Book by J. M. Beach, Herndon.
Review by Douglas Smith
College of Education, Adult and Post-Secondary Education
University of Wyoming

J.M. Beach wrote this book as a case study of the American junior college, now known in most places as the community college. In this text Beach explores the formation and historical evolution of the community college thus helping readers better understand how the institution has changed and how these changes impact the present and future. Beach addresses questions such as, was the junior college created to be an extension of the secondary school or to be a separate postsecondary college?  Is its primary mission to prepare students for transfer to a 4-year university or to provide vocational training?  Is its primary duty to be responsive to labor markets, universities, or local community needs?  The motive and mission of the community college has varied and changed considerably over time thus creating an institutional identity crisis (p. xxxi).  

Although a significant amount of literature exists on the history of American higher education, Beach recognizes that very little attention has been given to the institutional history of the community college. Beach believes that “The ultimate effectiveness of any institution of education is enabled or constrained by the social, economic, and political context in which it operates” (p. 132). This book focuses on all three contexts with specific focus on the institutionalization of the community college in California as both a leader and a cautionary example. This book addresses the historical dilemmas of the comprehensive mission, access, accountability, effectiveness, finance, and resources in the community college along with racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic issues.

A strength of this book is Beach’s focus on the community college as an evolving social institution, a perspective not common in previous literature. Another strength is Beach’s focus on the dilemmas faced by community colleges as presented from the perspectives of faculty, administrators, state officials, local communities, and students.  However, with its focus on the institutionalization of the community college, this book does not provide as comprehensive of an overview as other works such as Cohen and Brawer’s The American Community College (2008). Another weakness of this book is that it provides minimal insight into instructional issues and by limiting its focus on the state of California it narrows its applicability to other states. Additionally, while insightful, the implications chapter is rather brief and is intended to prompt discussion rather than provide possible solutions to current problems. 

Advisors working at a community college will find that this book can help provide a historical understanding of how the institution developed and evolved to its current state. Advisors working in a four-year college setting will find that this book can be valuable in understanding how the community college has evolved to its current position within the American higher education system and how the university has influenced the role of the community college.

Beach focuses primarily on an institutional perspective, a perspective helpful in understanding how the community college has been valued and judged in the past and present for its role in higher education; a role Beach describes as limited and constrained (p. 129). Readers interested in the history of the community college as a social institution will find this book a quick and easy read full of references to many well-known community college texts that have impacted change and practice.


Cohen, A. M. & Brawer, F. B. (2008). The American community college. (5th Edition). San Francisco: Jossey Bass. 

Gateway to opportunity: A History of the community college in the United States. (2011). Book by J. M. Beach, Herndon. Review by Douglas Smith. Herndon, VA: Stylus Publishing. 195 pp., $29.95. ISBN # 978-1-57922-452-3
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