Role of Community Colleges in Spotlight

Texas AFT has made a push all year long at interim state budget hearings for full funding of Texas community colleges. They already educate the clear majority of all students enrolled in public institutions of higher education in our state, and that percentage is headed higher and higher as costs of four-year colleges soar.

Last week a White House Summit on Community Colleges drew attention to this trend, which is being duplicated nationwide, and focused especially on the crucial economic importance of these institutions. As President Obama told the gathering: “For more and more people, community colleges are the way to the future. They’re giving real opportunity to students who otherwise wouldn’t have it. They’re giving hope to families who thought the American Dream was slipping away. They are equipping Americans with the skills and expertise that are relevant to the emerging jobs of the future. They’re opening doors for the middle class at a time when the middle class has seen so many doors close to them.”

The summit welcomed representatives from colleges, business and philanthropy, federal and state policymakers, and faculty and students. One of the more promising aspects of the meeting was the high participation of faculty–who reportedly numbered around 40. Before the summit began, the White House set up a Web site and solicited comments. Many of those comments were posted by part-time/adjunct faculty who asked policymakers to consider the fact that 70 percent of community-college courses are taught by contingent faculty. AFT higher-education members present at the summit hammered home the point that community-college faculty–all of them–deserve compensation and benefits commensurate with the acknowledged importance of the work they do.