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The Diverted DreamCommunity Colleges and the Promise of Educational Opportunity in America, 1900-1985$
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Steven Brint and Jerome Karabel

Print publication date: 1989

Print ISBN-13: 9780195048155

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195048155.001.0001

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The Community College and the Politics of Inequality

The Community College and the Politics of Inequality

8 The Community College and the Politics of Inequality
The Diverted Dream

Steven Brint

Jerome Karabel

Oxford University Press

Since its origins at the turn of the century, the junior college has had a complex, and at times uneasy, relationship with a public that has looked to the educational system as a vehicle for the realization of the American dream. Despite its self-portrayal as “democracy’s college” and its often heroic efforts to extend education to the masses, the two-year institution has faced widespread public skepticism. For to most Americans, college was a pathway to the bachelor’s degree, and the junior college—unlike the four-year institution—could not award it. Moreover, the early public junior colleges were often tied administratively and even physically to local secondary schools, a pattern that compounded their problems in gaining legitimacy as bona fide institutions of higher education. The two-year institution’s claim to being a genuine college rested almost exclusively on its promise to offer the first two years of a four-year college education. Yet the junior college was never intended, despite the high aspirations of its students, to provide anything more than a terminal education for most of those who entered it; indeed, at no point in its history did even half of its students transfer to a four-year institution. Nonetheless, for at least the first two decades of its existence, almost exclusive emphasis was placed on its transfer rather than its terminal function. As the early leaders of the movement saw it, the first task at hand was to establish the legitimacy of this fragile institution as an authentic college. And this task could be accomplished only by convincing the existing four-year institutions to admit junior college graduates and to offer them credit for the courses that they had completed there. If the pursuit of academic respectability through emphasis on transfer dominated the junior college movement during its first decades, by the mid-1920s a countermovement stressing the role of the junior college as a provider of terminal vocational education began to gather momentum. Arguing that most junior college students were, whatever their aspirations, in fact terminal, proponents of this view saw the institution’s main task not as providing a platform for transfer for a minority but, rather, as offering vocational programs leading to marketable skills for the vast majority.

Keywords:   Accreditation, British educational system, Educational opportunity, French educational system, German higher education, Indiana community colleages, Junior College Journal, Ohio community colleges, Progressive movement, Roxbury Community College

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