Sunday, October 16, 2011

2011 ACCT Congress: Incoming ACCT Chair Emphasizes Student Success, K-12 Collaboration

As the 2011 ACCT Congress drew to a close, incoming ACCT Chair Roberto Uranga stressed the importance of continuing to build on the commitment made to student success and working more closely with K-12 schools.

“Last year, we planted a seed,” said said Uranga, a trustee at Long Beach City College in California. “[This year’s] symposium and lively town hall meeting represented the sprouting root of that seed. I look forward to working with ACCT’s visionary board and talented staff to make that sprout grow and blossom as we keep moving forward with our goal of increased student success in 2012.”

The first Hispanic trustee to serve as ACCT Chair, Uranga cited the association's success in growing membership and expanding the state, province, and territory coordinators network over the past year. Uranga stressed the importance of community college boards working with K-12 school systems and their boards, saying his top priority as ACCT Chair will be to develop a toolkit to help foster and promote school board and college board collaboration.

“We need to do it together,” he said.

The final Congress keynote speaker, Philip “Uri” Treisman, urged trustees to seek ways to share information about what works on their campuses, particularly in the critical area of developmental education. “Good ideas from good people do not spread in our sector of higher education,” said Treisman, professor of mathematics and public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. “One of our roles in governance is creating structures... for making that happen.”

Uranga closed the 2011 Congress on a note of change. “The changes taking place will continue to challenge our boards,” Uranga said. “But I know we’ll be rewarded in the short- and long-run. ACCT has never been positioned so well to make a difference.”

(See previous 2011 ACCT Leadership Congress coverage here). Read more!

Friday, October 14, 2011

2011 ACCT Congress: Education Department Official Details Progress, Partnerships

U.S. Education Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges Frank Chong reassured 2011 ACCT Leadership Congress attendees that community colleges remain “a bipartisan issue” for lawmakers and highlighted the administration’s work in helping raise their profile.

“It’s rarely that the President speaks that he doesn’t mention community colleges,” said Chong, former president of Laney College in California. “That’s intentional. He gets the role they play in the economic vitality of our communities.”

Chong noted that the first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges, held last fall, helped kickstart important collaborations such as the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, which announced its 10 finalist institutions in September; Skills for America’s Future, an industry collaboration aimed at addressing skills gaps in high-demand areas such as healthcare, IT, and advanced manufacturing; and a series of regional summits that brought together community college leaders, local employers, and philanthropic organizations.

"Oftentimes... a summit is a photo op,” Chong said. “I’m proud to say we followed up on the promises we put forward.”

Chong also stressed the importance of continuing to advocate for the $2 billion Community College and Career Training Grant (CCCTG) program, which will provide $500 million annually in grants to colleges and consortia over four years.

“It’s one of the few new [sources] of funding for community colleges,” he said. “Don’t take it for granted.”

Chong reiterated the administration’s commitment to access in the form of continuing support for Pell Grants, and said the Education Department is planning to find new ways to help community colleges share best practices online. Reducing time to degree through more seamless transitions, prior learning assessment, and improved apprenticeship programs are among other priorities, he said.

“It’s a very challenging time in Washington, D.C.,” said Chong. “We’re going to have to pivot... and push the envelope on how important community colleges are.” Read more!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

2011 ACCT Congress: Update on Federal Legislative Priorities

An overview of community college federal legislative priorities held during the 2011 ACCT Leadership Congress had its share of good news for two key community college programs -- Pell Grants and the $2 billion Community College and Career Training Grant program. However, public policy experts from ACCT and AACC warned trustees that it is no time to become complacent.

“The most important thing to come away with is that the Budget Control Act... is going to mean that Congress is going to have less money to send overall on our programs in the coming years,” said David Baime, AACC senior vice president for government relations and research. “It’s going to mean some belt-tightening for our institutions, regardless of what happens.”

