Community colleges come of age

After decades as the unsung workhorses of higher education, community colleges are finally getting some respect.


“In the past, we almost had to apologize for being a community college,” said Richard Carpenter, chancellor of Lone Star College. “The conversation has definitely shifted.”

Today the conversation will be at Lone Star’s University Park campus in northwest Harris County, as the school hosts one of four community college regional summits for the U.S. Department of Education.

They follow President Barack Obama‘s call for the U.S. to have the highest percentage of college graduates in the world by 2020 and a White House summit on community colleges held last fall.

Today’s meeting will draw educators, business leaders and people from philanthropic foundations, with a central focus on helping community college students transfer to a four-year school.

Advanced degrees

Lone Star has tackled that, in part, with campuses in The Woodlands and just south of Tomball that offer degree programs from several four-year institutions, making a bachelor’s or master’s degree possible for people who can’t travel to a traditional university campus.

But other topics are also on the agenda. Teri Fowle, associate vice chancellor for marketing at San Jacinto College, said she’ll be looking for news on how budget talks in Washington D.C. might affect the federal grants her college has received for its job training programs.

A “virtual summit” set for April 25 will share findings from all four community college meetings. The first was held last month in Philadelphia; the others are set for Indianapolis and San Diego.

“We’ve sort of come of age,” Carpenter said of community colleges. “These are challenging times, but certainly fun in that we’re commanding more respect than we have in the past.”

Frank Chong, the Department of Education’s deputy assistant secretary for community colleges, said the summits are intended to help colleges share ideas in key areas: developmental education, financial aid, transfer policies and working with employers to tailor workplace training programs.

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March 9th, 2011

Staff Reporter

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