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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Changing Role of Community Colleges

Over time affordable higher education has taken many forms.  In the not too distant past this was the role of junior college.  As someone who didn’t have much money coming out of high school I saw this route as one that would provide a path for me to obtain a college degree without going heavily into debt. 

By living at home and with some scholarship money from the State of Pennsylvania (back when states thought this was a good investment in the future) I received an associate’s degree from Keystone Junior College without touching my savings from working summer jobs.  Now this was a time of different higher education costs.  The tuition cost was $500 a semester or $2000 for the two years.  The cost of going to the college I transferred to after 2 years, American University, would have been $10,000 for those two years.  I have to say that the quality of the education I received at Keystone was higher than that which I received at American.  At Keystone the instructors were there to teach and they were available for meeting and talking after class and in their offices. At American I frequently had lecture classes of 200-300 students and the use of graduate teaching assistants was  common.  The relationships I formed with my instructors at Keystone greatly enhanced the learning experience. The quality of education could be seen in classmates of mine who transferred to Georgetown and Princeton.

Today the junior colleges have either gone out of existence or turned into four-year colleges.  Today Keystone is a four-year college with tuition of almost $25,000 a year. What has replaced the private junior college is the publicly supported community college.  Starting in the 1970’s there was an education movement to provide an affordable model supported by tax revenue to insure that higher education was available locally in an affordable manner.  Training would include courses for students looking to transfer to a four-year college, as had been the case with junior colleges, but would include vocational and technical training that don’t require a four-year degree.

Like most things in Howard County we have a local institution that is a great example of what a community college can be. Howard Community College (HCC) has grown into a prime example of how students can receive the necessary training to meet the employment needs of our local employers. Started in 1970 the College has grown to over 10,000 students taking credit courses and over 17,000 when those taking non-credit courses are added in. While many students still transfer to a four-year college to pursue bachelor’s degree, community colleges provide the training for many para-professional occupations.  By identifying the careers that show the most potential growth HCC can develop the necessary programs that lead to a certification or an associates degree that can open up many employment opportunities.  Many of these programs are geared to the expanding health care jobs.   A new health sciences building will open in 2013 with programs in medical diagnostic sonography, medical laboratory technician, dental hygienist and physical therapist assistant. Currently 11-month certificates for students who want to be a licensed practical nurse (LPN) and a bridge program for LPNs who want to be a registered nurse are available.

Want to continue your own lifelong learning? Check out the interesting offering in their continuing education non-credit courses.  How about learning about the Civil War in Maryland or Magic for Adults? Take a walk around the HCC campus when you get a chance.  If you haven’t done that recently you will not recognize the campus from when it was just a couple of buildings.

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