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Community colleges in the United States

Community colleges in the United States

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In the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, community college
Community college
A community college is a type of educational institution. The term can have different meanings in different countries.-Australia:Community colleges carry on the tradition of adult education, which was established in Australia around mid 19th century when evening classes were held to help adults...

s are primarily two-year public
Public university
A public university is a university that is predominantly funded by public means through a national or subnational government, as opposed to private universities. A national university may or may not be considered a public university, depending on regions...

 institutions of higher education
Higher education
Higher, post-secondary, tertiary, or third level education refers to the stage of learning that occurs at universities, academies, colleges, seminaries, and institutes of technology...

 and were once commonly called junior college
Junior college
The term junior college refers to different educational institutions in different countries.-India:In India, most states provide schooling through 12th grade...

After graduating from a community college, some students transfer to a university or liberal arts college
Liberal arts colleges in the United States
Liberal arts colleges in the United States are certain undergraduate institutions of higher education in the United States. The Encyclopædia Britannica Concise offers a definition of the liberal arts as a "college or university curriculum aimed at imparting general knowledge and developing general...

 for two to three years to complete a bachelor's degree
Bachelor's degree
A bachelor's degree is usually an academic degree awarded for an undergraduate course or major that generally lasts for three or four years, but can range anywhere from two to six years depending on the region of the world...

, while others enter the workforce.


Before the 1970s, community colleges were more commonly referred to as junior college
Junior college
The term junior college refers to different educational institutions in different countries.-India:In India, most states provide schooling through 12th grade...

, and that term is still used at some institutions. However, the term "junior college" has evolved to describe private
Private school
Private schools, also known as independent schools or nonstate schools, are not administered by local, state or national governments; thus, they retain the right to select their students and are funded in whole or in part by charging their students' tuition, rather than relying on mandatory...

 two-year institutions, whereas the term "community college" has evolved to describe publicly-funded two-year institutions. As such, the main governance body of community colleges changed its name in 1992 from the "American Association of Junior Colleges" to the "American Association of Community Colleges".

In New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

, slightly more than half of the state's nineteen community colleges are called county colleges, not merely in name but also in descriptive speech. This is because there is one community college, often with satellite branches, dedicated to each county of the state. The term is also used by some community colleges in Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

 (where community colleges are funded by county residents via property tax
Property tax
A property tax is an ad valorem levy on the value of property that the owner is required to pay. The tax is levied by the governing authority of the jurisdiction in which the property is located; it may be paid to a national government, a federated state or a municipality...

es assessed by a special "community college district"), Michigan
Michigan is a U.S. state located in the Great Lakes Region of the United States of America. The name Michigan is the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigamaa, meaning "large water" or "large lake"....

 and Illinois
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...

. The City University of New York
City University of New York
The City University of New York is the public university system of New York City, with its administrative offices in Yorkville in Manhattan. It is the largest urban university in the United States, consisting of 23 institutions: 11 senior colleges, six community colleges, the William E...

 is a well known municipally-funded community college system, although the system includes both junior and senior (4-year) colleges, in addition to graduate programs.

City Colleges

In several California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 cities (including Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles , with a population at the 2010 United States Census of 3,792,621, is the most populous city in California, USA and the second most populous in the United States, after New York City. It has an area of , and is located in Southern California...

, San Francisco
San Francisco, California
San Francisco , officially the City and County of San Francisco, is the financial, cultural, and transportation center of the San Francisco Bay Area, a region of 7.15 million people which includes San Jose and Oakland...

, San Diego
San Diego, California
San Diego is the eighth-largest city in the United States and second-largest city in California. The city is located on the coast of the Pacific Ocean in Southern California, immediately adjacent to the Mexican border. The birthplace of California, San Diego is known for its mild year-round...

, and Sacramento
Sacramento, California
Sacramento is the capital city of the U.S. state of California and the county seat of Sacramento County. It is located at the confluence of the Sacramento River and the American River in the northern portion of California's expansive Central Valley. With a population of 466,488 at the 2010 census,...

), and in other large cities, New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

, and Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

, community colleges are often called "city colleges," since they were municipally-funded and designed to serve the needs of the residents of the city in which they are situated. The Los Angeles Community College District
Los Angeles Community College District
The Los Angeles Community College District is the community college district serving Los Angeles, California and some of its neighboring cities. In addition to typical college aged students, the LACCD also serves adults of all ages. Indeed, over half of all LACCD students are older than 25 years...

 is the largest community college system in the United States. The Maricopa Community College District in the Phoenix, Arizona
Phoenix, Arizona
Phoenix is the capital, and largest city, of the U.S. state of Arizona, as well as the sixth most populated city in the United States. Phoenix is home to 1,445,632 people according to the official 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data...

 metropolitan area, is the largest community college district in the United States in terms of enrollment.


Many events have contributed to the development and continued growth of community colleges. The social and economic climate of the early twentieth century led to vocal activists for a two year educational alternative to four year higher education institutions. Several different groups advocated for community colleges in the early twentieth century, including students and parents, educators, businesses, state universities, and government officials. Events like urbanization, industrialization, and economic development caused changes in society. One of education’s responses to a country in transition was the junior college.

Several different movements supported the creation of community colleges, including local community support of public and private two year institutions, the expansion of the public education system, increased professional standards for teachers, the vocational education movement, and an expanding demand for adult and community education. Numerous colleges and universities advocated for the development of junior colleges. Leadership felt small, private liberal arts colleges and high schools could provide the first two years of college while larger universities could focus resources on research and junior and senior level students.

