American Colleges - Findings from a study tour (Amanuel Garza)

The vision of the White Paper for Post-School Education and Training (DHET, 2013) to expand the post-schooling sector addresses the problem of narrow pathways and poor opportunities available for young people who are out of school.

Countries across the world have developed different systems of post-schooling that reflect their economic, socio–cultural and historical trajectories.  Since these systems have evolved in response to unique demands specific to those countries, it is neither possible nor desirable to simply imitate these systems.  However, a comparative study aimed at understanding the broader patterns and conditions of success or failure, can provide useful lessons for South Africa.

Community colleges in the United States of America present one such example. Community colleges are in many ways American innovations and have evolved in relation to forces of change that are unique to the country. American community colleges have grown from less than ten at the start of the twentieth century to over 1 000 in 2012. This remarkable achievement was driven by a combination of forces of community demands for more education and training and American national concerns for a trained workforce. This is partly reflected in the diverse groups of communities served by these colleges. The following characteristics and practices can be discerned about the American community college system:

  • open access, low barrier to entry and affordability;
  • diverse and comprehensive programmes that cater for diverse needs ranging from programmes that offer pathways to access higher education, development of the workforce and continuous education, to community and personal enrichment programmes;
  • flexibility in providing credit and non-credit programmes during the day and in evenings and over weekends;
  • a local community presence that fosters a strong partnership with local industry, business and community needs;
  • close articulation with local secondary schools and universities;
  • responsiveness through curriculum partnership structures such as an external advisory board that includes local community and industries; and
  • the provision of extensive developmental and bridging programmes for unprepared students. 

Notwithstanding the many challenges faced by American community colleges, initial observations suggest that a diversified, differentiated, flexible and affordable post-school sector is critical to facilitate the social mobility of a large number of people and foster national and economic development.  

A Power Point presentation on the study tour is available on request from the Department of Higher Education and Training at:


Amanuel Garza has MA in Educational Planning and Economics of Education with over 15 years of teaching.  He is currently working as a System and Capacity Building Specialist for TVET Colleges in South Africa.

For further information contact Amanuel Garza at