This summer, we asked our community college members to weigh in on their top priorities and most pressing challenges in our annual topic poll.
Our survey asked members to consider several issues across three broad domains—student success, workforce development, and enrollments—and assess the importance of these issues, as well as how effectively their institutions handled these matters. The results provide a striking picture of the sector, as well as the challenges community colleges face in improving student outcomes, both in and out of the classroom.
Below, we’ve outlined the top five insights from the topic poll, and how we see these stories developing over the coming year.
1. Guided Pathways remains a major challenge
The most clear-cut result was that Guided Pathways implementation, for the second year running, was the top priority for members. Unfortunately, it was also where institutions reported the largest effectiveness deficits, suggesting that many are struggling with the considerable undertaking of sector-wide reform. Recognizing this, EAB has developed a full suite of resources, including an upcoming study, which provides best practices in pathways implementation.
2. Shifting enrollments pose the greatest threat to community colleges
As community college enrollments continue to decline after the Great Recession, administrators across the sector largely agree that enrollment shifts reflect the single greatest threat to the sustainability of community college. Revised marketing tactics by four-year institutions, which result in significant competition for community colleges, represent a special threat to liberal arts/transfer-focused colleges, who now have to fight to differentiate themselves.
3. Workforce preparation and market alignment draws the attention of presidents
A recent report by the American Association of Community Colleges revealed that nearly half of associate’s degrees are now awarded in career and technical education. As community colleges are increasingly looked upon to provide workforce training, presidents are prioritizing employer relationships and career preparation at their institutions. This was reflected in our topic poll, as presidents reported that establishing an employer-friendly culture and developing new career programs were top priorities.
4. Liberal arts/transfer institutions are experiencing an identity crisis
Four-year institutions are becoming increasingly aggressive with their marketing, which presents a major challenge for liberal arts-focused colleges. In fact, in our topic poll, liberal arts/transfer college administrators highlighted the competitive higher ed landscape as the greatest threat to their sustainability. These colleges also prioritized workforce training, as they seek to fight public skepticism about the value of the liberal arts and firmly establish their unique position in the higher ed marketplace.
5. Creating sustainable equity initiatives has become a top priority
While members near-unanimously ranked closing achievement gaps as a top priority, they also acknowledge that current efforts are largely ineffective. Further conversations revealed that while widespread and sustainable solutions are in short supply in the two-year sector, administrators are confident that by leveraging student data and campus-wide commitments to equity, sustainable solutions can be found.