Early community colleges

“The two-year college has been a distinctively American creation, and nowhere else has it attained such prominence.” J. L. Ratcliff. suggests one perspective for the presence of American two-year post secondary institutions of the past century: they began in the private sector after the Panic of 1894. J M Carroll, president of Baylor University, made a pragmatic suggestion to solve the problem of too many Baptist colleges with insufficient funds and not enough students to support them: reduce the smaller Baptist colleges’ curriculum to the freshman and sophomore years. After this preliminary period, Baylor University would accept the two year students and provide the junior and senior years of their academic plan. Dr. Carroll believed this fragmentation of a student’s degree seeking path could remedy the depressed college situations by requiring a smaller group of faculty and fewer resources for the first two years of higher education. Such planning would not reduce the existing number of institutions or the roles they had developed in the communities where they were founded—only the length of enrollment on the campuses. This measure was a proactive response to accommodate a continued trend analysis of low enrollment and assure the economical operation of all the Baptist institutions. Also, the catastrophic economic repercussions to the industries and businesses of the towns where the smaller colleges were located would be minimized.

Before this innovation of two-year campuses with transfer missions in the private sector, a few public institutions before 1850 offered two years of college: Lasell Junior College in Auburndale, Massachusetts and Vincennes University of Vincennes, Indiana. Dr. Helland cites a section from the 1899 Vincennes University catalog, in which these statements are found: “The Vincennes University occupies a unique position in the educational field. It is half-way between the commissioned high school and the full-fledged college: it is in fact a junior college.” Many of the early public community colleges were an extension of high school
High school
High school is a term used in parts of the English speaking world to describe institutions which provide all or part of secondary education. The term is often incorporated into the name of such institutions....

s, like the first established, Joliet Junior College
Joliet Junior College
Joliet Junior College , a community college based in Joliet, Illinois, was the first public community college founded in the United States. JJC offers pre-baccalaureate programs for students planning to transfer to a four-year university, as well as occupational education leading directly to...

, in 1901. This was a two year system compared to one year high school extension. These initial community colleges generally were very small (usually fewer than 200 students) and focused on a liberal arts education with the goal of transferring
College transfer
College transfer is the movement of students from one higher education institution to another and the process by which academic credits are accepted or not accepted by a receiving institution.-Background:...

 students to four year institutions. They were more reflective of high school needs and lacked a definite identity. These examples of two year structure innovations with transfer missions in the private and public sector provided a pragmatic approach for the preservation of existing institutions.

Many of the early community colleges were normal school
Normal school
A normal school is a school created to train high school graduates to be teachers. Its purpose is to establish teaching standards or norms, hence its name...

s and prepared teachers. Primary emphasis was placed on traditional middle class values and developing responsible citizens. Normal Schools began in Massachusetts in the 1880s as extensions of local high schools. They were originated to meet the need for teacher preparation. For example, in Saint Joseph, Missouri, a Normal School was added to the local high school to provide a career track for women who wanted to teach. Mr. Whiteford, the area’s district superintendent, inquired of the University of Missouri to determine if credits from Saint Joseph Normal School could transfer into a baccalaureate program. The University’s President Dr. Hill acknowledged the request and provided for the articulation. Coincidently, Dr. Hill was actively involved in the American Association of Universities and calling for the establishment of junior colleges for this purpose. In Minnesota, St. Paul’s Public School District established a “City Training School” for preparing teachers. The 1883 school’s mission was to provide certified teachers and substitutes for the district. Mrs. M. E. Jenness from the Normal School at River Falls, Wisconsin was the St. Paul School’s first principal; Mrs. N. F. Wheaton was the Director of Practice. Wheaton had been employed at the Oshkosh Normal School in Wisconsin. In Minneapolis, a Normal Training School was instituted in the fall of 1887. Miss Adele Evers of Manchester Normal School in New Hampshire was appointed the first teacher; she was one of six candidates for the position. Evers’ references included work at Martha’s Vineyard and Saratoga.

During the 1920s and 1930s there was a shift in the purpose of community colleges to developing a workforce, which was influenced by wide unemployment during the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

. Developing "semiprofessionals" became dominant national language to describe junior college students. The notion that engineers and supervisors make primary decisions about what and how activities were to be done in the workplace provided the origins for employees needed to carry out their decisions. This need for a class of workers to implement the decisions of the theoreticians demanded an educational delivery system other than the traditional four-year college or university. The closed shop of the artisan which had initially provided workers was no longer the educational program of choice. Nationally, a new two-year vehicle for educating the industrial worker found its launching within the secondary public school system under the leadership of local school districts.

Baltimore’s Manual Training High School opened in 1884, was the first separate secondary school for education that was specifically work orientated. The Maryland institution was unique as a stand-alone campus. Other examples of sub-baccalaureate programs were the University Preparatory School and Junior College of Tonkawa. The result of the two- year schools founded in Oklahoma Public School Secondary System in 1902, both institutions later merged in 1914 and became the Oklahoma Institute of Technology. Dean Schneider of the University of Cincinnati developed an alternative high school with a cooperative plan where students spent one week in an occupation and the other in school. Industry provided the shop experiences and the classroom facilitated the academic. There were also non-cooperative high schools; two examples were the Girl’s Vocational High School in Kansas City, Missouri and the Delgado Trade School in New Orleans. A two-year, terminal education, was seen as more socially efficient for students who could advance past high school but not continue to attain bachelor's degrees. This national vocational movement was seen to give junior colleges a target population, but numerous students wanted more than a semiprofessional education; many maintained a desire to transfer. Throughout this time period, there was a move for more public two-year institutions along with a trend to separate from high schools and affiliate with higher education. With the change in affiliation came a new status which encouraged junior colleges to develop additional credibility through the creation of professional criteria and use of scientific methods.

