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Breaking the Access Barriers: A Profile of Two-Year Colleges


by Michael Brick - 1972

The community junior college is not a monolithic movement but, rather, a series of highly diverse two-year institutions populated by heterogeneous groups of students and faculty. To mention just a few of the variables, the institutions may be large, medium sized, or small; county controlled, church affiliated, or independent; focused upon a single curriculum or offering a veritable potpouiri of curricula; fifty-years-old or opened last week. Similarly, the students may be young or old; vocationally oriented, set upon transferring to a four-year institution, or only interested in self-improvement; well-to-do or frankly poor; WASP or Black. In fact, a community college student may be practically anyone at all. Faculty also show similar diversity. Some have Ph.D.'s, some no college degree at all; some come from teaching at four-year institutions, some from industry; most are committed to an idea of egalitarian education, but others think that the community college is diluting the standards of American higher education. While diverse, these institutions, students, and faculty do hold numerous traits in... (preview truncated at 150 words.)

The community junior college is not a monolithic movement but, rather, a series of highly diverse two-year institutions populated by heterogeneous groups of students and faculty. To mention just a few of the variables, the institutions may be large, medium sized, or small; county controlled, church affiliated, or independent; focused upon a single curriculum or offering a veritable potpouiri of curricula; fifty-years-old or opened last week. Similarly, the students may be young or old; vocationally oriented, set upon transferring to a four-year institution, or only interested in self-improvement; well-to-do or frankly poor; WASP or Black. In fact, a community college student may be practically anyone at all. Faculty also show similar diversity. Some have Ph.D.'s, some no college degree at all; some come from teaching at four-year institutions, some from industry; most are committed to an idea of egalitarian education, but others think that the community college is diluting the standards of American higher education.

While diverse, these institutions, students, and faculty do hold numerous traits in common. They are all, for example, part of the fastest growing segment of American higher education (1,050 institutions now, approximately 1,350 by 1980). Not one has enough time or money to do what it is expected to do, and almost all are more than a little uncertain as to what exactly a community college is.

Leland Medsker and Dale Tillery have devoted most of their Breaking the Access Barriers to constructing the profile of two-year colleges grossly generalized above. Presenting a tremendous amount of basic information, the authors, on a number of scales, examine the conglomerate of American two-year post-secondary institutions. The research reported is plentiful, specific, and, departing from an honored tradition, clear, concise, and readable.

Medsker and Tillery generally are careful to separate the research findings from their opinions. Thus throughout most of the book the reader has the opportunity and obligation to draw his own conclusions about the material presented. However, this does not mean that the authors simply offer a mass of evidence without giving the reader any guidelines. Indeed, they do just the opposite, for they carefully structure each section of their book into an articulate whole which neatly delineates the issues raised by the data. Moreover, they do not hesitate to offer keen prognostications about the future.

But it is not until the final chapter of their book that Medsker and Tillery fully submit their conclusions and recommendations about the major issues in which two-year colleges are involved. In this matter, they are quite specific, offering seven clearly worded recommendations ranging from "the junior colleges ... should reassess their goals and the means of attaining them" to "there should be a nationwide drive to prepare and develop faculty and administrators for the junior colleges."

It is interesting to note that both the assets and the deficits of Medsker and Tillery's work are neatly characterized by their recommendations. The assets can be seen in the authors' ability to read the future consequences of contemporary research and to turn their genuinely humane concerns into specific, pragmatic, and valuable ways of making improvements in what now exists.

On the other hand, it is somewhat unfortunate that the authors seem concerned only with adjusting the present educational system. They are willing and anxious to change spark plugs, modify the carburator, and add a new high octane fuel, but they do not seem willing to con- sider the possibility that the system needs more than overhauling and modifications; that perhaps the basic engine itself has to be redesigned. Thus the issue of genuine alternatives to the two-year college is never discussed in the section on recommendations, and by not doing so, the authors avoid confrontation with one of the most prevalent ideas on the "cutting edge" of American education, and merely allude to the issue that if two-year colleges do not meet the needs of the people they are meant to serve, new agencies will be created to do the job.

In summary, Breaking the Access Barriers provides a well documented profile of America's two-year colleges which examines their contribution to society, identifies their major problems, comments on their probable future, and makes valid recommendations for their improvement. In these tasks the authors have been thoroughly competent and have shown keen insight. Indeed, they have provided for all concerned with two-year colleges a basic research document of enormous value. If there are any faults with the publication, they most certainly lie in the fact that perhaps the authors too narrowly delineated the parameters of the issues about which they wrote.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 73 Number 3, 1972, p. 460-462
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1625, Date Accessed: 1/28/2022 11:12:11 PM

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