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.
The summit provided an opportunity for community college leaders to discuss their goals and the challenges they face in meeting them, explains George Boggs, who ended his tenure as president of the American Association of Community Colleges in December. The prospect of regional summits being conducted by Undersecretary of Education Martha Kantor means the dialogue is going to continue, he says. “The attention on community colleges will continue after the economy improves because companies will need skilled workers.” AACC President Walter G. Bumphus agrees with Boggs’ assessment and says meetings have already taken place with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to discuss next steps. “In my opinion community colleges have never been in a better place in terms of identifying solutions,” Bumphus says, with some colleges already designing strategies to address the challenges discussed during the summit.
Helping veterans accomplish education and employment goals was one breakout session topic community colleges are already tackling. The robust program at Coastline Community College (Calif.), which has served active military since the 1970s, earned Jocelyn Groot, dean of military and contract education, a summit invitation. “What I took from our session is veterans are a different community with different needs,” Groot says. “What emerged was the disconnect between the Department of Education, Department of Labor, and Veterans Affairs.” Having Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in the session assured Groot the message would be heard. She says an exciting aspect of the summit was that it felt like a normal meeting until she realized there were people at the table who could actually make a difference.
A challenge she sees is in getting information about veterans’ support programs out to community college students and the public. For example, many people are unaware of the Student Veterans of America support clubs on many campuses.
“This was almost like a coming out party for what we do,” says Thomas J. Snyder, Ivy Tech Community College (Ind.) president. “[The summit] gave focus on the national front.”
Recent studies focusing on community colleges from The Brookings Institute have helped policy makers realize community colleges and adult learners will be important to closing the education gap with the rest of the world, Snyder says.
Increasing capacity and accommodating more people in our education system are two challenges he is happy to see receiving attention at the higher levels. He was also optimistic about the new initiatives announced during the summit.
Lumina Foundation Adult Completion Commitment
Lumina’s new initiative, announced in September, was highlighted during the event. “The Adult Degree Completion Commitment addresses the needs of adults who have not completed their degrees,” explains Holly Zaneville, a Lumina program director. “We think it will help them achieve better jobs in the work force.” Lumina research identifies about 37 million adults age 25 to 64 who have some college credits but never got a degree. The new program is predicted to reach 6.6 million adults.
Nineteen programs already serving large populations were selected for support to maximize funding dollars and with the hope they would more easily scale up to state or nationwide application. Projects started Oct. 1. “We’re just fleshing out what services will be provided,” Zaneville says, but they will include webinars and meetings. Having the participating programs sharing best practices is a goal.
Ivy Tech is partnering with the Indiana University Division of Continuing Studies to reach the target population and co-market general studies degrees. Data mining to find individual students who have stopped out, statewide marketing, intense counseling, improving the transfer process, and applying prior learning credits are among the strategies being employed. Snyder points to nursing and allied health as successful programs they would like to replicate.
AAC&U Roadmap Project
One success strategy Ivy Tech leaders can point to is wrap-around services. Finding others is the goal of the American Association of Colleges and University Roadmap Project. “We want to map student success strategies,” explains Susan Albertine, vice president of the office of engagement, inclusion, and success at AAC&U. “Not single interventions, but institution-wide strategies connected to learning outcomes and yielding real results in performance.”
The Roadmap Project will work with 12 institutions over the next three years to document what they are doing, develop assessment, and provide qualitative and quantitative data. “We’re getting calls from colleges around the country who aren’t involved but want to watch. We have groupies! It’s exciting,” she adds.
Some colleges may already have solid success strategies in place and it will be a matter of improving them. “We know what works,” she says. “How to put it together programmatically is the trick.” One challenge will be coordinating department efforts across campus. Campus leaders are discovering that combining intentional advising with learning communities connected to service learning initiatives results in improved persistence.
“This is a journey. If you ask anyone about student success, community colleges have already been focused on it,” says Sonya Christian, vice president for academic and student affairs at Lane Community College (Ore.). Christian sees great potential in the Roadmap Project. “Access, quality, and success are the keywords,” she says. “They aren’t just checking off [that students] got a degree.”
Faculty engagement is as important to success as student engagement since the research has to be infused in the curriculum, she notes. At Lane, an online system will allow students to see their path to graduation so they can track their progress independently. Faculty engagement is being addressed through professional development, especially in technology use.
Community colleges are in the trenches working with students with diverse levels of academic preparation, Christian says. The 12 colleges selected for the project “will be collecting data and trying to [normalize] the data. If we can find methods that work, we’ll be sharing them.”
Gates & Aspen Initiatives
The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence and the Gates Foundation Completion by Design program were also announced during the summit.
The $1 million Aspen prize will recognize colleges with superior academic outcomes and workforce placement. “We’ll be looking for unsung heroes,” said Ross Wiener, executive director of Aspen Institute Program on Education and Society, when announcing the prize. “We don’t want to just focus on the ones with big grant offices.” Organizers also don’t want to simply reward past efforts but to document process so others can learn from the practices, Wiener said. The first prize will be awarded in Fall 2011.
Completion by Design will award competitive grants to colleges in nine target states to help build on existing student success programs for low-income students. Grantees will get to draw on an assistance team to help their program succeed.
“The Department of Education, the White House, and philanthropists like Lumina and Gates are all focusing on the same goals,” Christian says. “That is going to propel us [to help] students with completion. I haven’t seen that before.”
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