With the Pell Grant maximum maintained at $5550 as part of a $17 billion agreement, Pell Grants were the only federal program to receive added funding as lawmakers deliberated this year. But as a bipartisan supercommittee prepares to identify at least $1.2 trillion in savings through 2021, Pell will be on the table with all other federal programs. “No matter what you’ve heard regarding Pell Grants being protected, basically the supercommittee can make cuts to anything,” said Jennifer Stiddard, ACCT senior public policy associate. “We need to be diligent.” Congress may also consider addressing the unprecedented growth in the program, which now provides $11.3 billion in aid to 3.5 million community college students, by changing the eligibility criteria in ways that impact community colleges, Baime warned.

The $2 billion Community College and Career Training Grant (CCCTG) program has also survived budget cuts thus far, and 32 states and consortia received awards in September, said Jim Hermes, AACC director of government relations. Overall, community colleges and their partners submitted more than $3 billion in proposals for the $500 million earmarked for first-year funding, making it critical that community college advocates fight to maintain funding for the remaining three years of the program. “We’ve already fended off two semi-serious threats to finding for this program, and we anticipate there will be more,” Hermes said. “There’s incredible demand for these programs, and ... continued vigilance will be required for all of us.”

President Obama’s $447 billion American Jobs Act includes $5 billion for modernizing community college infrastructure -- double the amount proposed in the American Graduation Initiative. While the bill has stalled, Congressional leaders may consider individual pieces of the bill in the coming months, said ACCT Director of Public Policy Jee Hang Lee. “Hopefully, modernization will be part of the puzzle,” he said.

As Congress and the supercommittee look to broader deficit reduction measures, budget deliberations have been firewalled between defense and non-defense discretionary spending -- “which is very good for our institutions, because in the past we’ve seen education dollars raided in these situations,” said Stiddard. However, it is not clear what cuts the supercommittee may wind up proposing, and if any deficit-reduction plan it proposes fails to pass Congress later this year, automatic across-the-board-cuts of 7.8 percent on all non-defense federal programs will take place.

While all education spending represents only 3 percent of the overall federal budget, “those cuts represent a huge impact on us,” Stiddard said. “We in the education community really need to push that the impact of this is that we [may] not survive those cuts.” Read more!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

2011 ACCT Congress: Symposium on Student Success Focuses on Advancing Board Goals

Held immediately before the 42nd Annual ACCT Leadership Congress, the Symposium on Student Success brought together more than 80 trustees, 14 college presidents, and representatives from 10 state associations and 22 national organizations to discuss how trustees can advance the completion agenda on their own campuses.

Sponsored by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the symposium’s attendees spent much of the two days developing model policy goals that governing boards can use to “consider how well they are helping guide their colleges towards an even stronger commitment to student success,” ACCT President and CEO J. Noah Brown said at the Congress opening session.

The policy goals, which will be further refined during a Thursday town hall meeting, focus on a range of issues, including effective partnerships, ways to foster an institutional focus on student success, and the importance of balancing student success with community colleges’ commitment to access and equity. “We are very proud of this work and our ability to engage in it,” Brown told symposium attendees. “You cannot underestimate the importance of putting the right people in a room for a set amount of time. That’s how you move the needle.”

Dr. Anne Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association, told symposium attendees that community colleges and the K-12 systems her boards represent must work together to address the challenges of a time when expectations are higher and the needs are greater than ever before. “We can get this right by working together," she said. "How we align ourselves to serve the neediest students is absolutely critical.”

Dr. Linda Baer, senior program officer with The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, stressed that trustee leadership is critical in sustaining a momentum shift at their institutions. “We can’t invest in anything more important than the leadership of the trustees for the important work to be done—building and sustaining community colleges to optimize student success,” she said, urging attendees to focus on narrowing a looming skills gap that has already left jobs unfilled at a time of high unemployment.

Symposium speakers reiterated that proven practices have emerged from the growing body of research on student completion issues, including simplifying choices for students, providing clearer pathways, engaging students through programs such as orientations, advisories, and supplemental instruction, and tracking student progress from their first days on campus. But they also urged trustees to focus on ensuring that their colleges weave completion into their overall mission and strategic goals. “Sometimes I think we’ve studied things to death,” Baer said. “It’s time to take action.”

“The hardest work is not changing practice, but changing cultures,” added Dr. Kay McClenney, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. “The board plays an extremely important role in... shifting to an understanding that access without success in 21st century America is an empty promise... and [that] we’re not talking about itty-bitty changes around the edges.”

