Eighteen community colleges may be more than Kansas needs, but in some parts of the state, they provide a vital link to the higher education system.
They also face some problems that state universities don't have and that the state's K-12 education system should try to address.
According to a report in the Garden City Telegram, leaders of three community colleges in Garden City, Dodge City and Seward County met last week to talk about how education could be improved by more collaboration, both among themselves and with K-12 schools and state universities.
First, let's applaud the fact that these three community colleges are having this conversation. The three schools serve much of the southwest quarter of the state, an area that doesn't include a state university. As the state budget tightens, the leaders of these schools see the need to better coordinate their services and eliminate duplication.
They also see the need to help students transition from high school graduation to university degrees. Community colleges should - and do - provide a vital link for students who are trying to reduce the cost of a university degree and for those who aren't academically prepared for university work.
Completing basic classes at a community college is significantly more convenient and less expensive for many students. However, the level of academic achievement some students bring to community college classes apparently is a significant problem.
A trustee of Garden City Community College referred to the "huge remediation burden" faced by the school. Data the school received last month, he said, showed that more than 58 percent of its students were placed in at least one developmental class because they lacked the skills to succeed in a regular community college class.
This alarming statistic suggests a couple of possibilities. Because this area of the state has experienced a large influx of Asian and Hispanic immigrants, much of the remedial work may be focused on boosting English skills. The other possibility is more disturbing, that is, that many students are graduating from Kansas high schools without being prepared even for community college work, let alone university classes.
The community college leaders said they were making an effort to communicate with area students as early as the eighth grade about college preparedness. Janie Perkins, a member of the Kansas Board of Regents from Garden City, also attended the meeting and indicated the regents also are working on the problem. Clearly, the Kansas State Board of Education also should be concerned and involved.
Community college leaders at the meeting said they weren't opposed to serving a remedial role, but providing those classes adds to the financial burden facing those schools and perhaps many other community colleges across the state.
Community colleges provide an important link to higher education but only if high school graduates are prepared to take advantage of that link. It appears something is amiss in the state's education chain.