What Community College Leaders Think…

Over the summer of 2010, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview community college presidents, provosts, vice presidents and deans, to better understand the challenges and opportunities that these institutions face as they navigate through these historically tough economic times. Over the course of the next several blogs, I’ll share some common themes that came up consistently during these enlightening conversations: 

Changing Perception: Community colleges have long been in the shadow of their 4 year counterparts. In President Obama’s words, expressed during a speech at the October, 2010 White House Summit on Community Colleges, “they are the unsung heroes of our American education system.” There is a tremendous opportunity in this pivotal time in the history of these colleges to change their perception from being a lesser educational experience to being the college of choice and a first step in a high quality education. Community colleges are literally reinventing themselves by developing higher caliber, student-focused service capabilities. They are expanding their reach as a result of growing their distance learning programs, and offering stronger, transferrable, and more varied curricula. 

How can we as designers make a difference at community colleges? I believe that the answer lies in listening to and collaborating with students, faculty, and administrators to create flexible, high quality learning environments that can impact student behaviors in a positive and meaningful way. Creating spaces that promote academic excellence, that reinforce the student-focused mission and values of these colleges, and that provide a forum for a rich educational, social and cultural experience, are just some of the strategies that we can employ to support the change in perception. By altering perceptions, community colleges are moving away from the “13th Grade” and toward their becoming the college of choice among future students…