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Although American community colleges (formerly known as junior colleges) have existed since the late nineteenth century, little sociological attention has been paid to these institutions until recently. The conceptual frameworks that do exist highlight the juxtaposition of the community college’s function of expanding access to higher education while also limiting opportunity for many students.
Previously enrolling only about 10 percent of all undergraduates, the community college experienced unprecedented growth in the three decades following World War II. Between 1944 and 1947 community college enrollment doubled and community colleges grew exponentially in the 1960s and 1970s. Since the 1980s the number of community colleges has stabilized at over 1,100, or over one-fourth of all higher education institutions in the USA. This level of enrollment accounts for 45 percent of first-time college students and 37 percent of all undergraduates in US colleges and universities.
As a great invention of US higher education in the twentieth century, the community college has made college accessible to those people who may otherwise not be able to attend any college, especially to the working-class and minority populations who were traditionally under-represented in four-year colleges. Because of its open-door admissions policy, low tuition cost, diversity of course offerings, and flexible course schedule, community college is actually accessible to every applicant who may even not finish high school and is touted by its proponents as ”democracy’s college” or ”people’s college.”
- Levinson, D. L. (2005) Community Colleges: A Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, CA.