Cold War era

After World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, the G.I. Bill afforded more educational opportunity to veterans which resulted in increased enrollments. Another factor that led to growth was the rise of adult and community education. After World War II, community colleges were seen as a good place to house continuing education programs. The 1947 Truman Commission was a very important national document for community colleges. It suggested a network of public community colleges that would provide education to a diverse group of students at little or no cost along with serving community needs through a comprehensive mission.

This national network exploded in the 1960s with 457 community colleges and the enrollment of baby boomer
Baby boomer
A baby boomer is a person who was born during the demographic Post-World War II baby boom and who grew up during the period between 1946 and 1964. The term "baby boomer" is sometimes used in a cultural context. Therefore, it is impossible to achieve broad consensus of a precise definition, even...

s. A series of grants through the Kellogg Junior College Leadership Programs helped train many community college leaders during this decade. Growth continued during the 1970s when many enrolled to escape the Vietnam era draft
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

. The 1970s also marked a shift to faculty development, including more instructional training for the unique student body and mission of community colleges. During the 1980s, community colleges began to work more closely with high schools to prepare students for vocational and technical two year programs.

By the end of the 20th century, all two-year institutions were playing important roles in higher education as access mechanisms. They became an integral feature for those persons who were attending higher education for the first time or as non-traditional students. Brint and Karabel have recognized the change that transpired from 1920 when fewer than 2 percent of all college freshmen were enrolled in a two-year college to the late 1980s when over 50% were matriculated. Junior colleges once located in high schools had left their origins to develop their own campuses and were called community colleges and still retained the transfer access mission. High school normal schools matured into teacher colleges or colleges of education within universities offering bachelor and graduate degrees. Industrial institutes integrated with local junior colleges to make these campus’s programs more comprehensive community colleges. Along with this growth and legitimization of two-year mechanisms for the delivery of higher education, the emergence of two-year institutions provided an epistemological debate that divided the river of education flowing into the early 20th century into three streams of educational natures. “In the process of this struggle and adjustment some colleges will grow stronger, some will become academies, some junior colleges; the high schools will be elevated to a still more important position than that which they now occupy. The general result will be the growth of a system in the higher educational work of the United States, where now no system exists.”

1990s and 2000s

In recent history, a debate between the advocates and critics of community colleges has gained strength. Advocates argue community colleges serve the needs of society through providing college opportunity to students who otherwise cannot go to college
Post Secondary Transition For High School Students with Disabilities
The Post Secondary Transition For High School Students with Disabilities refers to the ordinance that every public school district in the United States must provide all students with disabilities ages 3 through 21 with an individualized and free appropriate public education in the least restrictive...

, training and retraining mid level skilled worker
Skilled worker
A skilled worker is any worker who has some special skill, knowledge, or ability in their work. A skilled worker may have attended a college, university or technical school. Or, a skilled worker may have learned their skills on the job...

s, and preserving the academic excellence of four year universities. Critics argue community colleges continue a culture of privilege through training business workers at public expense, not allowing working class children to advance in social class, protecting selective admissions at four year institutions for the nation's elite, and discouraging transfer through cooling out
Cooling Out
Cooling Out is a technique composed of an informal set of practices used by colleges, especially two-year, junior, and community colleges, to handle students whose lack of academic ability prevents them from achieving the educational goals they have developed for themselves, such as attaining a...

. Whether community colleges give opportunity or protect privilege, their century-long history has developed a distinctive aspect of higher education. Although the growth of community colleges has stabilized in recent history, enrollment continues to outgrow four year institutions. A total of 1,166 loosely linked community colleges face challenges of new technological innovations, distance learning, funding constraints, community pressure, and international influence.. Some of the issues currently faced are explored in community college resources compiled by the Association for Career and Technical Education
Association for Career and Technical Education
The Association for Career and Technical Education is the professional association of CTE educators . It is a nonprofit membership association based in the United States. Its members are primarily educators and administrators of career and technical education , which is sometimes known as...


Timeline of important events
1901: Joliet, Illinois
Joliet Junior College
Joliet Junior College , a community college based in Joliet, Illinois, was the first public community college founded in the United States. JJC offers pre-baccalaureate programs for students planning to transfer to a four-year university, as well as occupational education leading directly to...

 added fifth and sixth year courses to the high school curriculum leading to the development of the first public junior college, Joliet Junior College
Joliet Junior College
Joliet Junior College , a community college based in Joliet, Illinois, was the first public community college founded in the United States. JJC offers pre-baccalaureate programs for students planning to transfer to a four-year university, as well as occupational education leading directly to...


1920: American Association of Junior Colleges established.

1930: First publication of the Community College Journal.

1944: Passage of the Federal G.I. Bill of Rights
G.I. Bill of Rights
The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 , known informally as the G.I. Bill, was an omnibus law that provided college or vocational education for returning World War II veterans as well as one year of unemployment compensation...

1947: Publication of Higher Education for American Democracy by the President's Commission on Higher Education (the 1947 Truman Commission).

