In a series of studies of higher education since 1993, Public Agenda has consistently noted that when many leaders and elites speak about higher education, they seem to be envisioning the four-year institution that they attended, and much of what they say reflects this preconception. As a result, community colleges are sometimes left out of the dialogue, despite the fact that a major proportion of the nation's undergraduates attend a community college.
The Achieving the Dream initiative intends to shift that focus and to shine the spotlight on the nation's 1,265 community colleges. The goals of the initiative are to enhance the achievement of community college students, especially those facing the greatest obstacles, to help all students have the best possible chance to achieve their dreams, and to enhance the ability of community colleges to develop an educated citizenry and workforce.
How will Achieving the Dream goals and strategies be accepted by critical stakeholders in and around the community colleges themselves? In this qualitative research project, we selected three diverse community colleges participating in Achieving the Dream and in each case focused on relatively understudied—and potentially critical—stakeholders: full-time and part-time faculty, families of students and community leaders. Our aim was to form hypotheses on how these constituencies might respond to central elements of the Achieving the Dream initiative.
Overall, the focus groups and individual interviews indicated strong support for many of the goals espoused by Achieving the Dream. But among some constituencies—particularly full-time faculty members—we also found concerns, questions and reservations. We believe that unless those hesitations are addressed, it will be difficult to realize the ambitious goals envisioned by Achieving the Dream.
This Public Agenda report, offers insight into how the "Achieving the Dream" initiative's goals will be received by critical stakeholders in and around community colleges.