Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Another Kind of Resource
This semester, I think my cc has set a new internal record for public presentations. We've been staging talks on issues of broad public interest – some by faculty, some by invited speakers – and opening them up to the community for free. Some have attracted significant community interest, some haven't, but we're starting to get some momentum.
I'm honestly proud of this.
When community colleges talk about their value to their communities, the predictable (and valid, but still predictable) responses usually include workforce development, transfer, and remediation. Pushed farther, sometimes you get discussions of dual enrollment programs or athletics or theatre. These are all good, and I've championed all of them at one time or another.
But there's something to be said for bringing scholarly light to bear on issues of public interest.
Historically, that's been the purview of the universities and the elite colleges. They have more money to throw around, more prestige as a lure, and more staff devoted to making these things happen. Snooty Liberal Arts College was really good at that, but Flagship State wasn't bad, either. Both of them made consistent, concerted efforts to share expertise with the community at large.
Community colleges, in my observation, haven't done that as much. Typically, we don't have the loose funding that some other places have, and we certainly don't have the name-brand prestige. But I've noticed that if the topic is good enough, you'll get people, even if the speakers aren't famous. And if you keep it up, delivering quality on a predictable basis, the community audience will slowly grow.
This strikes me as a welcome development on several levels. It's fun, first of all. It offers people with little other connection to the college a reason to feel connected to it. It's utterly consistent with the mission of providing access to higher education, even if it's on an extracurricular basis. And it's intrinsically worth doing.
No zinger here. I'm just happy to be able to say, looking back on the semester, that we've started to raise our game to a new level. And if it gooses the nearby four-year schools a little to do the same, well, everybody wins.
In some disciplines, this is a big deal; as it is very difficult to get "applied" work published.
At Compass Heading U, our President has been pushing us to do externally funded research (very applied). Our provost/P&T committees have been pushing us to do theoretically relevant (for journal pubs) research.
For example, a project on optimal routing of a municipal bus system to save energy is easily funded, and the results are well-received. And gets implemented; changing lives in the real world.
Never get it published though . . . we didn't invent any new algorithms!
I worked at a community college with an outstanding series of speakers. (Link auto-plays audio on opening.) All lectures were open to the public, and really seemed to energize both the students and community. I believe some speakers drew hundreds of attendees.
What I really appreciated about the series was that it supported the college campus as an academic environment, as a place encouraging a "life of the mind", and was a great answer to critics who say that community colleges are "only" vocational or technical schools, which sometimes backhandedly implies that CC students don't quite get or deserve the same academic experiences as four-year students.