1965: Higher Education Act of 1965
Higher Education Act of 1965
The Higher Education Act of 1965 was legislation signed into United States law on November 8, 1965, as part of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society domestic agenda. Johnson chose Texas State University–San Marcos as the signing site...

 established grant programs to make higher education more accessible.

1992: The American Association of Junior Colleges changed their name to the American Association of Community Colleges
American Association of Community Colleges
The American Association of Community Colleges , headquartered in the National Center for Higher Education in Washington, D.C., is the primary advocacy organization for community colleges at the national level and works closely with directors of state offices to inform and affect state policy...



State Governance

The higher education governance structure landscape in America is very diverse; they are not intended to be precise organization charts. According to the Education Commission of the States there are three major types of higher education governance systems in the states; they are Governing Board States, Coordinating Board States and Planning/ Regulatory/Service Agency States. (from: http://www.ecs.org)

The Governing Board States (GBS)

State-level governing boards are distinguished according to whether they are responsible for consolidated systems or multi-campus systems. Consolidated systems are composed of several previously independently governed institutions that were later consolidated into one system. Multi-campus systems developed primarily through extensions of various branches or campuses.
Coordinating Board States

Coordinating boards vary significantly in formal authority and informal power and influence from state to state. Generally, there is a state level board governing universities, colleges, and community colleges. Each university and community college district will have its own board that is accountable to a state-coordinating agency.
The Planning/Regulatory/Service Agency States (PRSA)

The PRSA states have limited or non-existent formal governing or coordinating authority, which carry out regulatory and service functions such as student financial aid.
For a comprehensive list of American community colleges and their state level governing boards: http://www.utexas.edu/world/comcol/state/

A more thorough description of state level college and university governance models can be found at: Models of Postsecondary Education Coordination and Governance in the States

Local Governance

Most community colleges are operated within special districts that draw property tax revenue from the local community, as a division of a state university, or as a sister institution within a state-wide higher education system.

In all cases, community colleges are governed by a board of trustees, appointed by the state governor, or the board is elected by citizens residing within the community college district. In some instances, as with the City Colleges of Chicago, the board of trustees is appointed by the presiding local government. In Chicago, it is the mayor who appoints the board.

Depending on the operational system, the board of trustees may directly govern the college or may govern the college through a university or system-level office. Depending upon the locus of control, the board may or may not be subject to control by a state agency that supervises all community college districts or all higher education institutions within the state.

The board of trustees selects a president or chancellor of the community college to serve as the chief executive officer and lead the faculty and staff.

Multi-College Community College District

Multi-College Community College Districts include several individually accredited community colleges within one district. Each college is independent with distinct local administration, but they share a single board of trustees and report to a non-instructional central administrative office.
The Contra Costa Community College District is an example of one of the largest multi-college community college districts in California. The District consists of Contra Costa College, Diablo Valley College, Los Medanos College, San Ramon Campus, and Brentwood Center, and annually serves almost 62,000 students.

Multi-campus Community College District

Multi-campus systems share a single accreditation. Local administrative governance varies. Extension campuses report to the main campus administration or a central administrative office.
Faculty Governance

Faculty Senate/Faculty Council

A faculty senate, or faculty council as this body is sometimes referred to, is the representative body of all faculty who participate in the governance processes of the community college. As with all governing bodies, the faculty senate is usually governed by a constitution and a set of bylaws specific to the college. Membership in this body varies from college, with most restricting voting rights to tenured and tenure track faculty, and others allowing a wider array of members to include full-time, adjunct, continuing education, technical, and adult basic education faculty. (modified from: http://www.pima.edu/facsenate/)

Though this is not an exhaustive list, the mission of the faculty senate at the community college usually includes: matters concerning curricular decisions; strengthening the concept of the faculty as a college entity; promoting the gathering, exchanging, and disseminating of faculty views and concerns regarding college matters; promoting mutual accountability between the college faculty and the faculty representative to any college committee; advising the Chancellor and other administrators of faculty views on college matters; bringing the concerns of the Chancellor and other administrators on college matters to the faculty; promoting the involvement of all faculty members in the establishing, staffing, and functioning of college committees, task forces, or other initiatives; and participating in the policy review process of the college.

Collective Bargaining Units/Agreements

Most community college faculty are bargained for employees. While unions and their respective collective bargaining agreements serve to protect faculty rights and working conditions, collective bargaining agreements, or union contracts, provide faculty with a defined set of rules and regulations they must follow as a condition of employment.
Collective bargaining swept into higher education on the coattails of legislation authorizing public employees to negotiate. As these laws were passed in various states in the 1960s and 1970s, employee groups ranging from refuse collectors to prison guards gained union representation and began negotiating contracts (Cohen & Brawer, 2008, p.147)

Collective bargaining units exist for all divisions of community college faculty; however, participation by faculty groups differs from college to college.

