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Community Colleges

One of the more dubious notions to attach itself to higher education is the brash “right to fail.” While the intent to demand maturity and accountability from college students is understandable, the reality, and certainly the wisdom of such an axiom, is another story.

First, the reality: Prior to World War II, the likelihood of attending college was reserved for the children of wealthy or near-wealthy families. These students were expected to succeed, whether they did or not. 

Leaders from 16 community colleges around the country gathered at the White House in September to participate in a roundtable discussion on the role community colleges play in America. The discussion was part of the Obama administration’s Champions of Change program, a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping to meet the many challenges of the 21st century. Education Gateways recently spoke to four of the Champions of Change honorees about the challenges and opportunities they face as presidents of their institutions.

At one time, each of Connecticut’s 12 community colleges ran its own financial aid office by its own rules. Ten years later, the Connecticut Community College System has doubled the number of students. Now all 12 colleges use FAFSA alone to determine eligibility. All use the same “satisfactory academic progress” requirement for students who receive aid and those who don’t. Simplifying eligibility rules and centralizing some functions freed financial aid staffers to focus on helping students instead of pushing paper, Marc Herzog, the former chancellor, told the College Board.

Financial aid information is easy to find at Pierce College.

Working one’s way through college is the norm for community college students: 85 percent work part- or full-time. With an average tuition bill of $2,713 a year, only 13 percent turn to student loans.

But long work hours have a high cost, concludes a 2011 report by the College Board’s Advocacy & Policy Center. Only 21 percent of first-time, full-time community college students complete a degree or certificate in three years. The six-year completion or transfer rate is 31 percent. Part-timers, who make up 59 percent of enrollment, do even worse.

As we get ready to start the third year of our Models of Efficiency program, I want to take a moment to point with pride to the program’s success. Models of Efficiency is a national recognition program for those campus departments that have found ways to streamline operations, save money, and improve constituent satisfaction. That was the challenge we set forth when Models of Efficiency was first announced, and those solutions are just as important, if not more so, today.

Transfer used to be what happened when students realized too late that they picked a college or university that wasn't right for them. It wasn't until recently that the valuable market of transfer students has started being studied and really tapped into.

"For a while, transfers were kind of looked at as extra," says Bonita C. Jacobs, executive director of The National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students at the University of North Texas. Admissions offices began realizing they'd be left behind if they didn't start recruiting transfers.

Preparing students to work in a global economy is no small feat, but it is a skill employers are requesting. According to "Raising the Bar," a 2009 survey released by the American Association of Colleges and Universities, 67 percent of employers believe colleges should place an emphasis on providing students "the ability to understand the global context of situations and decisions," and 57 percent want students to have a better understanding of cultural diversity.

Do you believe that some of the best and brightest of the next greatest generation of college students will begin their higher ed experiences at a community college? Well, we do. That is why we reallocated over $7 million of scholarship funds and operating support at Bucknell University (Pa.) for a period of six academic years to facilitate the Bucknell Community College Scholars Program.

The renovation of an historic building in downtown Portland, formerly owned by the University of Oregon, has brought Portland Community College (Ore.) administrators together.

Ivy Tech Community College President Tom Snyder, who attended the White House Su

The national spotlight that shone on community colleges all year got a little brighter in the last quarter as new programs were announced and a White House Summit on Community Colleges was held.

“[Community colleges] are the unsung heroes of America’s education system,” said President Obama at the start of the October 5 summit. The event is a sign that his administration is working to change that. It brought together government representatives and community college leaders from around the country to discuss the sector’s challenges.

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