Diverted Dream: Community Colleges and the Promise of Educational Opportunity in America, 1900-1985

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In the twentieth century, Americans have increasingly looked to the schools—and, in particular, to the nation's colleges and universities—as guardians of the cherished national ideal of equality of opportunity. With the best jobs increasingly monopolized by those with higher education, the opportunity to attend college has become an integral part of the American dream of upward mobility. The two-year college—which now enrolls more than four million students in over 900 institutions—is a central expression of this dream, and its invention at the turn of the century constituted one of the great innovations in the history of American education. By offering students of limited means the opportunity to start higher education at home and to later transfer to a four-year institution, the two-year school provided a major new pathway to a college diploma—and to the nation's growing professional and managerial classes.
But in the past two decades, the community college has undergone a profound change, shifting its emphasis from liberal-arts transfer courses to terminal vocational programs. Drawing on developments nationwide as well as in the specific case of Massachusetts, Steven Brint and Jerome Karabel offer a history of community colleges in America, explaining why this shift has occurred after years of student resistance and examining its implications for upward mobility. As the authors argue in this exhaustively researched and pioneering study, the junior college has always faced the contradictory task of extending a college education to the hitherto excluded, while diverting the majority of them from the nation's four-year colleges and universities. Very early on, two-year college administrators perceived vocational training for "semi-professional" work as their and their students' most secure long-term niche in the educational hierarchy. With two thirds of all community college students enrolled in vocational programs, the authors contend that the dream of education as a route to upward mobility, as well as the ideal of equal educational opportunity for all, are seriously threatened.
With the growing public debate about the state of American higher education and with more than half of all first-time degree-credit students now enrolled in community colleges, a full-scale, historically grounded examination of their place in American life is long overdue. This landmark study provides such an examination, and in so doing, casts critical light on what is distinctive not only about American education, but American society itself.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A comprehensive examination of the history and status of the community college in America. This volume is especially welcome because the community college, despite its importance, is the least understood part of the postsecondary education system. The Diverted Dream is the best analysis of the overall role of the community college to appear in quite a while and it will be a standard reference on the topic."—The Times Higher Education Supplement

"Well-documented and raises important question about the role of education in our society. For the working class and minority students that predominate in two-year institutions, this book serves as a cruel reminder of the limits of opportunity in a class-structured society."—New York Times Book Review

"This is an exemplary and significant book, in both scope and execution....This is a well-researched, well-organized, and well-written book that serves as a model of theoretically grounded sociological work at its best. I recommend it for all who are interested in education, political processes and institutions, social change, and organizations. It is likely to be the definitive work on community colleges and democratic ideals."—Contemporary Sociology

"An important study that legitimizes further the debate on the social role of community colleges in American society."—Journal of Higher Education

"Represents a monumental scholarly contribution to the literature on community colleges in particular and to higher education and the American society in general....It is 'must' reading for every community college scholar, practicing administrator, faculty member, and policy maker."—Community College Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195048155
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/7/1989
  • Pages: 336
  • Lexile: 1560L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

About the Authors:

Steven Brint is Associate Professor of Sociology at Yale University and Visiting Scholar at Harvard University (1988-89). Jerome Karabel, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, has written widely on American higher education, and is a senior editor of Theory and Society.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1. Community Colleges and the American Social Order 3
Part I Community Colleges in the United States: From Liberal Arts to Vocational Training 21
2. Organizing a National Education Movement: 1900-1945 23
3. The Takeoff Period: 1946-1970 67
4. The Great Transformation: 1970-1985 102
Part II Community College Transformation at the State and Local Level: The Case of Massachusetts 139
5. Designs for Comprehensive Community Colleges: 1958-1970 143
6. The Process of Vocationalization: Mechanisms and Structures 164
7. The Final Transformation in Massachusetts: Market Pressures, Fiscal Crises, and Business Influences, 1971-1985 182
Conclusion 203
8. The Community College and the Politics of Inequality 205
Notes 233
Bibliography 271
List of Interviews 300
Index 305
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