Student Governance

There is a student government organizational presence on close to every community college campus in America The Student Government organization is the official voice of the student body, a vital link in effective student participation in all areas of student concern in relationship to the college’s administration. By advocating student rights and services, the organization represents the student body and presents its concerns to the college administration, local, and national issues. Through the Student Government organizations the college provides students with essential leadership experience, and valuable connections with faculty, staff administration, students, and the Board of Trustees. Student involvement is usually based on criteria set by the institution; all students have the right as a student to participate in democratic process on campus. (from: http://www.asgaonline.com/ME2/dirmod.asp?sid=&nm=&type=SGDB02&mod=SG+Database%3A%3ASGDB02+-+SG+Details&mid=68BCEFA4D2534435852F8A4C82C52108&tier=3&id=5C55958317E64A358D4A063D53867385)

Shared Governance

Shared governance is the set of practices under which college faculty and staff participates in significant decisions concerning the operation of their institutions. Colleges are very special types of institutions with a unique mission—the creation and dissemination of ideas. At the heart of shared governance is the belief that decision-making should be largely independent of short-term managerial and political considerations. Faculty and professional staff are in the best position to shape and implement curriculum and research policy, to select academic colleagues and judge their work; and The perspective of all front-line personnel is invaluable in making sound decisions about allocating resources, setting goals, choosing top officers and guiding student life.

For a more detailed explanation of governance at the community college, please see the AAUP’s 1966 Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities and the 1998 statement on the same topic by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. These documents more clearly define those matters that are the responsibility of the voting faculty and those reserved to the governing body and its delegates. (From: http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/academe/2002/JA/Feat/Luce.htm)


In North America, community colleges operate under a policy of "open admission." That is, anyone with a high school diploma
High school diploma
A high school diploma is a diploma awarded for the completion of high school. In the United States and Canada, it is considered the minimum education required for government jobs and higher education. An equivalent is the GED.-Past diploma styles:...

 or GED may attend, regardless of prior academic status or college entrance exam
College entrance exam
The term College entrance exam may refer to any standardized test which is needed in order for one to be considered eligible for application by a post-secondary institution...

 scores. Although community colleges have an open admission policy, students have to take assessment tests before enrolling at the college, due to not all courses being open admission. In California and Minnesota, students who have reached the age of 18 are not required to have completed secondary education; instead, they must simply show an "ability to benefit" from a college's educational program. Under certain circumstances, community colleges will also accept high school students or dropouts.

The open admission policy results in a wide range of students attending community college classes. Students range in age from teenagers in high school
High school
High school is a term used in parts of the English speaking world to describe institutions which provide all or part of secondary education. The term is often incorporated into the name of such institutions....

 taking classes under a concurrent, or dual, enrollment policy (which allows both high school and college credits to be earned simultaneously) to working adults taking classes at night to complete a degree or gain additional skills in their field to students with graduate degrees who enroll to become more employable or to pursue lifelong interests. "Reverse transfers" (or those transferring from a university) constitute one of the fastest growing new community college cohorts.

One threat to enrollment at community colleges is the rapidly increasing popularity of for-profit e-learning and online universities, such as the University of Phoenix
University of Phoenix
The University of Phoenix is a for-profit institution of higher learning. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Apollo Group Inc. which is publicly traded , an S&P 500 corporation based in Phoenix, Arizona...

, which is now the 16th-largest university in the world. Higher education research and consulting firm Eduventures
Eduventures, Inc. is a privately held research and consulting firm that provides data, analysis and consulting to institutions of higher education and the higher education community...

 estimates that 10% of college students will be enrolled in an online degree program by 2008 Many community colleges have supplemented their offerings with online courses to stave off competition from exclusively e-learning schools. For example, Northern Virginia Community College
Northern Virginia Community College
Northern Virginia Community College, often abbreviated NVCC and colloquially as NOVA, comprises several locations in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., and is both the second largest multi-campus community college in the United States and the largest educational institution in the...

's Extended Learning Institute has been offering distance learning courses for thirty-five years. Texas offers the Virtual College of Texas whereby a student at any community college in the state can attend classes from any of the state's 51 community colleges or four Texas State Technical College campuses, paying local tuition plus a VCT fee of around $40.

California has the lowest community college enrollment fees in the nation, currently set at $36 per unit for state residents.

Associate's degree

In study towards an associate's degree
Associate's degree
An associate degree is an undergraduate academic degree awarded by community colleges, junior colleges, technical colleges, and bachelor's degree-granting colleges and universities upon completion of a course of study usually lasting two years...

, a student takes necessary courses needed to earn a degree that will allow for entry into jobs requiring some level of college education but not a full four-year degree. The associate's degree program also allows students who wish to eventually obtain a bachelor's degree
Bachelor's degree
A bachelor's degree is usually an academic degree awarded for an undergraduate course or major that generally lasts for three or four years, but can range anywhere from two to six years depending on the region of the world...

 at a four-year college to complete the necessary "core" requirements to attend the college of their choice. Some states have mandated that the community college's curriculum be structured so as to satisfy "core curriculum" requirements at the state's public universities or private universities.

Many community colleges have arrangements with nearby four-year institutions, where a student obtaining an associate's degree in a field will automatically have his/her classes counted toward the bachelor's degree requirement. For example, a community college associate's degree in hotel and restaurant management, computers or accounting would count toward the four-year school's core requirement for a Business Administration degree. Some have gone one step further by arrangements with a four-year college for the student to obtain the bachelor's degree from the four-year college while taking all the courses via distance learning or other non-traditional modes, thus reducing the number of physical visits to the four-year school.


Certification in an area of training
The term training refers to the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and competencies as a result of the teaching of vocational or practical skills and knowledge that relate to specific useful competencies. It forms the core of apprenticeships and provides the backbone of content at institutes of...

 (such as nursing
Licensed Practical Nurse
Licensed practical nurse is the term used in much of the United States and most Canadian provinces to refer to a nurse who cares for "people who are sick, injured, convalescent, or disabled under the direction of registered nurses and physicians. The term licensed vocational nurses is used in...

