Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Utah community colleges' trend to four-year programs bucks national trend

Rural colleges in Utah are headed toward extinction, according to Brian Maffly of the Salt Lake Tribune. "Utah's two-year institutions have become hybrids offering four-year degrees, whose administrators yearn for university status," he writes. "The changes have unfolded without much planning from the State Board of Regents, and could mean less access for the state's most marginalized residents: minorities, the poor and students whose high schools didn't prepare them well for college." Most of Utah's institutional leaders endorse the direction, saying students increasingly enjoy access to four-year programs in every corner of the state and can seamlessly matriculate into the universities. 

Policy experts say mergers and mission expansions undermine the community-college role, according to the story. "Over time the mission changes. It's less about open access and serving students who need developmental education and support, and much more about transfer [to four-year degrees]. That's the function that is valued within the university environment," Kay McClenney, who directs the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas, told Maffly. (Salt Lake Tribune map)

Utah is running against a national tide that is elevating the role of community colleges. Two-year schools have never been more popular across the U.S., and now account for more than half of all college enrollment. Nationwide, rural community colleges are experiencing extraordinary enrollment growth, according to Stephen Katsinas of the University of Alabama's Education Policy Center. The nation's 553 rural schools account for 64 percent of the nation's community colleges and 38 percent of enrollment. Between 2001 and 2006, rural enrollment grew by more than 1 million students to 3.4 million. (Read more)

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