Community colleges as education pathways

Community colleges as education pathways

If you’re a Filipino, you have probably only heard of community colleges from several (mostly comedic) Hollywood movies and television shows. In the hit television series “Community’s” first episode, Dean Craig Pelton (played by actor Jim Rash) of the fictional Greendale Community College describes it as a college for “remedial teens, twenty-something dropouts, middle-aged divorcees, and old people keeping their minds active.” However offensive it may seem to most, this assortment of enrollees is one of the many reasons community colleges have stayed relevant in the American educational landscape.

Albeit its often chaotic or comedic depiction in Hollywood movies and television shows, community colleges are public higher education institutions (HEIs) that provide two-year associate degree programs. These publicly funded learning hubs cater to students who wish to pursue higher education but do not have sufficient funds to enroll in four-year degree programs offered by universities. Many of these students also juggle coursework with their part-time or full-time jobs. The increasing pay gap between degree earners and nondegree earners has also pushed many Americans to receive short-course diplomas and training certificates from community colleges and use them for possible employment or promotion at their current jobs.

In the recently concluded Executive Benchmarking Mission to the United States of the Philippine Second Congressional Commission on Education through the US-Philippines Partnership for Skills, Innovation, and Lifelong Learning program, delegates had the opportunity to learn more about this aspect of the US education system. Dr. Casey Lukszo, associate director of curriculum and innovative education at the Northern Virginia Community College, stated that about 80 percent of community college students in the US want a bachelor’s degree, only 31 percent transfer to a four-year institution, and a very small percentage of them will eventually graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Despite the desire to pursue degree programs in HEIs, community college students experience many challenges, including requirement differences and credit loss, which affect their motivation and study momentum.

As a solution, the state of Virginia initiated programs such as passport and uniform certificate of general studies that allow community college students to seamlessly transfer to participating public universities within the state. These programs are described as sets of highly transferable courses that guarantee admission to relevant degree programs.


Meanwhile, across the Pacific, HEIs in the country, in close collaboration with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, offer associate degrees with practical skills training and opportunities for experiential learning and internships that bridge the gap between education and employment, and empower students to acquire marketable skills and contribute to economic growth and social development. As these programs typically respond to industry needs and regional and national development priorities, employment opportunities for associate graduates are not scarce, and some are even relatively high-paying. Nonetheless, many Filipinos still seek the advantages of having a bachelor’s degree.

As a response to the clamor for accessible higher formal education, the University of Makati, grounded in its humble beginnings as a technical vocational school, provides opportunities for associate graduates to earn bachelor’s degrees through a ladderized program. Unfortunately, credits earned from these associate programs can only be used for internal transfer and may not be recognized by other colleges and universities in the country. It goes without saying that it is time for us to consider developing curricula and establishing procedures to ease the transfer of associate’s degrees to bachelor’s degrees. A smooth transition encourages our students to reach more significant educational goals, leading to a better-educated workforce that is more capable and competitive in the market. Above all, providing paths enables students to pursue their studies without facing severe financial hardships.

The experiences of the state of Virginia demonstrate that transition programs guarantee educational continuity by aligning curriculum, credits, and learning objectives among participating academic institutions. This facilitates a seamless transfer procedure and reduces coursework duplication. In addition to ensuring higher incomes and possibly greater job satisfaction, these programs help students succeed by offering options and support that lead to clear educational pathways, eventually benefiting people as individuals, communities, and the country.


Professor Elyxzur C. Ramos is the president of University of Makati. He is a member of the standing committee on higher education of the Second Congressional Commission on Education.

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