(Editor’s Note: Susannah Blanchard is an English Instructor at Catawba Valley Community College. Her commentary is in reference to Mr. Trump’s confusion concerning the importance of community colleges. Click here to read the article she is referencing in her commentary.)
It could be that Trump has done a good thing by condescending about community colleges. Too often, community colleges are dismissed as vocational or technical schools or ignored entirely as part of the education paradigm. Many people talk about challenges that students and teachers face in K-12. Many people talk about higher ed issues in terms of university or state college only.
Community colleges are the invisible part of that paradigm.
The demographic community colleges serve is already largely underserved in our society. Many students are first generation college students. Many students aspire to transfer to a university to be the first person in their families to get a four year degree. Many students are returning to school as adults to get job training, change careers, gain professional development.
Much of the student population at community colleges already have spouses and children and full time jobs. They are (or learn to be) masters of juggling priorities, squeezing time to themselves to complete fully online classes, pinching pennies and navigating horrible financial assistance programs to afford class and books and transportation and babysitters and sometimes elder care for their parents.
Our students come to community colleges facing all of those challenges while also dealing with their own insecurities and fears about attending college, about life in general. They have learning disabilities, depression, and PTSD. They get promotions and new jobs and move away. Sometimes they pass away.
The faculty at community colleges are masters in so many ways: masters of their discipline, masters of teaching this demographic, masters of making do with resources available (which sometimes aren’t the best or most cutting edge). We are masters of being overlooked yet continuing to do our jobs and serve our students. Increasingly, community college faculty are required to teach high school classes, a change of demographic that requires slightly different approaches in the classroom while still maintaining the high standards of college courses.
Staff at community colleges must juggle many different state and federal regulations while still maintaining access to enrollment. They, too, make do while serving an underserved student population who come to them for help with enrollment, financial aid, physical and mental health issues, and so on.
This is our community.
So, yes. Let’s have this conversation. Let’s discuss the role of community colleges in the United States.