shifting the mission of community colleges from one that emphasizes access, to one that emphasizes success. All of the reports focus on this issue. In Chapter 3 I discuss community college models that have incorporated the suggestions posited by the experts as well as colleges, or statewide systems, that have been less successful in terms of reform. Those schools that have attempted reform and carefully monitored the reform effort(s) have been surprisingly successful and seen the tangible results. Greater levels of student persistence, higher levels of integration and an overall increase in student awareness of collegiate procedures and regulations. Unfortunately, other schools or systems have yet to reap the benefits of effective reform though it is crucial that they seek guidance from others who have begun to pave the road toward community college reform. The final chapter of my thesis offers a snapshot of everything discussed prior, as well as my overall opinions on the topic. I believe, in agreement with many of the experts as well as faculty and administrators that I spoke with throughout my time researching this subject that action must be taken now. The price tag associated with community college reform must be seen as a necessary investment for the future of not only our citizen’s but our entire country. If America is going to continue into the future as a leader of business and industry and the world’s leading innovator, then community colleges must be made a priority in terms of policy and the entire public education system.