The list of community college missions now goes well beyond the core degree-granting programs. Activities include developmental education, adult basic education, English as a second language, education and training for individuals facing serious barriers to employment, customized training for specific companies, preparation of students for industry certification exams, noncredit instruction, and small business development.
This paper first explains why community colleges continue to pursue an organizational form based on comprehensiveness. The authors argue that the political and fiscal environments in which the colleges operate provide strong incentives for colleges to expand their activities.
While the comprehensive strategy is effective from an organizational point of view, the authors do not conclude that this approach leads to the best education, or that it is in the best interest of the students. However, given the environment in which the colleges operate, comprehensiveness makes sense for the institution, and calls for organizational simplification will not be successful without changes in incentives structures or without much more empirical evidence of the disadvantages of complexity.
In the second part of this paper, the authors explore one approach to increasing organizational efficiency: improving coordination and integration of these apparently disparate missions. They conclude that such coordination is extremely difficult to achieve and that political and fiscal incentives militate against it. The costs associated with combining functions appear to outweigh any perceived benefits.
The paper ends with recommendations for how colleges and policymakers should think about and respond to issues associated with the growing mission diversification at community colleges.