A community college system's pending merger with Georgia State University might be an example for how community colleges will evolve, Rob Jenkins writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Jenkins is a professor at Georgia Perimeter College, a multi-campus, two-year college that is finalizing a merger with Georgia State University (GSU). In six months, Georgia Perimeter will become Perimeter College of Georgia State University.
When the merger was first announced, teachers at both schools grew nervous: Faculty at GSU were concerned the merger would water down its research mission, while community college professors worried about curriculum changes and mass layoffs.
Jenkins was one of those who worried. In February, he wondered if this was "the middle of the end" for community colleges, writing that mergers like the one that involved his school would lead to "the gradual disappearance of comprehensive community colleges," and "students will have fewer choices and fewer chances to pursue their dreams."
But Jenkins has changed his mind, saying many of these worries now seem unfounded. As the plan solidified, faculty on both campuses saw that GSU will remain dedicated to research, while the Perimeter campuses will continue their mission that "includes lower admission standards and tuition" than GSU.
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There will be difficulties of course, especially consolidating the different student information databases. But, "at both institutions, it seems, faculty, students, administrators, and staff will still be doing pretty much the same things we were doing before the merger," Jenkins writes.
Many community college students want a traditional college education, but either can't afford tuition, or are initially rejected from a four-year school, Jenkins writes. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, almost half of 2014 graduates from four-year colleges attended a two-year campus during their college career.
For these students, community college is a way to earn an increasingly necessary bachelor's degree—attend community college for a few semesters, improve grades while saving money, and then transfer.
And the GSU-Perimeter merger could offer them significant advantages. Students admitted to GSU could save money by attending a Perimeter campus for their first year, while those who are rejected can attend a Perimeter location to improve their grades before attempting again.
Jenkins says these mergers may "just hold out the last, best hope for access education in this country," a far cry from several months ago when he believed they were a "harbinger of ... the impending death of community colleges as we know them" (Jenkins, Chronicle of Higher Education, 11/30).
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