Conversations with the Cabinet of the SCM: the raison d’être of the community college in a changing university landscape

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Larisa J. Pfeiffer
Larisa J. Pfeiffer

LA PLATA, Md. – In 1901, the nation’s first two-year college, Joliet Junior College, was established as part of a shared vision to create a pathway to higher education for all citizens, which set it apart from more patriarchal institutions. elitists designed only for the upper class.

In order to create a higher education space for all, community colleges have been founded on the fundamental belief that higher education should be accessible to all citizens, regardless of geography and socio-economic status, and just as ‘it should be affordable, so that learning remains within everyone’s reach to create upward mobility. The tenants of access, affordability, and quality remain in place today: a true American college.

The constant commitment to uplifting our humanity is the result of training the mind to think. Learning intentionally for the good of ourselves and our communities is a uniquely human endeavour. I discovered this as a community college student myself; I learned more in my first 60 credits about the world around me and about myself than I learned through my now advanced degrees. An associate degree teaches you a little about a lot of things; it is a kaleidoscope of knowledge that we then recognize as a gift. We learn a lot about who we are as humans, students and citizens during these early learning years of higher education, provided we are in the right environment.

However, in this writer’s view, our federal government’s efforts to develop an educated citizenry by flooding the market with easy-to-obtain loans has inherently and insidiously changed the business model of higher education, away from the rigorous learning to head for the football stadiums. Marketing social experiences became the new focus needed to attract tuition, and student debt soared. We have now entered a space where a college degree is the new norm, and yet employers fail to see the correlation between abilities when it comes to student debt.

In the face of controversy around the value of a degree, I support individual, community, and state return on investment in community colleges. I witness daily the commitment to academic guidance and dedicated professional support provided to each student. The associate degree is so popular that locally, some high-demand careers requiring a bachelor’s degree are now offered at two-year institutions. Take a moment and think about this dichotomy.

A community college’s mission defines its purpose by the students it serves and what it sets out to accomplish. Leaders and educators who dedicate their professional careers to this endeavor understand that there is a moral obligation to ensure that community colleges remain in place; that we need to create an affordable, quality educational opportunity for all to enter the middle class and beyond. We don’t have Greek life or football stadiums, but we create space for social justice and safety to discover individual abilities and interests while developing the ability to think critically and be knowledgeable , fulfilling the expectations of Juliet Junior College all those years ago.

By Larisa J. Pfeiffer

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