July 12, 2010, 2:41 PM — When Bob Kansa graduated with a bachelor's degree in computer science almost 40 years ago, a surprise awaited him on his first day of work: He was unprepared for the job.
"The courses I took in college were not directly related to what I was doing on the job," says Kansa, now associate dean of IT at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich. "I was asked to do some programming [that] I was totally unprepared for." Whereas the school taught console I/O for direct-access Fortran applications, for example, his job required file I/O. The college also taught regression and how to write an operating system boot loader -- skills that never came into play in all his years in the industry, he says.
With that experience lodged in his mind, he has worked for seven years to ensure that the same thing won't happen to computer science students pursuing associate's degrees and certification training at Macomb. "That's one of the challenges for community colleges in general," Kansa says. "We focus on the skills students need for a job versus engaging in an academic exercise."
A Changing Campus
At first glance, you may not recognize a community college these days. Now featuring dorms, honors programs, bachelor's degrees and more, these schools are evolving.
The construction of residential facilities represents one of the biggest changes. Some community colleges are building dorms in an effort to attract traditional-age students seeking lower tuition costs or an education close to home, says Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside Higher Ed, an online news source. Of the 1,100 colleges represented by the American Association of Community Colleges, more than 270 offer some on-campus housing, he says.
Community colleges are also adding honors programs, which are seen as recruitment tools for students who hope to someday apply to highly selective four-year institutions, Jaschik says. Last year, the National Collegiate Honors Council had 167 community colleges among its members; they accounted for more than 13% of the organization's membership, he points out.
A few community colleges even award bachelor's degrees. In the Florida College System, 14 of the 28 community colleges have the authority to offer at least one bachelor's program, Jaschik says. In these programs, students need to complete an associate's degree before they can begin studying for a bachelor's.
California is also discussing whether its community colleges should be allowed to offer selected bachelor's degrees.