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Community College Problems

by Ralph R. Fields & Arthur H. Pike - 1950

Community college administrators are at present facing more than their share of professional problems. They have to meet practically the same ones that all other school administrators encounter and, in addition, the peculiar problems that ensue when established junior colleges assume the role of "community colleges."

COMMUNITY college administrators are at present facing more than their share of professional problems.1 They have to meet practically the same ones that all other school administrators encounter and, in addition, the peculiar problems that ensue when established junior colleges assume the role of "community colleges."

Small wonder, then, that when a representative of Teachers College staff proposed that the College sponsor a three-day conference to consider a few of the most perplexing problems, the idea was enthusiastically endorsed by the Curriculum Committee of the American Junior College Association, and subsequently by the Board of Directors. Equally enthusiastic were the Teachers College staff members who were asked to serve on a planning committee for such a work conference. After studying the suggestions of the Association members and the Teachers College staff, three problem areas were finally selected:

1. To define the work of community college administrators.

2. To define the work of the community college instructor, and the preparation needed.

3. To share experiences in organizing and directing community college workshops.

Letters of invitation were issued, and a conference of 85 registered participants was held from March 30 to April 1, inclusive.

The participants were organized into three groups, each concentrating on one of the problem areas. There follows a brief summary of the results of the conference, as prepared from the records of the three work groups. At least this significance can be attributed to the summary: it represents the thinking of a group of 34 administrators and 14 instructors in junior colleges, meeting in conference with 27 Teachers College staff members, 1 board president, 5 representatives of state departments, and 4 full-time graduate students.2

In an effort to focus the attention of the three work groups somewhat more quickly on basic issues, a pre-conference Guide3 was prepared. Without any attempt to indicate answers, some of the issues germane to each of the three problems were listed, and the related research was reviewed. It was rather uniformly reported that the guide proved valuable to each group as it set to work on its two-pronged attack: (1) to help each participant gain a better working understanding of the problem, and (2) to describe more accurately the ways in which the university should serve.


The community college is an important and emerging reality, here to stay. This lusty youngster has upset peaceful patterns and given its parents longer working days and some sleepless nights. The determination of administrators of community colleges to furnish education geared to community needs has relegated some of the traditional administrative problems to the background. New administrative problems challenge community college heads in the areas of developing instructional programs, student personnel administration, and perfecting types of organization suited to community emphasis in their institutions.

Development of programs. The community college administrator is responsible for the development of a new kind of terminal education program for students who do not intend to transfer to senior colleges. This program necessitates a continuous survey and appraisal of community needs. Keeping in contact with community needs is simplified by securing the participation and interest of the whole community in the work of the college. Upon the administrator's shoulders falls the responsibility for developing methods of public relations to secure the cooperation of citizens in planning and adjusting the terminal education program.

Once established, the program of instruction requires continuous supervision and frequent revision. In some community colleges, this job has been delegated to a full-time director, who determines changing community needs and job trends, evaluates the results of the program, and keeps in touch with graduates of the courses. The job of maintaining close liaison between all those in charge of the program and all those affected in any way by it remains a major duty of the community college head.

Terminal students have demanded a new type of general education. Planning for these offerings is a second area of concern to the administrator. Vocational education and general education have to be planned as complementary phases of a total program to educate the whole student, and the administrator must help his staff develop this philosophy. Where departmentalization of staff results in antagonism to the general education program, the administrator has to help his staff to develop better organization patterns using democratic procedures. As he plans a new type of general education, he also has to face and resist external pressures from vocational and professional groups, and from the universities.

A third problem confronting the administrator is that of developing a program for students who intend to transfer to the senior college. University officials, particularly admissions officers, must be led to consider the community college program on the basis of its own value, rather than on an "equivalent course" basis.

Adequate communication channels between the community college and the university are necessary if upper division officials are to be convinced that such entrance requirements as general scholastic average and maturity should supplant more traditional transfer requirements.

The extension of adult education into the community college requires that the administrator select directors, advertise programs, plan course offerings, and arrange for funds. Recognizing the need for more popular and accessible adult education, some administrators have taken the lead in coordinating all adult education in the community.

In providing education for adults, administrators face problems arising from traditional methods of teaching, lack of flexibility and overfatigue of the staff, and inappropriate textbooks.

