I was recently interviewed by Chalkbeat about the sunsetting of 30 programs at the Community College of Aurora, resulting in the loss of art, music, philosophy, theater, anthropology, and many, many, more programs.

The article is excellent; Jason Gonzales does a great job presenting the story from both sides. And Chalkbeat is one of the best out there in covering education issues.

That said, three representatives from CCA were interviewed while I was the only contrary opinion presented. And I wanted to quickly push back on a few points by President Dr. Mordicai Brownlee and VP of Academic Success Dr. Bobby Pace.

First, Drs. Brownlee and Pace argue from the false assumption that the purpose of a Community College education is that the degree must directly result in a job, and courses that do not have a predefined career path are not needed and were therefore cut.

I’ve already argued that getting a job is not the end-goal of Higher-Education; these institutions, especially Community Colleges, cannot guarantee nor properly train students for a job. They are actually pretty bad at it, and the data used to support this assumption is unavailable or misleading. While the research does say that an Associate’s Degree will earn the holder more money, apprenticeships and good career counseling are more essential in landing that post-graduation job. While that higher paycheck is important to our students, their major has little to do with their future job or career:

“The eight competencies employers consider essential are critical thinking and problem solving; teamwork and collaboration; professionalism and work ethic; communication; leadership; digital technology; career management; and multicultural fluency, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The Association of American Colleges & Universities developed a similar list, which also includes quantitative reasoning; innovation and creativity; ethical judgment; and self-motivation.”

These employer-built lists do not include the need for a specific major tied to a job or career. The only degrees that result in specific jobs are in highly specialized fields, like healthcare or law. The vast majority of jobs just require a degree, any degree, not a specific major. So why push so hard for job-driven majors? They mention how local employers demanded specific degrees, but I ask, why are colleges being tasked with training their future employees? Why aren’t employers training their employees themselves? They know best what skills they need, yet Community Colleges are asked to do that work at the expense of student education.

Drs. Brownlee and Pace acknowledge the disadvantage of narrowly focused job-related programs when citing the Cisco Systems Certificate, which is being understandably eliminated as it’s no longer needed by a specific employer. But they are still insisting on programs that may just as easily disappear rather than avoiding programs with such limited focus altogether. Technology and job markets change on a dime, and it is impossible to guarantee that academic programs will keep pace. Academic programs take a long time to build and be accredited; these job-focused programs will quickly become outdated, necessitating Dr. Pace’s need to bring students back whose certificates are now outdated.

Secondly, Drs. Brownlee and Pace claim that individual classes will not disappear, just the aggregate programs. According to them, classes like Theater and Painting will be available as electives under other degree programs. That promise is impossible to keep when considering the actualities of earning a degree. Most of the individual classes from the 30 cut programs are now clumped together as electives competing for students’ attention. Students whose academic focus is limited by time, money, and the fact that only a few electives are required, cannot possibly take every course in that large list. How many courses, especially highly specialized ones like Figure Drawing and Introduction to Forensic Anthropology, will be chosen by enough students to fill out enrollment? With only two electives required per degree, how can you say with such certainty that every course will have enough enrollment? Drs. Pace and Brownlee’s stated goal of preparing students for the job market contradicts their promise to keep courses that they also call non-utilitarian.

And finally, they didn’t mention CPoS and how that further limits the ability of students to take more than their major requirements and limited electives. This Dept of Ed rule says that financial aid cannot be applied to courses outside one’s major. Our students generally cannot afford to pay out of pocket for any additional courses outside their course of study. They say the courses will be available but then limit that possibility by differing to this rule. This rule has not been implemented for years and has only recently come into use at CCA. This rule was designed to limit student debt, but with student debt forgiveness and income-based repayment programs, is it still necessary? And why not fight for more funding instead of using this rule as an excuse for program cuts? Let’s fight for more learning opportunities rather than limiting them.

The joke that Art, Philosophy, Classics, and English degrees are useless has been around for decades and decades. I myself was laughed at when I said I was an Art Major. I was told that I would never get a job. Turns out I did get a job, more than one, a bunch, in fact! My degree had nothing to do with those jobs beyond my pay scale. From landscaping to graphic design to teaching, I largely learned on the job. My first graphic design job did more to train me on what they needed than my degree ever could have. My art degree (and broad-based Liberal Arts education) gave me critical thinking, observational, and problem-solving skills that are far more important than job-specific skills that change as frequently as the TikTok trends. Let’s create students who are prepared for anything, not just that one job that might be waiting for them after graduation.

Community Colleges have been duped into training workers for industry because those employers just don’t want to spend the money. And as a result, our students lose out on a broad-based education that empowers them for any job and, more importantly, creates empathetic and complete human beings.