Friday, October 22, 2010

2010 ACCT Congress: Education Department Officials Detail Community College and Career Training Program, Completion Agenda

Representatives from the U.S. Department of Education stressed Friday at the 2010 ACCT Leadership Congress that the $2 billion in community college workforce training grants signed into law earlier this year can--and should--be used to help advance the completion agenda.

“What does [the Community College and Career Training Program] have to do with completion? Everything,” Amy Laitinen, policy advisor to the assistant secretary in the Education Department’s office of vocational and adult education, told Congress attendees. “Most trade-impacted students look a lot like your students.... When you create programs with those [students] in mind, we hope that many of them will impact many more students.... We want to think more broadly.”

“Looking at the federal agenda, it’s all about completion, and it’s had a real viral effect down to your campuses,” said U.S. Education Deputy Assistant for Community Colleges Frank Chong. “We know we have to make systemic change.”

While the federal government provides less than 10 percent of total community college funding through its broad array of grant programs, CCCTP has the potential to “leverage transformations in colleges,” said Laitinen. Despite the program’s auspices under the Trade Adjustment Act, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor with support from the Education Department, the grants should be seen as an opportunity to create programs that support workforce and student success agendas, officials said.

The grant program will focus largely on supporting programs that either meet new local workforce needs or offer new approaches to delivering or teaching skills; both technical and academic skills can be emphasized. At the same time, “the connection between employers and colleges is extremely important,” Chong added. “It’s an employment education program, but careers are the main focus.” For that reason, grant applicants should look at ways to collaborate with workforce boards and other local organizations to ensure that programs “meet the education and training needs of the population for jobs in the community,” Laitinen said.

Accountability will be key, speakers cautioned. “What we’re really looking to do is to drive federal dollars to programs that are driven to work,” Laitinen said. “Where we don’t have evidence, we’re looking to build an evidence base.”

With the solicitation of grant applications expected in the coming months, not all the details of the program have been finalized. But many aspects of the program mirror the Community Based Job Training Initiative, said Judith Cawhorn, executive director of grant development at Mott Community College in Michigan. “That’s a good thing, because we know how to talk about career pathways, work with industry, and identify needs,” she said. At the same time, there will likely be significant differences, in part because the program does not include funds for training. “The emphasis is on building new programs and filling some new needs,” she said.

While all the specifics of the program won’t be known until the grant application information is released, “your colleges should be in the thick of conversations” with industry and potential partners, Cawhorn said. Trustees can play a strong role by leveraging their industry and community connections, she added.

Chong and Laitinen referred attendees to a Trustee Quarterly Q&A on CCCTP with Department of Education Under Secretary Martha J. Kanter and Department of Labor Assistant Secretary Jane Oates, as well as a factsheet on the program, both of which are available here.

Department officials also discussed the broader policy direction of the Education Department. On the department’s ongoing examination of accountability issues, “we are hopeful that your work with the Voluntary Framework of Accountability will inform our efforts,” Laitinen said. The department also plans to continue the work that began at the White House Summit on Community Colleges with a virtual summit and listening tours next year, according to Chong, who identified articulation, better serving veterans, and examining competencies and prior knowledge through new assessments versus “seat time” as key challenges for community colleges to pursue. Chong also acknowledged the financial challenges community colleges face, and credited ACCT and AACC’s leadership for providing valuable insights and support.

“During these difficult times, it’s all about partnering,” Chong said. “[ACCT and AACC] have been great partners to have.”

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