, computer repair, allied health, law enforcement
The police is a personification of the state designated to put in practice the enforced law, protect property and reduce civil disorder in civilian matters. Their powers include the legitimized use of force...

, firefighting, or welding
Welding is a fabrication or sculptural process that joins materials, usually metals or thermoplastics, by causing coalescence. This is often done by melting the workpieces and adding a filler material to form a pool of molten material that cools to become a strong joint, with pressure sometimes...

), which require preparation for a state or national examination, or where certification would allow for hiring preference or a higher salary upon entering the workforce. These courses are often geared toward the needs of the local or area business community.

Local services

Services of local interest to members of the community, such as job placement, adult continuing education classes (either for personal achievement or to maintain certification in specialized fields), and developmental classes for children. Some community colleges offer opportunities for high school dropouts to return to school and earn a high school diploma or obtain a GED.

Bachelor's degrees

A growing trend in the United States is for community colleges to begin offering bachelor's degrees. At least fourteen states have authorized them to do so and others are considering the issue.
Many large community colleges, such as Miami-Dade College and St. Petersburg College
St. Petersburg College
St. Petersburg College is a fully accredited post-secondary educational institution located in St. Petersburg, Florida, serving some 65,000 students annually...

, in Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

 have even completely dropped the words "community" or "junior" from their names as they have added bachelor's degree programs in limited fields and have started their evolution into four-year colleges while retaining their local commitments. Even some smaller community colleges, such as Northern New Mexico College
Northern New Mexico College
Northern New Mexico College, formerly known as Northern New Mexico Community College, is a two-year and four-year degree granting institution with campuses in Española and El Rito, New Mexico...

 in Española, New Mexico
Española, New Mexico
Española also known as Espanola , is a city primarily in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, in the United States. A portion of the central and eastern section of the city is in Santa Fe County. Española was founded in 1880 as a railroad village, incorporated as a city in 1925. The city is situated in...

, have dropped community from their names and now offer six or more bachelor's degrees. Others such as Manatee Community College
Manatee Community College
State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, formerly known as Manatee Community College, is a Florida state college with campuses in Bradenton, Venice and Lakewood Ranch...

, in Florida, have chosen not to go beyond the associate's degree. In more rural communities, community colleges may host branches of the local state university, and community colleges with specialized programs may offer four year degrees in conjunction with other schools, some miles away. For instance, Southern Illinois University
Southern Illinois University
Southern Illinois University is a state university system based in Carbondale, Illinois, in the Southern Illinois region of the state, with multiple campuses...

 offers aviation management bachelor's degrees at Mt. San Antonio College
Mt. San Antonio College
Mt. San Antonio College is a community college located in the Los Angeles suburb of Walnut, California, 2.12 miles west of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona ....

 and Palomar College
Palomar College
Palomar College is a community college with one campus and six education sites in San Diego County, California. The main campus is located in San Marcos, while the six education sites are located elsewhere throughout north San Diego County. The largest of these is the education center located in...

 in Southern California.

Advantages of community colleges

  • Community colleges are often geared toward local students and local needs. Students who could not afford campus or off-site housing at a four-year college, or for other reasons cannot relocate, can attend courses while staying in their local community (though some colleges do offer student housing). Also, community colleges can work with local businesses to develop customized training geared toward local needs, whereas a four-year institution generally focuses on state-wide or national needs. Some community colleges have "concurrent enrollment" programs, allowing local high school students to "jump start" their college career by taking classes at the community college that count both toward their high school diploma and as college credit (mainly in core areas such as history
    History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

     and political science
    Political science
    Political Science is a social science discipline concerned with the study of the state, government and politics. Aristotle defined it as the study of the state. It deals extensively with the theory and practice of politics, and the analysis of political systems and political behavior...

    ). Policies and classes offered vary with different agreements existing between the community college and high schools.
  • Many top-ranking high school students complete their associate's degree prior to high school graduation through participation in Post Secondary Enrollment Option programs available in several states including Minnesota, Iowa, and Ohio. The student's local high school must pay the tuition, fees, and textbook charges for the student. The student (and family) pays little or nothing for the semesters of education while earning an associate's degree.
  • The "open enrollment" policy benefits students who would not qualify for enrollment in a traditional university (such as those with mediocre high school academic records or who did not graduate from high school and later obtained a GED
    General Educational Development tests are a group of five subject tests which, when passed, certify that the taker has American or Canadian high school-level academic skills...

    ), students who recognized the benefits of college education relatively late in life, and students whose personal obligations or limited financial resources prevented them from attending college on the traditional schedule.
  • In North America, tuition and fees are substantially lower than those of traditional four-year public or private institutions. Students from low-income families, those having to work to pay for their education, or those simply wishing to reduce the total cost of a planned four year education benefit from the reduced costs. In addition, many colleges offer and accept scholarships or educational grants.
  • Fewer community colleges each year have little or no time limits during which classes must be taken or a degree must be earned. Increasingly, colleges do not allow some classes taken more than seven (or so) years earlier to count towards an associate degree; this is an effort to ensure accuracy of time-sensitive 'knowledge.' Similarly, many four-year schools, tired of "professional student
    Professional student
    The term Professional student has two uses in the university setting:*In the United States and Canada, if not elsewhere, a professional student is a student majoring in what are considered the professional degrees. These include Veterinary Medicine , Law , Medicine , Engineering, Business...

