To What End?
by Terry O’Banion
Inside Higher Ed, August 16, 2010
For more than a century, community colleges have operated under a principle of access—providing a college education to anyone in the community who has the interest. But in the past few years, another plan has emerged. Supported by the federal government and numerous charitable foundations, this new plan, which League for Innovation in the Community College President Emeritus Terry O’Banion calls a “completion agenda,” focuses on student completion of community college above all else. There has never been a community college movement more widely supported, O’Banion says: the completion movement is truly “a tectonic shift.”
But O’Banion, writing in an opinion column in Inside Higher Ed, urges community college leaders to consider the unintended consequences of these calls to increase funding, programming, and assessment for completion. “We must ask the question: To what end?” he writes. He warns of the danger of encouraging students to see the community college certificate or the associate’s degree as the “terminal” degree, rather than adopting a worldview of lifelong learning. And he questions whether a completion agenda can adequately convey the important general education skills that Truman-era Commissioner of Education Earl McGrath called “a common core of knowledge for the common person.” While O’Banion recognizes that the momentum now affecting community college education can leverage change with resources heretofore unknown, he cautions that “there is the danger of a collective momentum to create streamlined pathways to completion by applying the industrial and factory models of education in which a turn-key process moves our students efficiently through the system… the completion agenda may alas prove to be the enemy of reform rather than its champion.”
The entire article may be read online.