The future of higher education: it’s a major issue for policy makers at the state and federal level – and universities are planning for their own futures too, at a time of great uncertainty and significant transition.
What should tomorrow’s colleges and universities look like? How should we be devoting our resources? What should our priorities be? What should be changed, and what should remain the same?
WCHL’s Will Arrington is looking into the future of higher education this year, with perspectives from all sides of the political spectrum. In the ninth part of an ongoing series, he takes a look at community colleges: the role they play, the problems they face, and the opportunities they offer.
Listen to the report.
Dr. David Long is the dean of the University Transfer program at Durham Technical Community College. He says there’s an important distinction in the mission of a community college, as opposed to a four-year university.
“There’s a lot of pressure to do research at [larger universities] and to publish,” he says. “At community colleges, we teach. That’s really the primary mission.”
Long says community college professors teach in a very different environment from a four-year university. Students at larger schools tend to be more homogeneous; at Durham Tech there are people from all sorts of different backgrounds.
“That presents some challenges in the classroom, because you’re teaching to people who are coming at you from such different angles,” he says. “But I think it provides an energy to our classrooms that [our teachers] enjoy…
“The keys to success at a community college are, one, you have to like to teach, and two, you need to enjoy the diverse and complex student environment that we have.”
Long does say there’s been some constraint on the community college system due to growing demand. He says more funding could help there – but more importantly, community colleges need more full-time staff, particularly full-time faculty. Adjuncts play a crucial role too, but Long says full-time faculty can provide more resources to students.
“They have greater accessibility, greater office hours, they’re able to serve as permanent academic advisors, and they’re able to organize really important engagement activities that are crucial to our students,” he says.
Long says he’s also in favor of expanded access to community college – though he doesn’t necessarily support a free community college system.
“There’s a law of unintended consequences,” he says. “Once an idea is tried, it tends to generate some consequences that were unexpected.”
But maybe most importantly, Long says people should remember that those who teach aren’t doing it for the money. And he also says college is still a worthwhile academic and social investment, despite the expense.
“I really do believe that there’s a value to the fact that college gives people this space to think, to examine issues and pursue their interests,” he says. “It’s an incredible gift.”