Some of the new problems facing community college heads result from the fact that students attending the community college are different from either senior college or high school students. A different type of program is necessary to meet their unique needs. The job of the administrator is to help his staff develop a philosophy stressing the education of the whole student and providing opportunity for guidance to become an integral part of the curriculum. He is responsible for enlisting the support and interest of his staff, and for the continuity of a guidance program.

He must see that terminal students are informed of supply and demand in the various vocations and professions. Where parental decisions or aspirations impede effective guidance, the administrator must step in.

The community college head is managing an institution that is essentially regional in character and that must, therefore, meet the needs of the region it serves. The administrator's duty is to ascertain the best type of organization for the area served, by studying such factors as the ability of the community to support thirteenth- and fourteenth-year education, problems of articulation with the high school and the four-year college, transportation problems, and legal provisions. Duplication of existing educational efforts must be avoided. Vested interests and provincial pride must be overcome by a publicity program designed to interpret the college to the whole community.

True educational statesmanship is required when the administrator considers the problems of leading his staff in dynamic instructional improvement. He must have a genuinely honest and objective approach to changing the curriculum in the light of ascertained needs, developmental tasks, and behavior outcomes.

The administrator must provide adequate and appropriate times for discussions concerning improvement of instruction. He must encourage programs of voluntary self-evaluation by the teachers, and must employ new teachers who will not resist justifiable curriculum changes. He needs to utilize every opportunity to sensitize faculty members to the need for curriculum change. Particularly in need of examination are the effects of ability sectioning and arbitrary lock-step programs of different sections.

The administrator also has the job of helping the subject-matter specialists to gain adequate insights into the task of educating the whole individual.

Finally, the administrator should depart from traditional budget preparation methods, and work with his teachers and department chairmen in the preparation of the budget and its justification in the light of community needs. Through membership in state or local professional organizations, the administrator will be in a position to influence appropriate support laws.

To deal with these problems the community college head needs vision, versatility, industry, intelligence, training, firmness, and courtesy in order to guide the destiny of his young college. He must have high ideals of service and must be essentially a community person, interested and active in the solution of community problems.

The university program for administrative personnel. From the description of the job of the community college head, teacher-preparing institutions should be able to draw conclusions as to important elements for inclusion in their programs. Of course, specific programs for specific universities must depend upon conditions peculiar to that institution. But as a basis for any program designed to prepare community college administrative personnel, the above detailed description should prove of value.


The American Association of Junior Colleges reports that there are now 651 junior colleges in the United States, employing 20,868 instructors. There is every indication that the remarkable growth which this figure represents will continue. It has been estimated that in the next decade there will be need for at least "30,000 additional well-trained instructors for community colleges."4

It is the phrase "well-trained" that disturbs those in teacher-preparing institutions and causes them to ask whether the programs of study now offered are adequate preparation for the community college teaching job.

Differences between community college teaching and other teaching. A basic consideration in planning any program is whether or not there exist real enough differences between the community college teaching job and the high school or senior college job to justify courses specifically designed for the preparation of community college instructors. From a knowledge of differences, important elements in the teacher-preparing program can be planned.

The community college instructor deals with students who are more mature than high school students, able to do more work, more skeptical, and more intellectually curious. In this transition stage to adulthood, the students want to be treated like real adults, but sometimes behave like adolescents. They suffer from the confusing problems and insecurities of youth adjusting to adult responsibilities of job and family.

In the high school, the student is probably closely supervised in the classroom and in extraclass social activities, whereas in the senior college he is practically on his own. In the community college, the student must be allowed freedom to develop resourcefulness and independence, yet the needed guidance must be readily available.

The community college student is probably more intensely motivated by his immediate job prospects than the high school or the senior college student. The concern may be in preparing for a specific vocation for some; it may be exploratory for others. The proximity of adult responsibilities makes it necessary for the student to choose the practical and immediately useful vocation. The community college teacher must employ teaching techniques that meet the different motivations of the students, and must adapt course content and his own knowledge to the student's needs.

Community college students are not likely to be so heterogeneous as high school students, yet they will be more so than senior college students. This implies teaching of a different sort from that in either the high school or the senior college.

