tc columbia

Community Colleges in the 21st Century: Challenges and Opportunities

By: Thomas Bailey


Community colleges account for a surprisingly large share of American higher education. Nearly half of all postsecondary undergraduates in fall 1997 were enrolled in community colleges, and over the span of any given year, more for-credit undergraduate students enroll in community colleges than in baccalaureate-granting institutions.

After several decades of growth, community colleges face a particularly challenging environment. Changes in pedagogic and production technology; state funding policy; the expectations of students, parents, and policymakers; demographic trends; and the growth of new types of educational institutions are threatening established patterns of community college activities and altering the role of the colleges within the landscape of higher education.

This book chapter discusses challenges of community colleges, trends leading to enrollment growth, and the controversy over mission expansion, and offers suggestions for policy reform.

This chapter was published in The Knowledge Economy and Postsecondary Education: Report of a Workshop, edited by P. A. Graham and G. S. Stacey (The National Academies Press).

A CCRC brief based on this chapter is also available for download.