College Guide


September 16, 2010 1:39 PM A Summit on Community Colleges

By Daniel Luzer


The White House announced yesterday that it’s planning to host a summit on American community colleges on October 5. The host of the event will be the vice president’s wife, Jill Biden, who teaches English at Northern Virginia Community College. Biden (right) writes that,

Obama asked me to convene the first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges to highlight the importance of community colleges to our students and our economy. I am pleased to announce today that this summit will take place on Tuesday, October 5th.
The summit will bring together students, community colleges, business, philanthropy, federal and state policy leaders and others to discuss how community colleges can ensure that we have the most educated workforce in the world.

So currently the community college summit has a host, a date, and the second lady’s assurance that community colleges are “important.” All that’s needed are a location, participants, and, well, any substantive ideas at all.

Here’s an idea: Obama said that America should have 5 million more community college graduates. Meanwhile, the actual increase in the number of people enrolled in community colleges due to the terrible economy mostly seems to just strain community college resources and reduce their effectiveness.

This might be an important challenge to address. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • alan trevithick on September 16, 2010 2:51 PM:

    Excellent observation. Also note that CC's rely more on ill-paid and badly supported adjunct and contingent faculty very heavily, sometimes at a 5 to 1 or worse ratio in regard to regular faculty, the latter a dwindling minority who earn three times as much: hardly a good ad for the economic power of education.

  • Maria Maisto on September 16, 2010 3:24 PM:

    It is imperative that the summit planners place the unprofessional working conditions of so-called "adjunct" and "part-time" community college faculty, who constitute the overwhelming majority of instructors at institutions nationwide, at the top of the summit agenda. It is imperative that these faculty members have a prominent place at the table at discussions like this summit. If they are excluded, then it is imperative that those who do participate request an on-the-record explanation for their exclusion and challenge the attendees and the organizers to address the issue.

    Planners and participants alike must make a real commitment to an ethical solution to this well-documented problem: decades old, it is a major factor in many of the challenges that currently confront higher education. Community colleges (and indeed all institutions of higher education) must provide authentic institutional support to all of their faculty members in the form of full inclusion in institutional governance and curriculum development; equity in compensation, benefits, and access to job security, due process, professional development and evaluation; and all of the rights to which their responsibilities as educators entitle them. To ignore this issue is to perpetuate exploitation and to show real disregard for educators and students alike.

    Maria Maisto, President, New Faculty Majority: The National Coalition for Adjunct and Contingent Equity

  • Rosemary Schmid on September 16, 2010 4:21 PM:

    It would be useful for the summit planners to seek from the community colleges and make public the statistics on the number and percentage of adjunct and full-time teaching faculty, the number of different students served by each, the hourly wage of the adjuncts and the salary vs teaching hours of the full time faculty. These basic facts are difficult to impossible to obtain.

  • Betsy Smith on September 16, 2010 5:33 PM:

    It's all very nice that the Obama administration is going to run a community college summit with participation by "students, community colleges, business, philanthropy, federal and state policy leaders and others," but where are the teachers? Are we just "others" who don't need to be named? Or perhaps we are just so peripheral to the whole enterprise of higher ed that we don't need to be at the table. And I'd better not ask if ad/cons are being invited to participate. Anyone know Jill Biden's e-mail address? I'd really like to ask her these questions rather than just post them here or on the .gov website.

  • Thane Doss on September 16, 2010 9:22 PM:

    Over the last 30 years, the actual teaching portion of higher education has increasingly taken on the character of volunteer work, especially at community colleges. The same trend has progressed at 4-year colleges, as well, at nearly as rapid a pace. 70% of teachers in higher ed. are part-time, and the majority of teaching is done by persons whose working conditions repeatedly inform them that what they are doing cannot be their primary source of income if they hope to sustain themselves--let alone families--at even a middle class existence. I am not aware that anyone has ever openly stated a belief that college teaching should only be recompensed with a low but symbolic honorarium and the good feelings one obtains from teaching. But higher education administrators have driven the field forcefully in that direction over the last three decades. One thing that should take place at this summit is a serious discussion about the wisdom of treating teaching in higher education purely as an act of communitarian voluntarism, rather than as a profession requiring knowledge and skills sets that require years of study. Particularly in a climate where "good-paying jobs" seems to be becoming a mantra, it is perverse to depend upon voluntarism to provide the training essential to obtaining jobs of that sort.