FROM THE CHAIR
Community College Reimagining the
BY MARIE FOSTER GNAGE
Community colleges are architects and engineers that build bridges of and to opportunity for their students. The bridge of opportunity is access; the bridge to opportunity is uccess. How this is accomplished—how well students are served—brings us both to a discussion of excellence and a need to reimagine the community college. The commitment to mission in community colleges is very strong,
but sometimes in the midst of addressing the myriad needs of our service area,
I once read an article by a community college president who recalled looking at
the data and seeing quite clearly the failings of his institution. He likened his response to the various stages of grief. He’s not the only community college president
to have such a reaction. But community college presidents, faculty, and staff do not
long sit and mourn their predicament—they act, by reimagining their four Ps:
policies, procedures, processes, and programs.
What does it mean to reimagine the community college? When the American
Association of Community Colleges (AACC) first published “Reclaiming the American Dream: Community
Colleges and the Nation’s
Future, a Report from
Commission on the
Future of Community
Colleges” in April of
last year, the report laid
bare the shortcomings
of our nation’s two-year
colleges, then immediately posed recommendations to address them.
(For more, see “Bridge to Excellence” on page 30.)
As the report states, we must “redesign students’ educational experiences”;
“reinvent institutional roles”; and “reset the system to create incentives for
student and institutional success.”
At the heart of these reforms is our ability to reimagine the community college
model. It’s not about changing the mission; it’s about finding new ways to achieve it,
to serve our communities, and to earn and retain our place as the community’s college.
“It’s not about changing the mission; it’s about finding new ways to achieve it.”
Student support services, whether
online or in person, are also more
robust. Services include resources that
meet students’ needs generally, as well
as those tailored to specific groups,
such as dislocated workers or veterans.
Much thought is given to providing
students with the services and support,
funding and otherwise, that they need
to be successful.
The necessary changes start with identifying innovative ways to serve our
students both in the classroom and through better support services. A shift in
emphasis from access only to access and success means finding new ways to advise
students and introducing students to clearer academic pathways to help them meet
their personal and professional goals—think stackable credentials, credit for prior
learning, and the use of analytics to head off challenges before they impede success.
New forms of course delivery debunk the old “sage on the stage” mentality in
favor of an emporium model that includes a blend of in-person and online learning,
with an emphasis on individual student outcomes.
Partnerships also play a key role in our
efforts to reimagine the community college. There is not a community college
out there that does not engage in some
form of partnership, whether with fellow community colleges, other sectors
of education, or business and industry.
Community colleges generally
recognize partnerships as important
to leveraging resources in periods of
decreased funding. Rather than build
new buildings, for example, they
might ask whether they can gain the
resources and improvements needed
through partnership or technology.
By reimagining these relationships, we
allow ourselves to explore new ways of
meeting the needs of our students and
But these changes can only happen if
our leaders are prepared to think outside the ordinary. AACC’s Leadership
Suite and other leadership programs
offered by organizations affiliated with
AACC can help develop this thinking.
The same is true for faculty and staff.
As engineers and architects of
bridges to access and success, we must
continue to explore possibilities for improving and/or enhancing community
colleges—so that we demonstrate excellence in helping our students achieve
their educational goals.
Marie Foster GnaGe is president of West
Virginia University at Parkersburg and
chair of the AACC Board of Directors.