British inspectors visiting United States community colleges have found that parity of esteem between academic and vocational education is not an issue there. In contrast with Europe and particularly the United Kingdom, it is regarded as neither attainable nor necessary.
The report of the Further Education Funding Council inspectors reports a "surprising gulf" between liberal and vocational education. "Many colleges provide a true diversity of programmes but academic and vocational provision are disparate," the report says.
The inspectors do note however the growing focus on core skills and an emphasis on increasing participation. And they highlight the "energy and commitment" of all the community colleges visited. Nevertheless they say there are aspects of the colleges which limit the full expression of their missions.
The inspectors draw attention to mounting criticism in the US of accreditation and self-regulatory arrangements. "These are increasingly seen to lack rigour and to be failing to assure quality and standards," the report says.
In addition the report finds that the downside of the US credit system is that the breadth and choice it permits can be at the expense of coherence. There were problems with the transfer of credits both within states as well as across state boundaries.
Staff-student ratios were generally found to be higher than in the UK further education sector. When the inspectors looked at funding of community colleges they found that increasingly the local county had reduced its share of college funding. This was particularly so in cities like New York and Baltimore which have suffered an erosion of their tax base and an increase in competing financial claims. As a result more responsibility has fallen on the state and fees have had to be increased. Colleges did strive to keep tuition costs affordable for all despite the cost of teachers and support staff which absorbed up to 85 per cent of budgets.