Media turn attention to community colleges

Amardeep Kahlon (center) of Austin Community College in Texas outlines the benefits of competency-based education during a session at the Education Writers Association national institute. (Photos: Matthew Dembicki)

BALTIMORE — It wasn’t that long ago that community colleges didn’t muster much media coverage.

That all has changed, beginning with former President Obama’s focus on community colleges when he launched a $1.9 billion training effort that tapped community colleges to prepare workers for emerging jobs and, hopefully, to kick start the economy during the recession. The Trump administration has continued to keep community colleges in the spotlight, frequently mentioning them as high-quality, less-expensive alternatives to four-year colleges, as well as hubs to prepare students for careers in the trade and technical fields.

At the same time, foundations have funded education reforms at community colleges, while federal, state and local policymakers have touted the flexibility and value of community colleges. And there’s also the variety of free-tuition initiatives across the country that are designed to encourage more students to earn a postsecondary credential.

That kind of exposure draws the attention of media. The Education Writers Association national institute is a good example of that. I expected perhaps one session at the meeting might have a deeper dive into community colleges, or maybe there might be a community college representative on a panel. I was wrong. The number of sessions at the conference and the number of speakers who mentioned community colleges was surprising.

Here’s a brief list:

The opening plenary at the EWA meeting featured a panel with Donna Linderman, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at City University of New York. She oversees the much-touted Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), which has inspired many community colleges to explore offering more wraparound services to help students succeed.

The session titled ”Killing remediation before it kills college dreams” focused exclusively on efforts in California to eliminate remedial education at community colleges. Katie Hern, an English instructor at Chabot College and executive director of the California Acceleration Project, gave a powerful presentation on how community colleges are transforming remediation. She even involved journalists attending the session in an exercise that illustrated the benefits of using co-requisite programs, which embed elements of development education into college-bearing courses. That inspired questions about cost, challenges and more.

Hern also shared copies of her newsletter The CAPacity Gazette, which includes articles on the developmental education reform efforts in California.

Katie Hern, founder and executive director of the California Acceleration Project, chats with a journalist following her session.

Another session examined how colleges are rethinking baccalaureates. Amardeep Kahlon, a computer studies professor at Austin Community College (Texas), detailed how some Texas community colleges are successfully using competency-based education to streamline the time and cost of attaining a credential.

Later, a panel on alternatives to college degrees looked at badging and micro-crendentials, and featured Van Ton-Quinlivan, who for nearly eight years focused on workforce development at the California community college system.

Even a panel discussing how to use databases garnered a community college angle. Several reporters asked about which databases they should use to gauge how well community colleges are serving their students. (It was good to hear that education reporters generally know that using a two- or three-year window to monitor students’ progress and success doesn’t capture their accomplishments as well as a six-year window.)

In addition, a few recently named EWA Fellows have projects focusing on community colleges. Cory McCoy of the Tyler Morning Telegraph (Texas) is writing a series on the results of Tyler Junior College’s Rusk Program, a promise scholarship initiative. Kate McGee of WBEZ is examining developmental education in the City Colleges of Chicago system. And Kim Kozlowski of the Detroit News is looking at the effectiveness of the Detroit Promise Path, which serves five area community colleges.

Overall, education journalists across the country have indeed taken notice of community colleges. And our nation’s two-year colleges have plenty of stories to offer them.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.