EDUCATION: Community Colleges: A Vital Resource for Education in the Post-Carbon Era by Nancy Lee Wood


The key question is, "Where in our current educational system is it possible to develop an institutionalize the kinds of education needed to prepare people for work in the post-carbon economy-and to do so relatively quickly?"

The post-carbon era is going to require knowledge and skills that are not commonly acquired in most formal educational settings today. There are numerous areas in which people will need to be educated, not only to meet the needs of an energy-constrained future but to develop their own useful livelihoods:

  • Training in organic growing and permaculture
  • Retrofitting old housing and building stock
  • Refashioning metals for practical tools and machinery
  • Setting up and running local businesses
  • Reindustrializing for small-scale local production of needed goods
  • Developing health-care delivery alternatives and establishing local currencies

From the societal perspective, there are several characteristics that make the community college a vital institution:

  • Community colleges are local. Most students who attend a community college reside in the vicinity served by that institution. Very few students cross the country to attend a community college three thousand miles away. Rather, the typical community college student is tied to the local community via job and/or family and tends to remain in the geographic area of the community college after completing his or her academic work.
  • They are affordable. In 2008, the average yearly combined tuition and fees at public community colleges was $2,402 (with some states, such as California, charging as little as $20 per credit or less for residents). Typically, the revenue sources for public community colleges come from state funds (38 percent), local funds (21 percent), and federal funds (15  percent), with only 17 percent coming from tuition and fees. Nearly half of all community college students (47 percent) receive some form of financial aid, making higher education possible for many students who otherwise could not afford to attend college.
  • They offer practical training. While a liberal arts education is available at most community colleges, much of the pedagogy is focused on practical knowledge that leads to immediate employment (e.g., nursing, dental hygiene, culinary arts, criminal justice) upon graduation. Many community colleges offer certificate programs (e.g., fire science, human services, computer technology skills), qualifying students for some aspect of a specific job in less time than it takes to complete an associate degree. The benefits of practical knowledge that leads to specific immediate work opportunities are especially attractive to students seeking to enhance their workforce credentials in a relatively short period of time and at minimal expense.
  • They are agile. Because the primary focus at community colleges is teaching, these colleges are geared .toward putting new courses and programs into place relatively quickly in order to meet existing and emerging educational needs of the community. This is an important asset because while we can predict some obvious educational needs in the post-carbon era, there are likely to be some circumstances that currently are unrecognizable and, thus, unforeseen. Rapid and facile development of educational options can help to ensure relatively smooth transitioning to a post-carbon existence.
  • Finally, as institutions, community colleges are connected to the community. They pride themselves in responding to local economic and societal needs apparent within the specific geographic area of the college. They develop degree and certificate programs as well as noncredit educational opportunities in response to local realities. Moreover, they often work in active partnerships with local and regional groups and organizations on service learning programs, civic engagement experiences, regional projects, and conference/colloquial gatherings.

Overall, community colleges already meet several of the requisites needed for the relocalization efforts anticipated in the post-carbon era.

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Post Carbon Reader coverHow do population, water, energy, food, and climate issues impact one another? What can we do to address one problem without making the others worse? The Post Carbon Reader features essays by some of the world’s most provocative thinkers on the key issues shaping our new century, from renewable energy and urban agriculture to social justice and community resilience. This insightful collection takes a hard-nosed look at the interconnected threats of our global sustainability quandary and presents some of the most promising responses.

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