It is difficult to overstate John Dennison's contribution to our understanding of Canada's community colleges. The author of more than seventy published papers, Dennison has been a prolific contributor to the literature on Canadian higher education. His 1986 book with Paul Gallagher, Canada's Community Colleges: A Critical Analysis, continues to function both as an introductory text for those who want to obtain a solid grounding in the development of this important institutional form and as a reference work for policy-makers and scholars.
Dennison's newest book begins where Dennison and Gallagher ended. The first chapter is essentially a review of major activities in the college sector of each Canadian province and territory since 1985. The chapter focuses almost completely on system-level change and Dennison presents a chronological, rather than thematic, description of policy initiatives and the numerous government reports and sectoral studies which emerged in the last decade.
The first chapter is the heart (and almost one-third) of the book. The remaining nine chapters represent attempts to address the common questions or themes which emerge from Dennison's mammoth review, including discussions of accountability (Dennison), leadership (John Levin), organizational culture (Starr Olsen), entrepreneurship (Janet Knowles), and aboriginal education (Douglas Baker). In addition to these broad, thematic chapters, Charles Joyner provides a focused description of the DACUM (Developing a Curriculum) technique and competency-based education methodology and Paul Gallagher, in a chapter entitled “Promise Fulfilled, Promise Pending”, asks the reader to consider whether the colleges “have lived up to their original promise” and argues for a future-oriented agenda for renewal.
The success of this edited volume lies both in its breadth of coverage and its readibility. The book provides the reader with a national perspective on policy change (rather than simply a view from Ontario) and its authors address a wide range of important issues and questions. There are, of course, a few problems with the way that this broad agenda has been translated into reality. Much of the book focuses on events of the last decade and individuals new to the literature would be wise to read the Dennison and Gallagher volume first to obtain some understanding of the development and evolution of Canadian community colleges to 1985.
Glen A. Jones teaches in the Higher Education Group at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in Toronto.