Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Completion Summit Moves From Discussion to Action

Following a morning discussion that framed the national perspective on the completion agenda, ACCT's Summit on Completion came to a close with a host of recommendations in areas ranging from finance and metrics to partnerships and curriculum, as well as a call for community college leaders to continue their efforts to increase the number of Americans who receive a college degree or credential.

For much of the day, summit attendees broke into smaller groups to develop recommendations in five priority areas. Their findings included:

Finance and funding. To better serve students, institutions and boards need to consider four key areas: the distribution of student aid, the flexibility colleges have in disbursing aid, examining whether aid policies can provide students with incentives to continue pursuing degrees, and encouraging both college staff and community organizations to increase awareness of financial aid and help students apply for it.

When it comes to institutional funding, summit participants suggested that it may be time to discuss prioritizing the roles community colleges play in the context of existing financial resources. Boards should also explore new revenue sources, including fundraising and entrepreneurial initiatives, and how those new sources of funding can be increased by focusing on key areas. "As we prioritize transparently and explicitly, we build the case for that next dollar that comes from external [sources]... and unleash a virtuous cycle," said Travis Rendl, program director for the National Governors Association.

Student success. Linking access with completion will require a variety of approaches, including stronger alignment between K-12 curriculum and college requirements through such structures as K-14/16 councils and programs including middle colleges and dual enrollment that can "stop the leaks in the pipeline," said Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association. Other key priorities include strengthening "front-door" student services, such as financial aid and counseling.

Curriculum and pedagogy. The focus group stressed the need to develop methodologies focused on helping underserved students and veterans be more successful in the community college setting. Other priorities include better assessment and instructional models that build faculty capacity to teach, such as the Universal Design for Learning, said Jean Torgeson, board chair of North Iowa Area Community College, as well as the need to develop "stackable" credentials and certifications that allow students to make progress towards a degree. Torgeson also stressed the value of rigorous standards, finding ways to better explain expectations and procedures to students, and providing supports to help working parents and other students complete their education.

Partnerships and the K-16 pipeline. With the administration's focus on developing workplace skills throughout a student's like, a key need is helping K-12 students see connections between careers and the skills they need to attain them. The group cited the examples of community colleges whose counselors visit students to discuss job skills as early as in the 6th grade and the Department of Labor's careeronestop.org site, which helps identify key workplace skills for target careers. Trustees must also be persistent in requesting better and more transparent data on student outcomes and work with policymakers and their peers in K-12 systems to address alignment and curriculum issues. "It's cradle to career, and we all have a stake," said Greg Schuckman, board chair at Northern Virginia Community College.

Data and metrics. The group stressed the importance of developing a common approach to metrics, including using the Voluntary Framework for Accountability as a way of ensuring congruence as other organizations develop or refine their own measures. Avoiding "chasing certain metrics" at the expense of others and providing support for community colleges and policymakers to develop and disaggregate longitudinal student data were other priorities. "If we're going to be successful in the budget office, the state capital or the nation's capital... we have to understand what the data is saying to us," said Dr. Dan Phelan, president of Jackson Community College.

During a question-and-answer session that concluded the summit, Kay McClenney, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin's Community College Leadership Program, stressed that 90 percent of community college students are convinced "they have the commitment it takes to succeed."

"When community college students show up in the parking lot, they are jazzed," McClenney said, adding that 84 percent of the more than 2 million community college students surveyed by the Community College Leadership Program also believed they are prepared to succeed academically, though that is at times because they have limited knowledge of what will be expected of them. "They don't bring college knowledge with them -- we just assume that they do," McClenney said.

Students also suffer from low expectations once they arrive at school--by the end of the third week of class, 40 percent of new community college students have skipped class, and 30 percent have turned in an assignment late, or not at all, according to the survey. "No one rises to low expectations," McClenney said. "Our responsibility is to decide what the educational experience is going to be like at every one of our institutions."

To do that will require changing long-held notions. Describing how higher education was formerly considered a collective good following the passage of the GI Bill and the National Education Defense Act, ACCT President and CEO J. Noah Brown urged attendees to "go back to the future, and... make this a shared value across the nation."

"Let's make a promise," Brown said. "We will go out, do what's necessary, and make a difference."

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