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March 03. 2012 11:18PM

Fitness for what? Community college questions

Some further physical improvements to the Manchester Community College may be justified. The former vocational-technical college on Front Street has had substantial work done in recent years, including a new, technically-advanced main building. More work may be justified.

What is not fathomable, however, is a plan reported last week to include a student “fitness center'' as part of a new $6 million, 28,000-square-foot addition.

The community college system was originally chartered to be what was known in the day as a “trade'' college. It has served its purpose well, turning out builders, electricians, mechanics, HVAC experts and health workers.

It has been a sensible, affordable alternative to four-year colleges and universities. It has allowed a lot of adults to balance jobs while paying on a course-by-course basis.

But in recent years, even as American politicians speak of reviving American manufacturing, the former “voc-tech'' mission has been changed. It seems torn between offering a primarily technical menu of courses and becoming a glorified junior college, funneling students to or perhaps competing with UNH, Keene, Plymouth and a score of private schools.

Which brings us back to the “fitness center'' that was part of the plan unveiled to the Manchester Planning Board last week.

One of the reasons that the cost of four-year schools is going through the roof, we are told, is because of the “need'' those schools have to compete with their rivals to lure students. Students no longer want just bed, books and board. They want comfy amenities and the latest in fitness equipment.

Perhaps the relative affordability of the state's two-year “trade'' schools has been kept that way in part because they have not been competing with private or public universities with such amenities.

The Legislature ought to be asking the new community college leadership just what it thinks it is doing here. Private colleges, and even private-sector fitness centers, ought to be asking the same thing.


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