September 3, 2008

Books Worth Reading

Posted on: Wednesday, 3 September 2008, 03:00 CDT

By Huber, Mary Taylor

Defending the Community College Equity Agenda. Edited by Thomas Bailey

and Vanessa Smith Morest. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University

Press, 2006, 328 pages, $45.00 hardcover. Minding the Dream: The Process

and Practice of the American Community College. Gail O. Mellow and Cynthia

Heelan. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2008, 352 pages,

$49.95 hardcover.

"The President's Commission on Higher Education has been charged with the

task of ... re-examining the objectives, methods, and facilities of higher

education in the United States in the light of the social role it has to play." These

words introduced the Truman Commission Report on Higher Education for

Democracy in 1947, a document widely credited with leading to the creation of

comprehensive community colleges as stewards of the American Dream. The

two books reviewed here examine what that charge means in today's economy

and the challenges that community colleges face as they update their

stewardship role. Both books agree that access to college, once the

centerpiece of the community college's "equity agenda" (Bailey and Morris) or

"dream" (Mellow and Heelan), is no longer enough. It is now necessary to

attend also to what happens once students are in college and to what helps or

hinders them from reaching their educational goals.

Although the two books frame this issue in similar ways, they represent

different genres and have different temporal horizons. Defending the

Community College Equity Agenda is a collection of reports on an ambitious

collaborative research project conducted under the auspices of the Community

College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia University.

In Minding the Dream: The Process and Practice of the American Community

College, Gail Mellow and Cynthia Heelan, long-time community college

leaders, issue a call to arms. The CCRC researchers focus on developments

that appeared to challenge the "equity agenda" when their project was

conceived in the late 1990s, while Mellow and Heelan explore issues that

seem most critical for "minding the dream" today. That these challenges and

issues are not quite the same suggests how rapidly change has occurred in

recent years and how the significance it has for community colleges has


Defending the Community College Equity Agenda, edited by Thomas Bailey

and Vanessa Smith Morest, stands out from most academic essay collections.

The editors-director and assistant director of the Community College Research

Center at Teachers College, Columbia- along with the other nine authors, were

all participants in an extraordinary research project involving extensive fieldwork

at fifteen community colleges (rural, urban, and suburban) in six states. At each

campus in this study, the team interviewed administrators, faculty, counselors,

students, and clients, allowing for "triangulation across a variety of college

stakeholders" (p. 23). As the editors point out in their introduction, "the book is

the result of a collective process and reflects a collective perspective" (p.23). It

is a richly documented, artfully presented, and highly readable work.

The rationale for the research-and for the structure of the book- is presented in

Bailey and Morest's introduction. As economic opportunity in the United States

has come to depend more and more on "at least some college education" over

the past several decades (p.1), the concept of equity in higher education has

expanded as well. It is now best characterized as having three parts:

preparation for college, access to college, and students' success in reaching

their goals. While "it is the premise of this book ... that a student's income or

race should not be a significant determinant of his or her educational

achievements," it is unfortunately the case that "higher education remains

inequitable for each of these three components" (p.2).

Bailey and Morest review the special role community colleges play in providing

access to college through low cost and open-door admissions and in

addressing preparation for college through their vast developmental education

programs and new relationships with high schools, as well as (because of low

graduation rates) their "more difficult and more controversial" role in promoting

college success (p.3). The principal challenges faced by community colleges

in improving their performance are long-standing and well known: "Within the

system of public higher education, they have the least money and the students

with the most difficult problems" (p.12). Moreover, as the book shows, they also

face a rapidly changing environment and pressures to offer education services

that respond to certain community needs but do little to advance the access,

preparedness, and achievement of low-income and minority students.

Assessing the implications of various developments for the community college

equity agenda is the task for the eight main chapters of this book. Three

examine perceived threats to the agenda. Two of them look at the growth of

vocational programs in community colleges and find that they are not doing the

damage that some observers feared. Morest, for example, finds little basis for

concern that noncredit vocational courses might swamp credit and transfer

courses. But she worries about a "new schism in community college

programs, whereby credit programs are for younger students with bachelor

degree aspirations and noncredit programs are for older, working adult

students," and calls for designs that connect noncredit with credit programs

(p.48). Chapter authors Jim Jacobs and Norton Grubb conclude that trade-

school-like programs preparing students for information technology

certification have not taken deep root in community colleges. The authors

consider this a good thing for the equity agenda, because of the high price,

educational specificity, and decline of employer demand for such training after

the dot-com crisis. Finally, Bailey looks at the growth of for- profit competitors

and finds "little evidence that [they] ... are either threatening the enrollments of

community colleges or pushing the colleges to actions that would weaken the

equity agenda" (p.108).

