Note On Community Colleges For India


February 9, 1982


The idea of introducing community colleges in India similar to those which have been so successful in the USA is innovative and worthy of very serious consideration. Community colleges can play a very positive role and meet a real need of the community provided that they are endowed with a central source of dynamism and evolve as an organic part of the social life of the community they are intended to serve. At the same time we must be careful not to attempt an exact imitation of a foreign institution which developed and flourished under very different circumstances than those that pertain in this country today.

In the USA two year community colleges were first introduced to segregate the first two years of the four year college course from the last two years and from higher level university studies. The rationale behind this initiative was that many American youth emerging from the 12th year of high school were not fully prepared for the rigour and pressure of university level courses, but still wished to continue their education at a higher level. Later as the demand for higher education in the US increased dramatically, two year colleges proliferated as an alternative for those who sought to complete a four year college course, but who could not gain admission or could not afford the expenditure living away from home for the entire four year period. Gradually community colleges broadened their curriculum to offer vocational courses for a wide range of occupations.

The chief advantages of this system which led to its enormous expansion, especially during the last twenty years when enrollment at this level more than doubled, include:

  1. Low cost education: almost all community colleges are state run and heavily subsidised to offer college level education at a very low cost. Since students live at home, the cost of room and board is also eliminated.
  2. Lower academic standards: the lighter work load and less rigorous course material makes higher education available to many who could not survive in the highly competitive climate of American colleges and universities.
  3. Vocationalisation: the offering of work-oriented courses in bookkeeping, real estate, business, computer and countless other fields provides short term practical training unavailable at higher or lower levels.
  4. Accessibility: since students may take anywhere from one to six classes at a time and many classes are even offered at night, it makes higher education available to the full time worker and even the housewife who cannot afford to attend college fulltime.

It is evident that the community college model developed in the USA does offer some very attractive advantages and, if properly adapted to Indian conditions, it could play a very useful role. It is equally obvious that conditions here are far different than those in the USA which prompted the development of the community college. For instance, today about 1/3 of all American youth seek some form of higher education beyond the 12thyear which is about six times the figure for India.

The fact is that the growth of community colleges in the USA was very largely the result of the enormous material prosperity and abundant leisure time generated by rapid social and industrial development. This prosperity and leisure in turn created an unprecedented demand for higher education. Whereas India today needs an educational system that can help stimulate that development and help generate higher levels of wealth and leisure, rather than a system which naturally emerged as an end result of development and prosperity.

If the community college model is to be successfully and meaningfully adapted to the needs of this country it must take a form which is a natural outcome of the social needs of the community and be conceived in the context of the community's physical and social resources. Viewed in this light, what is really required is a ‘college' that will meet the felt need of the community for better employment, vocational skills, higher food production, improved housing, protection against weather and floods, etc. If organised and executed in the right spirit it will not be a college as such, but an organisation of public workers.

Some suggestions are given below to adapt this concept successfully to indigenous conditions.

  1. The first community college should be located in a highly developed area where the demand for skilled personnel is high, such as coimbatore.
  2. The emphasis should be on training students for self-employment or higher level performance in a job.
  3. There is a real need today for vocational training in many fields which these colleges can provide. For example, every store and trade has a bookkeeper, but very few have any formal training in writing accounts. Short courses in bookkeeping can provide an important service to the business community.

Those who start automobile workshops usually learn their trade as apprentices and mechanics in other establishments and set out on their own after 15 or 20 years experience. The only alternative is a 3 year polytechnic course which is too long and expensive for most. A 6 month or 1 year course in automotive mechanics can greatly improve the skills of those seeking employment in this field and abridge the training period to a minimum.

Similarly there is a need for formal vocational training for countless other occupations where now skills are acquired only by informal training and apprenticeship, e.g. the advocate's clerk, the electrician, the plumber, the bus and lorry driver, the pump driver, the cart-maker, the printer, the bookbinder, etc.

  1. The community college should be open to all who have gone up to 8th standard or beyond. Limiting enrollment to those who have passed SSLC will too severely restrict enrollment, excluding many who are now in or seeking jobs and who can greatly benefit by a brief formal training programme.

If colleges are founded on this basis to serve the present needs of the community, as the community develops the colleges can develop along with them taking on higher and wider functions to meet changing social needs. Eventually the community college system in India may approach in its character and functioning the system now operative in the USA; but if it does so, it should be as a natural outgrowth of the community's own growth and not as another foreign model superimposed on indigenous conditions.