The community college instructor is likely to find himself in closer contact with his community than other college teachers or high school teachers. The high school teacher's contacts will be more often with parents; the senior college instructor is frequently aloof from his community. The community college instructor cannot follow either of these patterns. Because of the approaching adulthood of his students, his contacts with parents are less intimate than in the high school situation, but because of his obligation to his terminal students for job preparation and placement, he must be in closer contact with the community than the senior college instructor need be.

The heavy emphasis upon general education in an integrated program causes community college teachers to feel the necessity of being in close touch with the teaching and syllabi of their colleagues. This is probably true, also, because the time available in the community college requires tighter correlation of subject matter.

In order to serve in an integrated program, the instructor must not be overspecialized in his own subject-matter preparation. Of course adequate command of subject matter is necessary, but a broader and different kind of scholarship is required, rather than less scholarship.

The wide range of student population makes it necessary for the community college teacher to possess the flexibility to meet, teach, and understand the extremes of the range of student population. Implied here is the flexibility to teach in several related fields, rather than in a single field.

It may be questioned whether the differences that have been cited between community college teaching and high school or senior college work are absolute. In many cases the differences found to exist are merely with respect to degree of emphasis of a particular attitude or skill at the community college level.

Other problems met by community college instructors. Teacher-preparing institutions have offered little training for junior college teachers. Most present-day community college instructors lack specific preparation for community college work. Administrators identify some common teaching problems as follows:

1. The current pattern of teacher preparation produces teachers whose knowledge is too narrow and specialized for community college purposes. Sometimes administrators find that the teaching is too academic and pedantic, and does not change as the instructor gains an understanding of the job of learning at this level. Generally, administrators find that teachers lack a fundamental understanding of the philosophy and function of the community college, and of the psychology of learning and teaching at the young adult level. Too often, there is a tendency to center on the transfer student, upon whose success the instructor believes his own reputation rests when dealing with institutions of higher learning.

2. The community college instructor spends a considerable portion of his time working with adults, both in the classroom and in the community. Therefore, he needs preparation to help him teach adults and handle community relations.

3. Administrators sometimes have applicants for positions in the community college who indicate that they look upon the job as an experience-gaining opportunity to qualify them for teaching posts in a "real" college, the senior college. This reflects a lack of understanding of the function of the community college.

Responsibility of the teacher-preparing institution. The community college instructor must be interested in students, rather than in research, must understand the psychology of the young adult, must have a broad general education, a community-minded-ness, together with the ability to apply subject matter to the practical interests and concerns of the community college student.

The university has a responsibility to recruit and prepare such individuals at both the pre-service and in-service levels. At the pre-service level, the university should examine the general education background of all students beginning preparation for community college teaching and remedy any deficiencies. The philosophy of the community college movement should permeate many different courses in the program at the pre-service level, and opportunities should be provided not only to study the psychology of the young adult, but also to get acquainted with him in a variety of situations. Realistic experiences in working with community resources and in developing community college curricula should also be provided. An internship in a community college would be an ideal way to obtain such experiences.

The university has a four-point responsibility beyond the pre-service training of community college teachers. It should provide help:

1. In short courses, or workshops, especially for teachers recruited from business and industry, and for others in community college teaching. These should be sponsored not only in the summer, but during the academic year as well.

2. By promoting action research by junior colleges cooperating on their own problems.

3. By promoting action research by junior colleges cooperating with the university.

4. By stimulating and coordinating studies in individual schools, thereby serving as a clearing house for the dissemination of research through a cooperative effort similar to the Metropolitan School Study Council.


The majority of community college instructors have had no special preparation for their positions because universities have not, as yet, offered very many courses in this field. Many instructors have come into teaching directly from industry. The problem of improving instruction under these circumstances is a very real one to administrators. Many of them see in the in-service workshop one promising way to attack this problem.

Function of workshops. Workshops have a variety of functions. There are, however, some common elements in such enterprises. To begin with, a workshop is designed to aid its participants to increase their professional effectiveness. The most commonly used method is to consider problems of practical importance to the participants. This study is carried on "group-wise," with a maximum use of group methods of work, and a minimum use of verbal activity by outside lecturers. The desirable outcome of the workshop is a change in the behavior of each participant in relation to his working situation. The test of the effectiveness is not the traditional written examination, but what each participant does when he gets back to his job.

