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Community College: Explore the Great Equalizer          

Community colleges provide opportunity and affordable access.

Key points

  • The community college equalizes opportunity, access, and cost for everyone eligible to attend.
  • The community college personifies diversity, affordability, and career pathways nationwide and beyond.
  • Community colleges enable people to complete freshman and sophomore years of higher education locally and then transfer.
  • The community college is a uniquely American contribution to higher education.

Whether it is the cost of tuition, diversity, career choice, gender equity, or accessibility, the community college offers it all. Many low-income, minority and special-needs communities require thoughtful outreach, attention, and communication. Given rising inflation and the rapidly changing job world, the community college offers an inspired, nationwide solution for all types of learners. One of the 1,100 exceptional American community colleges is now within driving distance of every adult.

This is a great success story. It needs to be widely repeated.

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Horace Mann 1c Stamp
Source: GoogleImages Public Domaine

Achieving the dream. In the 1800s, Horace Mann, acclaimed father of American public education, opined that “education is the great equalizer.” In 1947, the Truman Commission recommended a national education plan for the future to aid U.S. World War II recovery efforts, while at the same time assisting veterans in becoming upwardly mobile through education.

The story in a nutshell. The Truman Commission recommended that “There should be a college in every community within driving distance of every adult American.” (Quigley, 2003) The leadership of the American Association of Community Colleges was energized by this recommendation. With major financial support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a large part of the ambitious goal was achieved. Today, there are more than 1,100 community colleges networked nationwide. Community colleges offer the high-quality career and occupational programs necessary for our 21st-century workforce. (Cohen, 2014) Offering the first two years of college and university transfer education, community college is a major option in coping with the staggeringly high tuition, access barriers, and opportunities for workforce and/or transfer education that now afflict higher education.

The changing nature of work as we know it. In the future, thousands of jobs will be replaced by advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, driverless vehicles, innovation, technology, and more. New programs include home health care aides, wind turbine service technicians, and information security analysts, among many more. Educated talent is a key driver of our economy.

Who goes to a community college? Interestingly, more than 50 percent of the members of the California legislature attended community colleges. More than 70 percent of returning veterans attend community colleges. Most nurses and many allied health professionals enter the workforce from community college programs. Most first responders, police, and fireman receive their preparation and training in community colleges.

One of the best program examples I found is the 80-percent minority, 50-percent female, Police Orientation Preparation Program (POPP) in Los Angeles. POPP offers an educational ladder from 10 Police Academy Magnet Schools (PAMS), progressing from high school through West Los Angeles or Valley community colleges to earn an AA degree in criminal justice, leading to employment in the LAPD. Many also transition to California State University, Los Angeles, earning a BA degree and more. POPP is the poster program for community-centric education for law enforcement officers.

A tremendous local opportunity standing invisible in plain sight: California, where I live, is taking significant steps to highlight community colleges. The University of California is now giving emphasis to the Transfer Admissions Guarantee (TAG) program. Through the Associate Degree Transfer (ADT) program, California State University is now articulating with community colleges, guaranteeing admission. UCLA, for example, recently announced intention to increase community college efforts, especially in networking and partnering with educational institutions. Similar initiatives are underway in states nationwide

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Yellow Brick Road
Source: Google Image: Public Domaine

Motivated reasoning. As in Dorothy's Land of OZ, community colleges offer a clearly marked “yellow brick road,” leading students to success and a pot-of-gold career—just "over the rainbow."

There are many successful individuals whose community college experience provides a noteworthy example of success. Offering vertical pathways, the growing nationwide P-20 movement benefits everyone from preschool through advanced university degrees. Awareness and information trigger motivated reasoning, and every state is taking steps to inform its citizens about community college opportunities.

UCLA Education Dean Christina (Tina) Christie has announced that UCLA is launching new community college initiatives. Christie explains that "community colleges offer a turnstile that keeps opportunities flowing smoothly via partnerships with preschools through high schools. Upon graduation, individuals make many choices, and P-20, with community college leadership, provides the basis to facilitate important communication and optimize opportunities each step of the way. In providing needed information for students from preschool through university, the P-20 concept is important," she said.

U.S. News and Newsweek each annually publish a list of well-known public figures as community college success stories. Among them are:

· Steve Jobs, De Anza College

· Ross Perot, Texarkana Junior College

· Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman, Los Angeles City College

· Tom Hanks, Chabot College

· Nolan Ryan, Alvin Community College

· George Lucas, Modesto Community College

· Eddie Murphy and Billy Crystal, Nassau Community College

· Arnold Schwarzenegger, Santa Monica College

· Halle Berry, Cuyahoga Community College

· Queen Latifah, Borough of Manhattan Community College

· Debbie Reynolds, Long Beach City College

· Bo Derek, El Camino College

· Walt Disney, Metropolitan Junior College

Colin Powell, City University of New York

· Burt Reynolds, Palm Beach Junior College

· James Dean, Santa Monica College

Repetition of the story is essential. Dale Parnell, iconic past president of the American Association of Community Colleges and my old boss there, used to say, “The cows won’t stay milked.”

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Keep the Cows Milked
Source: Google Images Public Domaine

It is important to repeat the community college story over and over because repetition makes a difference. In memory of Dale Parnell, President Emeritus of AACC, I tell the AACC story whenever it’s appropriate—to help keep the cows milked.

Special thanks. Toni Luskin, Ph.D., for editorial and publishing support. UCLA Dean Christina (Tina) Christie, Ph.D., Arif Amlani, Ph.D., Director, New Initiatives, and Ira Krinsky, Ed.D., Benefactor, POPP, for interviews and insights.

Luskin Learning Psychology Series #63


Cohen, A.M., Brawer, F.B., Kisker, C.B. . (2014). The American Community College (6th ed. Vol. 6). San Francisco Jossey-Bass.

Mann, H. (1840). On the Art of Teaching (1 ed., Vol. 1). Carlisle, MA: Ingrahm Publisher Service. (Reprinted from: 1976).

Quigley, S., Bailey, T.W. (2003). Community College Movement in Perspective, Teachers College Responds to the Truman Commission (1 ed. Vol. 1). Lanham Scarecrow Press, Rowman & Littlefield.

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