Three chapters focus on developments that have not (at least yet) met their

potential to advance the equity agenda: performance accountability (Kevin

Doughterty and Esther Hong), distance learning (Rebecca Cox), and dual credit

at community colleges and high schools (Morest and Melinda Mechur Karp).

Each has its subtleties. Performance accountability, for example, has spurred

greater attention on the part of colleges to the success of their remedial (or

developmental) education programs and to their retention and graduation

rates. However, the positive effects appear to be "only moderately strong"

because of a number of obstacles, including "poorly designed measures of

success; funding that is unstable and does not keep pace with increasing

enrollments; and inequalities in institutional capacity" (p.81). At first blush,

distance learning promised greater access to college, but it developed with too

much emphasis on the technology and too little on course design and

pedagogy to really benefit less well-prepared students. What's needed to do

better, Cox argues, is for "colleges to provide greater organizational support for

faculty learning and move beyond their reliance on the efforts of individual

instructors" (p.127).

A most interesting (and disappointing) story concerns the equity effects of

programs that allow high school students to take community college courses

for college credit. Clearly, these efforts could advance the equity agenda by

giving students an early start on the path to a degree and by helping them

understand better what college work entails. However, while reaching a

somewhat larger population than high school AP or honors courses, many

dual- enrollment programs have admissions requirements that appear to

exclude "middlerange and academically disadvantaged students" (p.242). To

really enhance access, Morest and Karp argue, these programs would need a

"pathway of developmental coursework culminating in a college credit dual

enrollment course." (pp.242- 243).

Developmental (i.e. remedial, pre-collegiate) education and guidance

counseling, although not "new" in the same sense as other issues examined

in this book, are so central to the community college equity agenda that each

gets a chapter as well. While data suggest that nationally, around 40 percent of

entering community college students enroll in one or more remedial courses,

that's only the tip of the iceberg. As Perin and Charron note, "Course

enrollments underestimated the need for reading, writing, and math skills ... .

The presence of academically underprepared students in degree-credit

classrooms meant that the problem extended beyond developmental

education and spilled out to the whole college" (p.191). The National Field

Study colleges-like others-have been struggling to find better ways of

organizing and teaching these courses, but most of their many modifications

and innovations have yet to be systematically evaluated. Indeed, while all agree

that good counseling services are an essential component of success for

developmental (and other) community college students, this too is an under-

resourced, under-planned area, which seems, at most colleges, "to have

developed piecemeal, without careful thought about what different students

need" (p.219). In their superb concluding chapter, editors Bailey and Morest

place all this turbulence in historical context. "At the turn of the [twenty-first]

century, when this project was conceived, there was widespread anxiety among

educators in community colleges concerning various developments in the

higher education system that might threaten the health of community colleges

and their equity agenda" (p.248). They take us back to the days of dot-com

madness when it seemed like all that is solid could melt into the virtual air, to

the millennium as a "time at which higher education institutional boundaries

and control seemed to be challenged" (p.248). While their study showed that

the anxieties raised by developments like the growth of for-profits, information

technology certification, vocational programs, on-line education, and

performance accountability were "exaggerated" (p.249), the equity agenda itself

is not off the hook. Indeed many of today's emerging challenges were

prefigured in the millennial ones but have been given a new twist by today's

fiscal constraints on public higher education, which could lead to an even

greater concentration of low-income students in community colleges. 