A workshop may be participated in by representatives of a single college, or it may be organized for the benefit of the representatives of a number of community colleges. These may be from a single locality, a particular state, a region, or the entire nation.

Partly dependent upon the type of participant is the degree to which workshop planning can take place in advance. Workshops with all local participants could be planned as much as a year in advance; a highly heterogeneous workshop, in terms of participants, cannot be planned so far ahead, as it would probably be difficult to identify prospective participants very long before the opening day.

Role of the workshop staff. Some workshops utilize only local personnel as staff members, while others are completely staffed with outside people. If outside staff members are to be employed, it is imperative that they allow the participants to select and work upon their own problems. Staff members should have the skill to relate individual problems to larger areas, or to bring in new ideas, without telling the participants what to do.

The staff must identify in advance the problems that are to serve as the foci for the workshop. As many of the workshop participants as possible should take part in this identification of problems. In choosing the problems, there is room for both the very broad, even philosophical inquiry, "What is the junior college movement all about?" and for very specific problems, such as, "How may instruction in English be improved?"

Staff members should respect individual workshop members and plan so that there will be opportunities for each participant to find a useful role and to make valuable and valued contributions. The staff should be convinced that its major duty is to gain the full participation of every workshop member, providing relevant assistance where needed, and striving to raise sights and widen points of view. Staff members must have unusual resources to offer relating to the areas to be studied in the workshop.

At a final meeting prior to the arrival of the participants, the staff should do the necessary last-minute planning, and make a final check on facilities for work, housing, and recreation.

From the beginning, every effort should be made to establish a good emotional climate. Each participant should feel that he is welcome. There should be a spirit of open-minded inquiry, with no final positions taken at the opening meeting. Workshop members should select a committee to plan for flexibility and modification of plans as time goes on.

The actual conduct of the workshop will depend largely on the variable factors in its organization and make-up that have been mentioned above. Activities that might be engaged in by the participants include small group meetings, general meetings, lectures, individual conferences, individual efforts, and informal discussions among groups of participants and between participants and staff. One of the problems here is to avoid overwork, and a long week end might be planned about the middle of the workshop period.

The chief outcome of the workshop is learning by the individual member which leads to changed behavior in the teaching situation. This is the real test of effectiveness. Many times, though, groups will think it wise to write down what they have accomplished, so that everybody in the workshop can take home a reminder of what was achieved. In any case, the outcomes to be expected must depend largely upon what the group's purposes were originally.

Role of the university. In a field where as many problems are in evidence as in the community college field, the need for in-service workshops is obvious. Universities have the responsibility for contributing as much as possible to make such workshops effective. This responsibility includes in some cases organizing and directing such workshops; in other cases, participating as invited staff members; and in still others, cooperating as workshop members, as in this work conference.

Where the university organizes the workshop, teachers, administrators, guidance personnel, leaders on the national scene, all might be consulted for identification of problems needful of attack through the workshop technique. Universities might develop a year-round series of workshops, perhaps averaging three weeks in length, taking place not only in the summer but during the academic year as well. A problem then arises regarding how to make it possible for the community college to spare an instructor during the academic year to go to the university and participate in a workshop.

One solution would be, where an internship program is operating, to utilize one of the more promising interns. That intern would take over the instructor's classes, releasing him to attend the workshop. The intern would gain valuable experience, the junior college instructor would be able to attend the workshop, and the university would be able to do a better job because it would know the existing problems of teachers directly from their classrooms.

Perhaps the spirit of the work conference could best be described by reporting the group's final recommendation: "that Teachers College sponsor a similar work conference on other community college problems at the earliest appropriate time."

1 Report of a work conference held at Teachers College March 30 and 31 and April 1, 1950.

2 In addition, 19 of the participants were part-time students or engaged in finishing doctoral projects at Teachers College.

3 This guide was prepared by Arthur H. Pike, under the direction of the three group leaders: Karl W. Bigelow, Paul L. Essert, and Ralph R. Fields.

4 American Council on Education, Wanted: 30,000 Instructors. Washington: 1949.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 51 Number 8, 1950, p. 528-536
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 5228, Date Accessed: 10/20/2021 9:07:07 PM

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