While we normally think of community colleges and junior colleges as places where students go for vocational training and hands-on skills, Rob Jenkins, an English professor at Georgia-Perimeter College in Georgia, reminds us that most students who transfer from a community college to a four-year institution receive nearly all of their liberal arts and humanities coursework at the community college level.
Jenkins wants to rid academics of the idea that liberal learning is at odds with work-force development. He suggests several reasons why this is the case:
Here is a taste:
I wonder, though, if those seemingly conflicting views of the community-college mission are as mutually exclusive as they appear. Employers rank communication and analytical skills among the most important attributes they seek in new hires, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Perhaps those of us who teach those very skills at community colleges should embrace the integral role we play in preparing the nation’s workers rather than rejecting the idea of work-force development as somehow beneath us.
Such a paradigm shift would have at least a couple of happy consequences. For one thing, we would be able to argue more persuasively for the importance of the liberal arts, especially in this era of draconian budget cuts and increased oversight by external bodies.
More important, this new perspective could have a positive effect on student success. If we come to see ourselves as preparing students not just for transfer but ultimately for the work force, students may be more likely to understand the relevance of the skills that we teach them and better able to use those skills for some purpose other than just getting a passing grade. That, according to Susan de la Vergne, a nationally recognized expert on preparing liberal-arts graduates for careers in non-liberal-arts fields, could give them a tremendous advantage.
“Businesses spend a lot of money on ‘training’ classes for their employees,” she says. “Classes in business writing, presentation skills, business analysis, conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, and cross-cultural teamwork are deemed critical to success in today’s business environment. But most are aimed at essentially backfilling the liberal arts, making up for education gaps.”
Community-college faculty members are well positioned to help alleviate the need for so much “backfill.” But to do so, we must reimagine the way that we teach. Here are a few suggestions that might help make our courses more practical, relevant, and useful for non-liberal-arts majors.