Can the U.S. keep its dominant economic position in the world economy with only 30% of its population holding bachelor’s degrees? If the majority of U.S. citizens lack a higher education, can the U.S. live up to its democratic principles and preserve its political institutions?
These questions raise the critical issue of access to higher education, central to which are America’s open-access, low-cost community colleges that enroll around half of all first-time freshmen in the U.S. Can these institutions bridge the gap, and how might they do so? The answer is complicated by multiple missions―gateways to 4-year colleges, providers of occupational education, community services, and workforce development, as well as of basic skills instruction and remediation.
To enable today’s administrators and policy makers to understand and contextualize the complexity of the present, this history describes and analyzes the ideological, social, and political motives that led to the creation of community colleges, and that have shaped their subsequent development. In doing so, it fills a large void in our knowledge of these institutions.
The “junior college,” later renamed the “community college” in the 1960s and 1970s, was originally designed to limit access to higher education in the name of social efficiency. Subsequently leaders and communities tried to refashion this institution into a tool for increased social mobility, community organization, and regional economic development. Thus, community colleges were born of contradictions, and continue to be an enigma.
This history examines the institutionalization process of the community college in the United States, casting light on how this educational institution was formed, for what purposes, and how has it evolved. It uncovers the historically conditioned rules, procedures, rituals, and ideas that ordered and defined the particular educational structure of these colleges; and focuses on the individuals, organizations, ideas, and the larger political economy that contributed to defining the community college’s educational missions, and have enabled or constrained this institution from enacting those missions. He also sets the history in the context of the contemporary debates about access and effectiveness, and traces how these colleges have responded to calls for accountability from the 1970s to the present.
Community colleges hold immense promise if they can overcome their historical legacy and be re-institutionalized with unified missions, clear goals of educational success, and adequate financial resources. This book presents the history in all its complexity so that policy makers and practitioners might better understand the constraints of the past in an effort to realize the possibilities of the future.
"Beach's focus on the community college as an evolving social institution offers a perspective not found in earlier literature... For readers interested in the history of the community college as a social institution, this book offers a concise treatment of its subject with numerous references to many important articles and texts that have reported on change and practice at the community college. Approaching the community college as a social institution offers a perspective that should be used more often to better understand the development, changes, and dilemmas in the history of this uniquely American experiment in post-secondary education." (Community College Review)
"The question of whether or not [community colleges] expand access by democratizing higher education or constrain access by diverting students away from higher-prestige institutions is one that is continually and hotly debated... J.M. Beach critically and comprehensively reexamines this well-worn territory in an effort to connect the origins of community colleges with the institutions that they have become in today's higher education milieu... Beach elucidates provocative questions that educators, colleges, and policy makers must consider." (Harvard Educational Review)
"A strength of this book is Beach’s focus on the community college as an evolving social institution, a perspective not common in previous literature. Another strength is Beach’s focus on the dilemmas faced by community colleges as presented from the perspectives of faculty, administrators, state officials, local communities, and students." (NACADA Journal (National Academic Advising Association))
"Although the book seems primarily intended for policymakers and administators, Gateway to Opportunity nevertheless makes two important contributions to the history of the community college. First, Beach extends The Diverted Dream into the more recent past. The book discusses tuition increases, financial exigencies, employer contract training programs, and provides a particularly thorough treatment of the movement for institutional accountability... Second, Beach emphasizes racial segregation to a greater exten than Brint and Karabel." (History of Education Quarterly)
"Focuses on issues of access and effectiveness in a critical evaluation of community colleges; including a cautionary case study of California" (The Chronicle of Higher Ed)
“This book not only raises important questions about the educational practices and effectiveness of community colleges historically, it also provides detailed analyses and case studies that should inform policy debates and decision-making in the twenty-first century. Educators, researchers, administrators, and government officials concerned about the future of community colleges, and U.S. higher education in general, cannot afford to ignore J. M. Beach’s findings and conclusions” (V.P. Franklin, University of California Presidential Chair, Distinguished Professor of History and Education, University of California, Riverside)
“Josh Beach expertly uses the lens of history to provide a penetrating and insightful account, examining the challenges facing community colleges. Some will find this an uncomfortable read, but all will find it thought provoking. Its detailed history and analysis of community colleges is not used to reinforce their current practices, but opens up the ‘long conversation’ and demands in us a reconsideration of what they might be." (Martin Jephcote, Cardiff University School of Social Sciences (UK))
“Josh Beach is a courageous visionary among those who seriously consider the community college and its place within the larger U.S. system of higher education. This book reflects both his critical nature and the boldness he brings to analyses of higher education. It paves new ground for re-envisioning the community college and the larger educational system of which it is such a critically important element.” (Robert Rhoads, professor of Higher Education and Organizational Change at UCLA.)
"Josh Beach’s Gateway to Opportunity does a fine job of outlining the dilemmas that community colleges face now, and the dilemmas that colleges as well as historians and policy-makers need to chew over. It asks us all to think long and hard about the educational institutions we create, and why they seem so contradictory. I like to think that faculty and administrators could use this book to forge workable proposals and solutions." (W. Norton Grubb, David Gardner Chair in Higher Education)
About the Author
J. M. Beach has been a teacher and educational administrator in K-12 and postsecondary education for over fifteen years. He has variously been a Lecturer at Oregon State University and the University of California, an Instructor at several community colleges in Southern California and Texas, and a Research Associate at the California Community College Collaborative, focusing on promising practices in community colleges and vocational education. Beach is currently a Lecturer at the University of Texas, San Antonio. Outside of higher education, Beach has been a teacher and school administrator. He is a poet and holds advanced degrees in English, History, Philosophy, and Education.
W. Norton Grubb W. Norton Grubb is David Gardner Chair in Higher Education, University of California, Berkeley
Most helpful customer reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful.
A good (though depressing) historical background
The authors of this book seem to have it out for the community college. Sure it's an institution with a number of different missions and questionable success rates, but this book seems to never highlight any of the positive work that the institution does. By the end, you may feel like the comm college has no place in American culture despite the students it reaches and the work it does. Still, it's great to get a sense of how the community college developed and why it functions the way it does.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful.
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Biased and slanted
By Shannon OShea
As usual, Beach is off base.