In the United States, 1,200 community colleges enroll over ten million students each year—nearly half of the nation’s undergraduates. Yet fewer than 40 percent of entrants complete an undergraduate degree within six years. This fact has put pressure on community colleges to improve academic outcomes for their students. Redesigning America’s Community Colleges is a concise, evidence-based guide for educational leaders whose institutions typically receive short shrift in academic and policy discussions. It makes a compelling case that two-year colleges can substantially increase their rates of student success, if they are willing to rethink the ways in which they organize programs of study, support services, and instruction.
Community colleges were originally designed to expand college enrollments at low cost, not to maximize completion of high-quality programs of study. The result was a cafeteria-style model in which students pick courses from a bewildering array of choices, with little guidance. The authors urge administrators and faculty to reject this traditional model in favor of “guided pathways”—clearer, more educationally coherent programs of study that simplify students’ choices without limiting their options and that enable them to complete credentials and advance to further education and the labor market more quickly and at less cost.
Distilling a wealth of data amassed from the Community College Research Center (Teachers College, Columbia University), Redesigning America’s Community Colleges offers a fundamental redesign of the way two-year colleges operate, stressing the integration of services and instruction into more clearly structured programs of study that support every student’s goals.
[Redesigning America’s Community Colleges is] meant to be honest, grounded, and useful, and it is. It gets the details right. I really can’t recommend it highly enough.
Redesigning America’s Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success is an important step forward for community colleges. The work bridges the all-too-familiar divide between research and practice, outlining actionable, transformative recommendations to improve student attainment that have emerged out of the extensive portfolio of research conducted over the past 20 years by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College of Columbia University. And while many aspects of the book deserve discussion, how change can be effectively instigated at community colleges is a pivotal issue on which any reform efforts will hinge.
Thomas Bailey is the nation’s preeminent scholar of community colleges. Together with distinguished researchers Shanna Jaggars and Davis Jenkins, Bailey expertly diagnoses the limitations of existing community college reforms and outlines a proposal for dramatic change. Redesigning America’s Community Colleges is must reading for anyone who cares about making community colleges the engines for social mobility they were intended to be.
In this analysis, grounded both in research and practice, I found both the best diagnosis of our challenge and the most promising prescription for change I have encountered in more than two decades of work on student success in community colleges. The authors make a compelling case that significant and lasting improvements in student success will only be achieved by redesigning the deep architecture of our colleges from a culture of chaos, uninformed choice, and diffuse responsibility—the cafeteria model—to one of clearly designed and supported program models with more limited choice and more secure outcomes—the guided pathways model.
- 304 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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