Where Defending the Community College Equity Agenda leaves off, Minding

the Dream begins. Conceived in 2004, while the authors-Gail Mellow, president

of La Guardia Community College, and Cynthia Heelan, former president of

Colorado Mountain College-were attending the first U.S.- China Community

College conference, this book picks up on a new set of issues on which the

future of the community college now seems to turn. This is not a report on

original research but an analysis and meditation drawing on the literature and

"almost 60 combined years of service" concerning where the "process and

practice of the American Community College" are and are not serving to make

"high-quality education available to all" (p. 277). Most chapters carry this flag

through their particular territory with sections on "The Dream,""The Unfulfilled

Dream,""The Real Story," and "Challenges to the Field." Minding the Dream

would have benefited from more careful editing, but its vision and passion are


Readers will hear strong echoes of the Bailey and Morest book throughout

Minding the Dream, especially in its treatment of such basic functions as

developmental education; transfer, credit, and noncredit programs; and

economic and workforce development. But Mellow and Heelan also devote

whole chapters to finance, governance, pedagogy, leadership, international

connections, English as a Second Language, and diversity. The authors'

understanding of the historical moment is key to this wide coverage. As they

note, "waves of national and increasingly international forces continue to shape

America's community colleges," which must remain locally grounded while

also responding "to the American need to retain a middle class as we compete

in a world arena" (p.11). Yet even as educational requirements and student

numbers rise, community colleges stand "at the end of a long line of

outstretched hands when it comes to public, private, or philanthropic support "

(p. 48). What, Mellow and Heelan ask, does the fact that these colleges receive

"less than 20 percent of the dollars spent on higher education" (p. 50) mean for

their capacity to serve all comers, and in particular, to make a difference for the

most disadvantaged who enter their open doors?

Indeed, many of the chapters will be eye-openers for people not fully immersed

in the community college world. For example, we learn (if we didn't already

know) that a large number of community college leaders, "steeped in the

understanding of the community college as a movement for social justice and

democracy" are nearing retirement age (p.136). This has created a leadership

crisis, as new people enter the ranks without that background as a moral

compass to help steer a course amid the many directions their college's

multiple missions open to them. The chapter on international connections

underlines nascent possibilities for increasing global awareness and

connections for the benefit of students in colleges here and to help expand

opportunities for the disadvantaged abroad.

The excellent chapter on pedagogy takes up the challenge that minding the

dream poses for faculty. If students are to achieve at the levels necessary for

full participation in today's society, they will need an "innovative, inquiry-based

liberal education" (p. 276). This means that community colleges will have to

provide intellectually engaging opportunities for professional development and

an environment more open to serious conversation about teaching and

learning. As Mellow and Heelan remind readers, the idea of a paradigm shift

from teaching to learning emerged within the community-college context

[Editor's note: see Barr and Tagg, Change, November/ December 1995]. Even

there, however, "our knowledge exists [but] our practice and the funding for

implementation lag far behind." (p. 277).

When it comes to recommendations, Defending the Community College Equity

Agenda and Minding the Dream are not really far apart. Of course, each

provides many specific suggestions. However, two general themes, present in

both books, stand out. First, there's the call to create better pathways for

students to achieve the degrees they'll need for middle-class lives by creating

more connections between community college programs themselves (for

example, non- credit/credit, developmental/college-level, workforce training/

general education) and for aligning these programs more closely with high

schools and four-year institutions. Second, there's a call to find better ways

than enrollments to measure community college effectiveness, including the

capacity to track students' progress for purposes of evaluating innovations,

improving programs, and publicizing the good work these colleges are doing.

Reading these books together is a reminder that the very comprehensiveness

that makes modern community colleges so central to higher education's equity

agenda also gives them wide exposure to often competing pressures for

change. The anxieties that accompanied the dot-com bubble may have shifted

into concerns about sagging public support and the displacements of a

globalizing economy-and will surely shift again. It is only by attending closely to

what's happening, as all these authors call on us to do, that community

colleges will be able to keep faith with "the dream" through future ups and


Assessing the implications of various developments for the community college

equity agenda is the task for the eight main chapters of [Bailey and Morest's]

book. While data suggests that ... 40 percent of entering community- college students enroll in one or more remedial courses, that's only the tip of the iceberg.

As Mellow and Heelan remind readers, the idea of a paradigm shift

from teaching to learning emerged within the community college context.

Mary Taylor Huber is a senior scholar at The Carnegie Foundation for the

Advancement of Teaching, where she directs the Integrative Learning Project

and works closely with the Carnegie Academy of the Scholarship of Teaching

and Learning. She has written extensively about changing faculty cultures in

U.S. higher education and is coauthor, most recently, of The Advancement of

Learning: Building the Teaching Commons (2005).

