John Brennan: American community colleges have a great deal for us to admire and emulate

Britain and the United States have long had a close relationship. For years our schools and colleges have built strong links with partner institutions across the pond. And we have much to learn from each other, particularly in further education. I was fortunate enough to attend last week's annual convention of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in Long Beach, California. Most people in the UK will not have heard of the AACC or the college system it represents. Community colleges are the equivalent of our further education colleges and there are many interesting parallels and contrasts between their system and ours.

There are 1,157 community colleges throughout the US, educating 11.6 million students, mostly aged between 19 and 25. The colleges represent the fastest-growing sector of America's higher education system. They train over half of new nurses and nearly 85 per cent of law enforcement officers and fire fighters. They play a vital role in helping improve basic literacy and numeracy. And yet in the United States, community colleges have an image problem similar to our own further education sector - in a media more concerned with schools and universities they hardly get a look-in. They also struggle with many familiar issues, such as the under-representation of ethnic minorities and socially and economically disadvantaged groups. And they have similar financial concerns - many states have been cutting back on their funding support.

Yet American community colleges have a great deal for us to admire and emulate. They have a credit system that gives students the flexibility to drop in and out of learning. Their qualification system is much more unified than ours - they have simple outcomes in terms of associate and bachelor degrees. They don't have our plethora of qualifications.

One of the contrasts between their system and ours is that American colleges are much more heavily reliant on tuition fee income. But there is also a much greater acceptance from employers and individuals that they will pay for tuition. In this country the Government's measures to raise student fee levels face cultural barriers - we don't have that willingness to invest in our own learning, either by employers or individuals. So we have to educate our society to accept a different balance between public and private contribution.

US community colleges provide an example of what could be achieved if we broke through those barriers. But they have had to create mechanisms to help their learners carry through those study programmes, by having more extensive support, more flexible access and a more customised approach to learning than we have.

American community colleges don't get it all right. They don't have our external inspection system or externally accountable mechanisms - and while some of our colleges may look enviously at such a system, it doesn't have the measure of external rigour that ours has. With legislatures demanding ever more information about their performance, community colleges are realising that they need to generate much better data about their performance and outcomes. Another contrast is in the relationship our American counterparts have with business. Community colleges have successful business people queuing up to endorse the community college system. And US businesses are happy to dip their hands in their pockets to invest in community colleges. There it's just old-fashioned philanthropy - putting something back into the system that helped to make you.

The writer is Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
John Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Electronic Trading Platform Engineer

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Electronic Platform Engineer (Linux, UNIX, Perl,...

Market Making Support Analyst - (Support, Graduate, Maths)

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Market Making Support Analyst - (...

Market Maker-(Electronic Trading, Support, IT)

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Market Maker-(Electronic Trading,...

Junior Technical Analyst (Support, C++, Java, Graduate)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Technical Analyst (Support...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil