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Workforce, Economic, and Community Development; The Changing Landscape of the Entrepreneurial Community College (MDS-1094)

W. N. Grubb, N. Badway, D. Bell, D. D. Bragg, M. Russman

The community college, ever a changing institution, has developed a bewildering variety of innovative programs over the past 10 to 15 years. This monograph examines three nontraditional program areas that have emerged over this period in response to change in the community college landscape: workforce development, which provides training for employees of particular firms; economic development, in which colleges act in various ways (other than providing courses) to stabilize or increase employment in their communities; and community development , in which colleges promote the well-being of their communities in political, social, or cultural areas. In many cases, these new functions have created a college within the community college, operating with a new culture, new rules and regulations--an institution that for the purposes of this study has been labeled the "entrepreneurial college," a term designed to capture its entrepreneurial spirit, market-oriented drive, and responsiveness to external organizations.

These three relatively novel roles join the more traditional ones characterizing what this study refers to as the "regular college": providing degree and certificate programs; offering workforce preparation programs for specific populations, such as dislocated workers or welfare recipients; and supporting community service courses for nonoccupational and continuing education purposes. The seven colleges examined in this study provide an amazing array of activities related to these newer roles that can be interpreted as new ways of understanding and participating in the communities that colleges serve. It is not unusual for these activities to create conditions of economic and community well-being and demand for services, rather than simply being a response to the demand for educational programs. In practice, of course, the neat categories of workforce development, economic development, and community development break down. College activities often overlap in their purposes--one of the factors making the entrepreneurial college difficult to understand. When this confusion has affected the ability of students and employers to perceive what programs best suit their needs, some colleges have established one-stop centers to provide guidance.

Partly because of the new and overlapping roles of the entrepreneurial college, clear standards for success have not yet been established. Often, market-oriented concepts like customer satisfaction or frequency of repeat business are the only indicators of success.

Similarly, the size of the entrepreneurial college proves difficult to measure. By conventional measures--enrollments and revenues generated--the entrepreneurial college represents about 30 percent of the regular college in one of the seven community colleges studied; in two others, it represents about 10 to 15 percent. By these measures, the entrepreneurial college is clearly important, but unlikely to overshadow more traditional functions. However, entrepreneurial functions are often judged less by size and more by their contributions to discretionary revenue and to the visibility of the college--two areas where the entrepreneurial college has become more important than enrollments might indicate. The size of the entrepreneurial college is therefore ambiguous, since different measures yield different estimates.

Many factors have influenced the development of the entrepreneurial college. Among influences within the colleges, the most important have been the relative emphasis of colleges on occupational rather than academic or transfer missions; the aggressiveness of administrators; the presence of faculty with connections to employers; the stability of support for entrepreneurial activities; the effects of faculty senates and unions on the rigidity of the regular college (which has sometimes forced colleges to undertake new activities outside the regular college); and demographic factors. There also appear to be differences in influence on the entrepreneurial college between elected and appointed boards of trustees, with appointed boards being more likely to include business representatives supportive of workforce and economic development and less likely to engage in fractious politics.

Several policies external to colleges, over which they have much less control, have also influenced the entrepreneurial college. These include district politics that restrict local colleges; developments within local firms, particularly those generating greater demand for training; external uncertainties, such as those associated with immigration and new legislation; pressures for economic and community development; and local economic conditions. Colleges have often been able to make themselves competitive with other providers in the market for education and training, but this ability also depends on local conditions and institutions that they cannot always control.

Among the most important influences on the development of the entrepreneurial college has been state funding policy. In some states, funding for workforce development is relatively generous, either through formula funding for enrollment or through categorical funding for dislocated workers, or state economic development. Other states have restricted funding for workforce development. Most states have funded noncredit courses--the form of most offerings in the entrepreneurial college--at a much lower level than funding for credit courses in the regular college. In addition, many states have imposed regulatory burdens on colleges that make entrepreneurial efforts extremely difficult to undertake. Overall, funding policies among different states vary enormously; they tend to have in common that they have been developed without careful consideration of their impact on entrepreneurial college functions.

The rise of the entrepreneurial college--like the earlier emergence of occupational missions and remedial/developmental education in the community college--has created tensions within the comprehensive community college. Sometimes these tensions arise from differences in modes of operation, since the entrepreneurial college has a strong allegiance to employers and other groups outside the college and is more flexible and less constrained by admissions policies. Sometimes tensions arise when regular and entrepreneurial programs are established in separate centers offering similar courses in credit and noncredit formats. The allocation of revenues, including the "profits" generated by entrepreneurial efforts, is another source of tension. Finally, the basic purposes of the community college are to some extent at issue, since the college's commitment to the quality of teaching, to equity, to nontraditional students, and to a range of academic as well as occupational offerings are less important in the entrepreneurial college. Nevertheless, some of this tension appears positive in that each side can remind the other of its weaknesses: the entrepreneurial college can remind the regular college of new community needs; the comprehensive community college can clarify the importance of teaching and of student needs for the entrepreneurial college. But the greater danger is that the growing entrepreneurial college will become increasingly independent of the rest of the college, preventing the kind of cooperation and communication that has the potential to strengthen both program areas.

Findings from this study suggest several recommendations. First, this study indicates that the entrepreneurial college shows great promise for serving local community needs, including groups that may have been neglected prior to its emergence and suggests that greater attention should be paid to this emerging college role. Careful assessment of community needs and strategic planning to decide which responses to make--epitomized by Sinclair Community College's motto, "Find the need and endeavor to meet it"--could help institutions expand their entrepreneurial activities. Second, colleges need to find ways to integrate the regular and the entrepreneurial college, or they will continue to grow apart. Several mechanisms can enhance the connection between the traditional and emerging college programs, including sharing faculty; eliminating the differential funding between credit and noncredit courses; creating joint student services, joint advisory committees, and joint instructional centers to improve the quality of teaching; and integrating their administration and physical locations.

Third, states wishing to support the entrepreneurial college need to reconsider their funding and regulatory policies, since these have powerful effects on the entrepreneurial college. However, in exchange for supporting the entrepreneurial college, states may want to increase the accountability requirements for these activities, since determining the level of success of these programs has been difficult. And states should consider the balance between their twin roles of regulation and technical assistance; most states have been much less active in providing technical support to improve community colleges than they have been in regulating them. A simple but appropriate approach to state policy might be: no funding without accountability, but no accountability without technical assistance.

Fourth, this study points to considerably more research that colleges themselves and states should undertake. Such basic issues as the magnitude of the entrepreneurial college, its effects on employment and business productivity, the quality of instruction in nontraditional settings, and the most appropriate mechanisms of planning and evaluation for entrepreneurial activities have received almost no attention. Research in these areas is needed to help colleges and state policy makers improve the effectiveness of the entrepreneurial college.

Many national trends, including increases in the numbers of underprepared students, growth in high-performance workplaces, and weakened public support for education, could continue to fragment the community college and to drive the regular college and its entrepreneurial counterpart further apart. The alternative, however, is that a greater integration between the two could provide benefits for both by creating richer connections to employers and the community while maintaining the commitment of the community college to high-quality instruction, equity, and its comprehensive mission.


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