“If you owned your power with respect to the issue of student success, the conversation on the campuses you govern could be very different,” agreed Dr. John N. Gardner, president of the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education. “I hope you will own this power and focus on this issue in new ways.”

McClenney told trustees it was critical to “frame the way you think about what you need to think about. It’s not your role to decide what the curriculum and interventions are going to be,” she says. “But it surely is your role to ask questions about what the college is doing and monitor the data to see if these actions are closing achievement gaps.”

Completion by Design, the five-year initiative funded by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is now in the planning phase on 21 campuses in four states. Emphasizing programs that “start with scale” and reach broad swaths of students, Completion by Design has also led to a change in mindset among its four managing partners. “We had seen incremental process,” said Dr. Richard Carpenter, chancellor of Lone Star College, whose Completion by Design efforts will reach one-third of all community college students in Texas. “What intrigued us was the capability to be transformational.”

With its focus on developing model policy goals, the symposium confirmed the critical role trustees play in that transformation. “Effective governance has never been more important,” Carpenter said. “Boards really need to be bold.” Read more!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Understanding Continuing Resolutions: A Staple of Congressional Procedure

This week, Congress once again faced the task of making a last-minute deal to avert a government shutdown. Over the past nine months, this had happened several times, and the American people have become more familiar with the term “continuing resolution.”

Congressional budget and appropriations are complex topics even when everything goes as designed, which is quite rare. We are frequently left with the likes of the omnibus, minibus, unanimous consent agreements, cloture, and, of course, the continuing resolution.

As the rules of the House and Senate are written, the fiscal year runs from October 1st – September 30th. Starting on Saturday, October 1st, we began fiscal year 2012. The House and Senate are supposed to each pass budget resolutions by April 15th to determine spending caps for the appropriators. Once those caps are set, it is up to the House and Senate to determine how the money is distributed within those caps. They must pass 12 appropriations bills before September 30th to fund the upcoming fiscal year. This process involves several steps: the House and Senate write their own bills; the relevant appropriations subcommittee and appropriations full committee mark up (a process where the legislation is debated and amended) and discharge each bill; bills are considered, debated, and passed on the House and Senate floors; a conference committee works out the differences between the House and Senate bills; the House and Senate vote on an identical compromise bill; and the President signs it into law.

Has Congress ever completed the process under this timeframe? Well, since the current budgetary deadline of April 15th was set in 1985, Congress has met the target four times: 1993, 1999, 2000, and 2003. On the appropriations front, since 1977, all bills have passed before September 30th three times: 1989, 1995, and 1997. Note that none of these years correspond. Is it inefficiency? Is the process to vet these bills too cumbersome? Or is this simply part of our democratic government structure? One thing for certain is that barring an overwhelming single-party control of Congress and the presidency, it’s highly unlikely that all target deadlines will ever be met in a single year.

Hence we are left with the omnibus, minibus, unanimous consent agreements, cloture, and continuing resolution. CR’s, as they are commonly referred to inside the beltway, can provide level fund, specific cuts, across-the-board cuts, certain increases, or even new authorizations. They can fund one day or a whole year. In general, they lack the specificity you’d find in an individual appropriations bill or even an omnibus that combines several appropriations bills into one. Usually they pass without much notice or controversy. In fact, Congress passed around 150 CRs between 1977 and 2010. Yes, there were times when the last-minute deal averted shutdown, or the government in fact did shut down. However, over the past nine months, the standoffs over the CR have risen as a symbol of the current political infighting in Washington.

For community colleges, many of the discretionary programs important to our institutions have faced targeted or across-the-board cuts under continuing resolutions. Spending reductions may be necessary, but for the most part, these cuts are not vetted or examined based on need. Passing individual appropriations bills allows for greater debate, scrutiny, and compromise. The good news is that we may be moving toward that direction. All indications are that Congress will at least attempt to pass an omnibus bill before winter. This allows ACCT the opportunity to better organize and advocate priorities to members of Congress.

While the process may be frustrating and at times confusing, ACCT public policy staff is available to answer any questions. We rely on your engagement and efforts as we continue to advocate in Washington, DC. Read more!