    s" taking up limited space, have imposed limits on when a degree can be earned. Thus, students who cannot take a full-time load for whatever reason (family, job, etc.), are under less pressure to complete courses in a limited time frame at community colleges
  • Four-year colleges often give priority to students transferring from community colleges, citing their demonstrated preparedness for junior and senior college-level work. Students who may not have been able to attend a particular college after high school (whether for academic, financial, or personal reasons) may now be able to attend the college of their choice. Several states have regulations requiring the associate's degree in a particular field to be automatically credited towards the core curriculum for a four-year degree at another state university or private university.
  • Community college professors are solely dedicated to teaching, and classes are generally small, about the size of a standard high school class. In comparison, a four-year college course may be taught to 300+ students by a teaching assistant, while the professor is concentrating on research. Outside of those teaching in the technical and vocational fields, most instructors at community colleges have master's degree
    Master's degree
    A master's is an academic degree granted to individuals who have undergone study demonstrating a mastery or high-order overview of a specific field of study or area of professional practice...

    s and many hold doctoral
    A doctorate is an academic degree or professional degree that in most countries refers to a class of degrees which qualify the holder to teach in a specific field, A doctorate is an academic degree or professional degree that in most countries refers to a class of degrees which qualify the holder...

     degrees. In addition, community college professors can help students achieve their goals, work more closely with them, and offer them support, while at a four-year college, a professor's primary mission is to conduct academic research, with most of their remaining attention focused on mentoring graduate students.
  • A number of community colleges have athletic programs; certain colleges also serve as incubators for college athletes, particularly in basketball
    Basketball is a team sport in which two teams of five players try to score points by throwing or "shooting" a ball through the top of a basketball hoop while following a set of rules...

     and football
    College football
    College football refers to American football played by teams of student athletes fielded by American universities, colleges, and military academies, or Canadian football played by teams of student athletes fielded by Canadian universities...

    . A talented player who would not meet the academic or athletic standards of a major college program may be able to play for two years in junior college, establishing an academic record in the process, and then transfer to the major college. In addition, many baseball
    Baseball is a bat-and-ball sport played between two teams of nine players each. The aim is to score runs by hitting a thrown ball with a bat and touching a series of four bases arranged at the corners of a ninety-foot diamond...

     players at community colleges have gone to play for major colleges and/or the major leagues. Others offer no athletic programs.
  • Research shows that there is no learning or income penalty for individuals who start at a community college and transfer to a four-year institution. Additionally, research indicates that students who begin their higher education career at a community college are more likely to transfer to a higher quality four-year institution than if they had started at a four-year college.
  • Holders of a two-year associates degree have more immediate earning potential than students with >2 years of higher education but did not earn a degree.

Disadvantages of community colleges

  • Transferring credits
    Credit (education)
    A course credit is a unit that gives weighting to the value, level or time requirements of an academic course taken at a school or other educational institution.- United States :...

     can sometimes be a problem, as each four-year college has its own requirements for enrollment. However, many four-year colleges (usually near the community college) have made arrangements, known as articulation agreements, allowing associate degrees to qualify for transfer, some cases allowing the student to complete the bachelor's degree via distance learning from the community college campus. Some states have passed rules whereby certain associate's degrees in a field will automatically transfer to state universities as the core curriculum for specified bachelor's degrees. Minnesota
    Minnesota is a U.S. state located in the Midwestern United States. The twelfth largest state of the U.S., it is the twenty-first most populous, with 5.3 million residents. Minnesota was carved out of the eastern half of the Minnesota Territory and admitted to the Union as the thirty-second state...

     and Oregon have created a statewide "transfer curriculum" allowing credits to be transferred to any other public university and almost all of the private colleges. The North Carolina system has a similar agreement, whereby specific courses are designated for mandatory transfer credit to all statewide public four-year institutions. Illinois's I-transfer program program aids students in transferring credits across the state. California has a system known as Assist, which labels course equivalencies between all California Community Colleges and California public four-year colleges. In Arizona, the completion of the Arizona General Education Curriculum, or AGEC, at any Arizona community college guarantees residents of Arizona admission to any public university in the state of Arizona.
  • It is frequent for many courses to be taught by part-time lecturer
    Lecturer is an academic rank. In the United Kingdom, lecturer is a position at a university or similar institution, often held by academics in their early career stages, who lead research groups and supervise research students, as well as teach...

    s holding a master's degree (or bachelor's degree) in the field. Research conducted by the University of Washington's Labor Center suggests that community colleges' reliance on part-time (adjunct) faculty results in lower graduation rates than colleges with a full-time workforce . According to federal statistics, 42% of public community college freshmen take remedial courses, and further studies show that 79% of remedial courses are taught by part-time faculty.
  • Many community colleges lack on-campus housing (most common in urban area
    Urban area
    An urban area is characterized by higher population density and vast human features in comparison to areas surrounding it. Urban areas may be cities, towns or conurbations, but the term is not commonly extended to rural settlements such as villages and hamlets.Urban areas are created and further...

