Kerry Hart: Putting the community in community college

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Have you ever wondered what happened to the old junior college? Back in the day, there were primarily three types of institutions in the higher education arena: the four-year college or university, the private vocational institutions and the junior college. Although there are not many junior colleges still in existence, the junior college was designed to provide the first two years of a baccalaureate degree for those students intending to transfer and complete their degree at a university.

So what's the difference between a junior college and a community college?The community college still offers the same two-year programs that comprised the role and mission of the junior college, however, the community college is comprehensive in that there are normally four sustaining pillars - academic programs that allow students to complete the first two years of a baccalaureate degree, vocational programs for students desiring to launch their careers after the completion of a specialized program, classes (credit and non-credit) for personal interest and workforce development that provides customized training for local and regional businesses and industry.

In addition to the four pillars, many community colleges - including Colorado Mountain College - also offer service programs to meet unique needs in the community.

One of the programs at CMC is English as a Second Language for members of our community whose native language is not English and who need help learning English. Another program that most community colleges provide is developmental courses in English and math. These are designed for those who need refresher courses before tackling more challenging college-level courses. CMC also houses a business incubator program to meet the needs of the local business community.

The comprehensive community college is the fastest growing entity in higher education, and with good reason. The community college has been able to attract faculty who are not only as qualified as those teaching at the university level, but who also have an interest and passion for teaching rather than researching.

The community college also prides itself on small classes with a teacher-student ratio that allows students the very best opportunity for success and the cost of attending a community college typically is much more reasonable than attending a four-year college or university. Of equal importance is that the community college is an entity that can implement changes rapidly to meet the needs of the local community.

There used to be a negative connotation associated with the old junior college that the quality of education was not as good as a "real" college. The typical community college has been, for many years, counteracting that negative connotation with a very positive image of quality. The stories of success of students who begin their college experiences at a community college and subsequently succeed in achieving bachelor's degrees and launch successful careers is impressive.

Students graduating from CMC and successfully completing baccalaureate degrees at universities across the nation are typical of the quality found at most community colleges. And an example of the quality we have in our vocational programs at CMC was brought to light very recently when it was discovered that Sierra College (a college in Carson City, Nev.) had modeled a new Hotel and Resort Management program after the one we have at CMC in Steamboat Springs.

In many communities, including Steamboat Springs and the surrounding area, the local community college is one of the best-kept secrets. It's never too late to appreciate and utilize this valuable resource in our community.

Dr. Kerry Hart is the dean of Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus. For more information, call Hart at 870-4414 or e-mail khart@coloradomtn.edu

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