The promise and pitfalls of community colleges
I’ve always admired people who go to community college as a part of their postsecondary education, in part because I don’t know if I could have done it. To me, the college experience is about much more than going to class. It’s about student clubs, intramural sports, frisbee on the quad, football Saturdays, rushing the court after a big basketball victory, huge house parties on the weekend, and 2am meals at the greasy spoon diners around campus. So the idea of going to community college, where most of these things don’t exist and where the focus is squarely on school, does not seem too attractive to me. I seriously question if I would have had the drive or focus to get through that experience successfully.
For that reason, and because I know friends and family members who have gone to community colleges in a number of states, for a variety of purposes, and with both positive and negative experiences, I was happy to finally watch Discounted Dreams, a 2007 documentary about community colleges (available through Netflix). Through interviews with community college teachers, in-depth profiles of four community college students, and commentary from others in the world of higher education, the film gives a comprehensive look at this large and important piece of our nation’s education system. A big chunk of the film looks at the challenges facing community colleges and their students, including funding, enrollment and graduation, remedial coursework, and quality of teaching. Among the things I learned while watching:
– There are 1,200 community colleges in the United States, and they enroll approximately 12 million students (half of all undergraduates in the country).
– Half of all community college students work full time, and one third have families.
– Community colleges train 60% of our country’s nurses.
– Half of the students who attend community colleges never graduate, and two thirds of those who hope to transfer to a four-year college or university don’t end up doing so.
If you have an hour to spare, I highly recommend watching this well-produced documentary. For more information, visit the Discounted Dreams web site and watch the film’s trailer below.