     colleges; rural area colleges are more likely to offer such housing due to the overall lack of housing in such areas). This creates so-called 'commuter campuses', in which nearly all students commute to class only, with the campus completely deserted during off-hours. This makes participation in group collaboration exercises and study groups difficult to coordinate, and extracurricular activities suffer as well. In turn, the social benefits of college are essentially lost, which can adversely affect future professional employment opportunities.
  • Research shows that individuals with Associate's degrees earn less than those with Bachelor's degrees.
  • Community colleges typically have smaller libraries than universities, possibly reducing the research opportunities of their students (though libraries may be part of an interlibrary loan agreement with other libraries at universities, or community college students may be eligible for privileges at a local university library). Additionally, online academic database subscriptions are widely made available to community college students, which diminishes the disadvantages of the smaller physical circulation capacity of the library itself.
  • Community colleges might have fewer sections available for students to enroll. For example, there might be only one section in higher physics while a four-year college might have four or five sections of its equivalent. Some equivalent lower-division classes required for the major may not be offered.
  • There is a historic connotation that community colleges are often considered the schools of last resort, because of their open-admissions policies, which may reflect poorly upon students who were unable to receive admission to a college offering a wider variety of degree programs. Their open-admissions policies have been the subject of sarcastic humor in popular media. However, films such as Rudy
    Rudy (film)
    Rudy is a 1993 American sports film directed by David Anspaugh. It is an account of the life of Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger, who harbored dreams of playing football at the University of Notre Dame despite significant obstacles...

     have portrayed junior colleges in a positive light.
  • Many community colleges engage in various Cooling Out
    Cooling Out
    Cooling Out is a technique composed of an informal set of practices used by colleges, especially two-year, junior, and community colleges, to handle students whose lack of academic ability prevents them from achieving the educational goals they have developed for themselves, such as attaining a...


American community college systems

  • Alamo Community College District
    Alamo Community College District
    The Alamo Community College District is a community college system serving the greater San Antonio, Texas area. ACCD consists of five colleges which operate with a high degree of autonomy: San Antonio College, St. Philip's College, Palo Alto College, Northwest Vista College, and Northeast...

  • California Community Colleges system
    California Community Colleges system
    The California Community Colleges System consists of 112 community colleges in 72 community college districts in the U.S. state of California...

  • Colorado Community College System
    Colorado Community College System
    The Colorado Community College System consists of 14 community colleges across the state of Colorado. Created by legislation in 1967, it serves more than 116,000 students annually...

  • Community College of Baltimore County
    Community College of Baltimore County
    The Community College of Baltimore County is an accredited community college located in Baltimore County, Maryland in the United States with three main campuses and two extension centers.- Programs and enrollment :...

    , Maryland
  • Houston Community College System
    Houston Community College System
    Houston Community College System is a community college system that operates community colleges in Houston, Missouri City, and Stafford in Texas....

    , Houston, Texas
  • Maricopa Community College District, Maricopa County, Arizona
  • San Jacinto College
    San Jacinto College
    San Jacinto College is a community college in the Greater Houston area in the U.S. state of Texas. Established in 1961, San Jacinto College originally consisted of the areas of Channelview ISD, Deer Park ISD, Galena Park ISD, La Porte ISD, and Pasadena ISD. The College now also serves Sheldon ISD,...

    , Pasadena, Texas
  • Illinois Community College System
    Illinois Community College System
    The Illinois Community College System consists of 39 public community college districts, composed of 48 community colleges and one multi-college center where 3 of the community colleges offer additional classes...

  • Ivy Tech Community College, Indiana Community College System
  • North Carolina Community College System
    North Carolina Community College System
    The North Carolina Community College System is a statewide network of fifty-eight public community colleges. Each college has a distinct governance system and policies. In total, the system enrolls over 800,000 students, and is the third largest community college system in the nation...

  • St. Louis Community College system
    St. Louis Community College
    St. Louis Community College is the Missouri two-year college supported by the Junior College District of St. Louis City – St. Louis County. The three original campuses were built simultaneously in 1964: Florissant Valley , Forest Park , and Meramec . A fourth campus, Wildwood opened in August 2007...

  • Washington Community and Technical Colleges
    Washington Community and Technical Colleges
    The Washington Community and Technical Colleges system consists of 34 public, two-year institutions of higher education which specialize in vocational, technical, worker retraining, and university transfer programs...

    , Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges
  • Wisconsin Technical College System
    Wisconsin Technical College System
    Wisconsin Technical College System is a group of 16 technical colleges in Wisconsin.-History:The Wisconsin Legislature passed laws in 1911 requiring cities with a population of 5000 or more to set up trade schools, and a school board to control them...

  • Kentucky Community and Technical College System
    Kentucky Community and Technical College System
    Headquartered in Versailles, Kentucky, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System comprises 16 colleges with over 68 campuses. Programs offered include associate degrees, pre-baccalaureate education to transfer to a public 4-year institution; adult education, continuing and developmental...

  • Virginia Community College System
    Virginia Community College System
    The Virginia Community College System oversees a network of 23 community colleges in Virginia, which serve residents of Virginia and provide 2-year degrees and various specialty training and certifications. In 2006, the Virginia Community College System's annual enrollment rate topped 233,00...

  • South Carolina Technical College System
    South Carolina Technical College System
    The South Carolina Technical College System is a statewide network of 16 technical colleges in South Carolina. It also includes the Center for Accelerated Technology Training, or CATT. The System is run by the SC State Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education. It provides learning...

  • Technical College System of Georgia
    Technical College System of Georgia
    The Technical College System of Georgia , formerly known as the Department of Technical and Adult Education , is the body which supervises the U.S...

  • Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System
    Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System
    The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System comprises 31 colleges and universities, including 24 two-year colleges and seven state universities...

  • Florida College System
  • List of community colleges in the USA

External links