Community colleges are essential – though often overlooked – institutions of higher education. In this essay, Alicia C. Dowd draws attention to the challenges facing community colleges as they seek to balance their roles as both gateways and gatekeepers with their multiple missions, which include meeting the diverse needs of students at the postsecondary level and responding to the changing educational and economic needs of U.S. society. Using research from the California Benchmarking Project, Enhancing Institutional Effectiveness and Equity, Dowd offers insights about the ways community college leaders, staff, and partners might navigate these dual and often divergent roles. Her essay raises important questions about the nature of higher education accountability in the context of community colleges and the way these institutions are used, managed, and evaluated.

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