Thursday, October 21, 2010

2010 ACCT Congress: Maintaining Momentum on the Completion Agenda

Community college leaders continued discussing shifting the focus of their institutions to produce more graduates and certificate holders at the 2010 ACCT Leadership Congress Thursday. With the imminent election of as many as 30 new governors nationwide, continued work on the Voluntary Framework of Accountability, and the need to prepare college leaders to support student success, “we have a lot of work to do in the next 12 months,” ACCT President and CEO J. Noah Brown told a standing room-only group of community college leaders at a town hall meeting.

In candid discussions throughout the day, community college leaders explored some of the challenges and strategies needed to maintain momentum on the completion agenda. One key, speakers said, will be ensuring that boards of trustees and college presidents are on the same page.

“Trustees have been listening to the President of the United States saying we need to educate and complete... We really need to support [college presidents] if they have the courage to do the right thing,” said Thomas W. Malone, a trustee at Seattle Community Colleges. “There’s a realization that if we support each other, we can do the necessary difficult things.”

“These courageous conversations are going on in board rooms across the country,” added Karen Stout. As president of Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania, Stout has replaced her reports on enrollment to her board of trustees with a student success report, and she credits her board with patience as faculty members brought a redesign of a developmental math curriculum up to scale. “Yes, it was too slow, but will move the institution ahead in the long run,” Stout said.

Increasing leaders’ capacity to focus on student success is one goal of the the Governance Institute for Student Success, a joint effort of ACCT and the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin, with support from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. After participating in a pilot of GISS that brought together community college trustees and leaders from across Ohio, “we’re starting to see conversations where you have access and success almost at the same level,” said Lawrence Porter, a trustee at Sinclair Community College. “We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there.”

With new governors in statehouses facing severe budget crises, the collection and use of data will become critical, said Travis Reindl, program director at the National Governors Association. Repeating a theme emphasized by many participants during the Pre-Congress Summit on Completion, Reindl stressed that “we’ve come to the realization that policymaking by anecdote hasn’t worked, doesn’t work, and won’t work. Until we have some really solid metrics behind us, we cannot get about the business of increasing the number of degree and certificate holders the economy needs.”

In the absence of relevant data, all too often higher education policy is still “focused on the full-time on-campus student,” not the first generation, low-income and minority students that are increasingly defining the “21st century student,” said Mark Milliron, deputy director for post-secondary improvement for The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. To that end, U.S. Education Deputy Assistant for Community Colleges Frank Chong told town hall attendees that his department is “taking a serious look for the first time in a long time” at revamping the Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS) reporting procedures. The Voluntary Framework for Accountability, under development by ACCT, AACC, and The College Board, has been included in discussions on accountability metrics at both the Education Department and the National Governors Association.

“We are not going to flip the funding model in our favor unless we demonstrate accountability,” Brown said. “The best change element for flipping those levers are the boards.”

Chong also stressed that the Education Department is looking to the local level for solutions that can be shared. “Programs... in workforce development, in working with low-skill adults and getting students through the pipeline are happening at your campuses,” he said. “The challenge is how do we duplicate and replicate these programs to help other community colleges that might not have the type of resources that you have.”

Town hall attendees shared examples of successful programs at their colleges, including math tutoring labs, counseling programs, working with K-12 students and systems, and combined basic education and workforce skills training. The challenge remains building those programs to scale -- and, often, making strategic decisions exacerbated by tight budgets. Pointing to the I-BEST program developed by the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges, Milliron notes that pairing workforce and basic skill instructors is more expensive -- yet increases student completion rates significantly. “You’re gong to have to have strategic sets of conversations,” he said.

Lest anyone doubt that trustees play the key role in shaping those conversations, I-BEST was the brainchild of a fellow trustee, Malone said. Pointing to the Democracy’s Challenge Call to Action signed by ACCT and other community college organizations, American Association for Community Colleges President and CEO George Boggs urged community college leaders to sign similar pledges on their own campuses. “It’s going to take all of us, but especially trustees and CEOs, to commit to this,” he said. And by way of example, Mauri Moore of Edmonds Community College in Washington told town hall attendees that she has pledged to graduate an additional 350 students from her institution each year over the next decade--her college’s share of the 5 million additional degree and certificate holders called for by President Barack Obama. When broken down to the individual college level, that goal “doesn’t sound too scary,” she said.

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