Copyright Heldref Publications Sep/Oct 2008

(c) 2008 Change. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

Book Reviews of Minding the Dream

With Permission From Heldref Publications, "Change Magazizne, September/October, 2008.  Reprinted with permission of the Helen  Dwight Reid Educational Foundation.  Published by Heldref Publications, 1319 Eighteenth St., NW, Washington, DC 20036-1802.  Copyright © , 2008”

These authors take a subject that has been the topic of many papers and make it entertaining enough for even the casual reader.  Of particular note are the examples used for the principles being elaborated.  This book is worth a read if you are interested in the future of this country.

                            Roy Winkler



From Education Review  an on line journal hosted

by the School of Education @ Arizona State University

Mellow, Gail O. and Heelan, Cynthia (2008). Minding the Dream: The Process and Practice of the American Community College. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Pages: 335     Price: $49.95       ISBN: 978-0-7425-6292-9

Minding the Dream materially contributes to our understanding of the essence of community colleges in America, the challenges faced, and pathways accessible to publically elected officials, community college boards of trustees, administrative leadership and faculty supportive of continuous improvement. The substantial backgrounds of the authors in community college leadership positioned them to capture and evaluate data in ways that are consistently informative to the reader. Topic selection offers a comprehensive portrait of virtually all essential community college issues. Each chapter provides the reader an objective and thoughtful commentary, practical examples, and recommendations for changes that are consistent with the evaluations rendered.

Part One of Minding the Dream is devoted to process oriented content. Appropriate introductory comments are given to the context in which community colleges function, namely in the first two chapters dedicated to “An Overview” (Chapter One) and raison d’être of community college (Chapter Two). The third chapter covers the funding difficulties faced by most community colleges, with special attention to important use of data and ways to overhaul flawed funding models. Perhaps in a future edition, the authors will consider commenting on ways to improve internal operating efficiencies to help reduce the impact of inadequate public funding. Chapters Five and Six on Governance and Pedagogy are thorough, candid and offer sound and provocative commentary that enhances current literature. The authors, in Chapter Seven, document the quantitative and qualitative crisis of community college leadership in an era of “baby boomer” retirements and a reported decline by 78% between 1982-83 and 1996-97 in the number of advanced degrees in community college specialization at the doctoral level. This chapter would have benefitted from affording more coverage to the leadership competencies noted by the American Association of Community Colleges in their Leaning Forward study. Chapter Eight provides useful background information on “Global Adaptations” of the community college model.

Part Two delivers insightful assessments of core functional activities of community college, to include developmental studies (Chapter Nine), transfer (Chapter Ten), economic and workforce development (Chapter Eleven), English as a Second Language (Chapter Twelve) and diversity (Chapter Thirteen). These topics have received varying degrees of coverage by others. Value added by the authors on developmental studies and the transfer function stem their articulation of the difficulties involved in undertaking sustainable change, the imperative to do so, and options available to those determined to design and implement solutions. Their recommendations merit careful attention by trustees, leadership and faculty alike. In addition, the chapters on English as a second language (Twelve) and diversity (Thirteen) are represented as being both contemporary and material to fulfillment of the community college mission. La Guardia Community College has been a leader in embracing a highly diverse student population, and the reader benefits from observations rendered by authors with substantial hands-on experience.

The authors are to be commended for undertaking a study with an ambitious scope, and sustaining a contemplative and reasonably balanced analysis throughout. There is always a trade off of sorts between an author’s desire to treat certain subjects with more depth of coverage, and the need to respect the limitations inherent in a more general text. Gail Mellow and Cynthia Heelan overcame this challenge with sensitivity, care and good judgment. The end product of their outstanding work is that the reader of Minding the Dream is treated to what might just be the best general text written to date on community college reality.

Reviewed by Stewart E. Sutin, Ph.D., Clinical Professor, Department of Administrative and Policy Studies, School of Education, University of Pittsburgh (former President, Community College of Allegheny County)

From Education Review, With Permission

“Perhaps we lost our way when we forgot that the heart of leadership lies in the hearts of leaders.  We fooled ourselves, thinking that sheer bravado or sophisticated analytic techniques could respond to our deepest concerns.  We lost touch with a most precious gift---our spirit.”

Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal

Leading With Soul