Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited Guttman Community College to attend its opening on the morning of Aug. 20, seven years ago. In the afternoon, the school held a convocation to welcome its first class. Later that day, an accreditation team came to assess the new community college.
“It was a big day,” says Dr. Scott Evenbeck, Guttman Community College’s president. “We dove in headfirst.” In the last 10 years, a small group of new community colleges, like Guttman, has emerged on the U.S. higher education landscape, reflecting a subtle shift in how community colleges view their mission.
Guttman Community College — the first new campus in the City University of New York (CUNY) system in 40 years — lives in a seven-story building embedded in the thick of midtown Manhattan off Bryant Park. The school was designed to give students extra support in order to boost three-year community college completion rates for students from all backgrounds.
“We’ve really made equity at the center of our work at the
college,” Evenbeck says. “I think that’s what our students deserve, and I hope we’ll be up to the challenge because it’s a big one, but it’s so important.”
Toward that end, Guttman does a number of things differently than most colleges. First, it operates on a guided pathways model, in which students are shepherded through a particularly focused curriculum. The school offers only five majors: liberal arts, business, information technology (IT), urban studies and human services.
All students take statistics, a city seminar course focused on New York City and ethnographies of work. In terms of the academic calendar, the fall and spring semesters are divided into 12-week and six-week segments, which means students can use the shorter terms to catch up on any missed work. Plus, they don’t have to pay extra for summer enrollment.
For support, each student has a 25-person cohort, or learning community, that comes together for a ten-day summer bridge program before the school year starts. Students continue to meet with their cohort and a “student success advocate” every week for an hour and a half.
Meanwhile, the school continues to restructure and change. Currently, it’s seeking partnerships with other colleges and universities in New York City, as well as art institutes and employers.
“I think being a place that continually reinvents itself and tries to be innovative is a real strength of the college,” Evenbeck says.
A different look
In addition to Guttman, other new community colleges have recently appeared on the scene. For example, Delaware County Community College bought property this fall for a new campus, which will offer exclusive programs alongside coursework designed to help transfer students complete their requirements before transferring.
Meanwhile, Calbright College, California’s new online community college, opened its digital doors just this fall. The school is designed to serve working adults through a curriculum that’s low-cost and flexible, using a mix of online courses, mobile apps and hands-on apprenticeship opportunities. Its focus is on competency-based education, asking students to demonstrate their mastery of particular skills versus requiring a certain number of credit hours. The college has worked with employers and labor unions in designing their programs in cybersecurity, IT and medical coding.
There are also new community college campuses that are currently in the works. Fresno City College in California is in the process of planning a West Fresno satellite campus, which is expected to open in the next two years, featuring nursing and auto technology programs. The River Parishes Community College System is also creating a new campus in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, with hopes to offer classes next fall.
Pennsylvania lawmakers are pushing for a new community college in Erie County, which applied for a community college of its own in 2017. According to a study by Emsi, on behalf of the nonprofit Empower Erie, a community college would contribute $126 million in additional local income over the course of 10 years.
“A community college in Erie would create new higher education opportunities in the region and help to meet the training and workforce development needs of the business community,” Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf wrote in a letter to the State Board of Education.
The recent growth of new community colleges has been minimal compared to “spurts” of community college growth before the 1980s, says Dr. Christine McPhail, president and CEO of the McPhail Group LLC, a higher education consulting firm. She also serves as a professor of practice at Kansas State University in the John E. Roueche Center for Community College Leadership Development.
Because of the financial strain on the community college sector, “I don’t anticipate a plethora of new community colleges,” McPhail adds. “It’s just not in the cards.”
But she does see “new types” of community colleges emerging that use their technology and facilities in new ways or that redesign traditional curriculum structures.
Community colleges have been increasingly aware that they need to do things “dramatically different” to “fulfill their promise,” McPhail says. “Maybe there aren’t as many new community colleges as we’ve seen in the past but there are new delivery models that community college leaders are employing to get there.”
The new schools that have sprung up in the past ten years are employing creative strategies to more holistically serve their communities, according to Dr. Karen Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream, a nonprofit focused on student success at community colleges.
“I think that we will always see new forms of community college options being considered to meet new needs,” Stout says. The schools surfacing now are designed to fill “different holes in what the ecosystems of support are to support students of all backgrounds: adults, traditional, nontraditional learners.”
This is in part because community colleges are starting to “reexamine the comprehensiveness of their missions,” as their student bodies grow more diverse — with an equally diverse set of needs, Stout adds. She sees a renewed focus on how to craft personalized learning systems for them.
Community colleges are also developing a different kind of relationship with employers in their communities, she says, citing Guttman Community College’s curriculum, which focuses on “exposing students to the urban environment in a way that will hopefully spark student imagination” to stay in New York and contribute to its workforce.
While community colleges have always been sensitive to the workforce needs of their surrounding communities, she describes them shifting from a “transactional” approach to a “transformational” approach. Schools don’t just want to fill empty positions with qualified students but uplift communities, teaching skills to their students that cut across industry clusters.
“Yes, we want to serve more students, but we also want to do that in a way that resonates with the community … supporting the strengthening of the community in which the college resides,” she says. “It’s about a bigger purpose. It’s about the talent pipeline. It’s about mitigating poverty. It’s about income inequality in communities. It’s about reaching more equitable student outcomes for a community.”
Going forward, Stout thinks the most important question for new community colleges to ask themselves is, “What students are we leaving behind now that need some type of access to a postsecondary credential that has labor market value?”
The new community colleges entering the higher education landscape are united in a “search” for the answer to that question, she says. It’s been their “driving force.”