The Civic Engagement Strategies of Community Colleges Located in Distressed Communities
Increasingly community colleges located in distressed communities are the principal community institutions that address the many social, economic, and cultural challenges these communities face daily. With considerable resources in the form of personnel, curriculum, services, knowledge, and technology community colleges have much to offer distressed communities to improve the quality of lives of their citizens. However, not much is known about the work of these community colleges and the strategies they use to engage their communities; therefore, this study is being conducted on community colleges and distressed communities. For the investigator, a senior executive at Mott Community College, located in Flint, Michigan, the illumination and documentation of these strategies infuse the proposed research with considerable practicality since the knowledge the dissertation can produce can help Mott and other community colleges identify, implement, and fund relevant strategies.
The reference point for this study is the community college serving its distressed community; which from this investigator's perspective, is serving a unique role in American society and deserves examination. Those communities in which social issues; crime, housing quality, poverty rates, unemployment rates, and median income; literally pile up and create numerous negative effects for their citizens occupy a particularly interesting role within their locales. This social distress sometimes occurs within decaying urban communities or central cities whose resources have been depleted through social and economic change; and their community colleges may be located in the inner city or lie adjacent to decaying urban cores. These community colleges are struggling with the tension between the needs they see and their current resources. They face considerable external pressure for engagement, and the struggle they face involves the extent to which they would have to "remake" themselves to become what some state as viable, relevant, and responsive local institutions addressing the array of needs local communities face that emanate out of social distress.
The proposed study will examine the controversies these institutions face in framing their commitment to civic engagement. Additionally, it will explore how community colleges conceive of their social responsibility and enact civic engagement through an examination of their institutional strategies and approaches through curriculum, teaching, learning, organization and administrative practices. A multi-method research approach will facilitate the achievement of three outcomes: the exploration of the phenomenon of civic engagement; the description and documentation of the properties of the engaged community colleges embedded in distressed communities; and the development of engagement strategies that will serve as a roadmap for the creation of an engaged community college in distressed communities.
Among the multiple methods the study incorporates are 25 key informant interviews of national experts on civic engagement, web-based reviews of community colleges addressing distress, a national survey of the civic engagement of 250 community colleges with administrators serving as respondents, 25 interviews of administrators located in community colleges addressing community distress, and site visits of five selected community colleges. These methods will enable the investigator to understand principal institutional civic engagement strategies and to formulate model strategies that other community colleges located in distressed communities can follow or incorporate into their own practice.
The investigator will implement the proposed research in an iterative fashion feeding forward knowledge of civic engagement into subsequent stages of the research. The research will undertake in the following five (5) sections
A national key informant study through the use of structured open-ended interviewing in which the researcher will ask the participants to identify their perspectives on civic engagement, the social forces shaping civic engagement, and the dimensions of this form of action in higher education.
A systematic review of institutional websites to reveal the scope and content of civic engagement undertaken by a selected group of community colleges and to identify principal institutional strategies. Websites will be chosen based on the extent to which the sites incorporate a large amount of civic engagement content.
A national survey of community college administrators to examine whether differences exist in the civic engagement strategies of community colleges located in distressed and non-distressed service delivery areas. Community colleges will be selected randomly from a sampling frame formed by the membership of the American Association of Community Colleges. The principal administrators responsible for community relations or civic engagement will serve as the respondents to the questionnaire.
Telephone interviews with institutional key informants working in community colleges located in distressed communities. These community colleges will be nominated by national experts who are familiar with their work in civic engagement. Each institutional informant will respond to a set of structured and open-ended interview questions focusing on their community college's civic engagement strategies.
Three-day site visits to the campuses of five engaged community colleges located in distressed communities. The investigator will interview staff members, faculty, and students and undertake a brief program review to identify relevant civic engagement strategies.
The investigator will code civic engagement strategies, examine capacities these strategies demand of community colleges, their surrounding communities, and their infrastructures, and frame strategies at various institutional levels to differentiate between the action of major external and internal groups such as nonprofit and faith-based organizations, senior and midlevel administrators, faculty members, professional staff, and students.