Sunday, October 14, 2012

2012 ACCT Congress: Incoming ACCT Chair Identifies the Skills Gap, Living Wage as Key Priorities

As the 2012 ACCT Leadership Congress came to a close, ACCT's incoming chair stressed the importance of addressing the skills gap and ensuring that community colleges work with a broad array of partners to ensure their graduates find jobs that pay a living wage.

"We have a serious problem in America today, and that's the skills gap," said ACCT Chair Jean Torgeson, a trustee at North Iowa Area Community College. "There's only one institution that can fix this, and that's community colleges. We can't do it alone, and we have to stop pointing fingers and start building partnerships with business and industry, foundation, K-12 systems—anybody who will build partnerships with us. We need everybody."

Stressing that "a living wage is not the minimum wage," Torgeson pointed to the agendas of the most recent previous ACCT chairs—poverty, student success, global education, collaboration, and partnerships—and stressed how each connects to the goal of ensuring that community colleges help their students find meaningful careers capable of sustaining families.

"Our economic recovery depends on it," she said.

The final keynote speaker, astronaut Dr. Andrew Feustel, discussed how his experience at Oakland Community College in Michigan prepared him for advanced studies and a career that culminated in two missions aboard the Space Shuttle. "The foundation I had at OCC really allowed me to explore the options for my future, and I received a degree that easily transferred to four-year institutions and allowed me to get a Ph.D. and ultimately go to space," he said.

Closing the 2012 Congress, Torgeson urged trustees to focus on student success and partnerships when they return to their colleges. "The train is leaving the station," she said. "I expect every trustee to be active on their local boards. Ask the tough questions and get those partnerships formed—and get all those students jobs with a living wage."

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

2012 ACCT Congress: A New Urgency to the Student Success Agenda

Opening the 43rd annual ACCT Leadership Congress, W.K. Kellogg Foundation President and CEO Sterling Speirn told attendees that they are "living in one of the most critical times our nation has ever faced."

The nation's future "depends largely on the investments we make on the institutions that support the human capital that is the bedrock of our society," Speirn said during Wednesday evening's opening session. "Student success in your colleges has a lot more to do than with just the individual success of your [students], but their role in our economy and democratic system going forward."

Over the next day, in sessions, keynotes, and a standing-room-only town hall meeting, Congress attendees grappled with a student success agenda imbued with a new sense of urgency. Reflecting on his recently published book, First in the World: Community Colleges and America's Future, ACCT President & CEO J. Noah Brown underscored the importance of the success agenda in restoring America's global competitiveness. "We face many challenges in the U.S., but none more important than educational attainment," Brown said. "Community colleges prove an on-ramp for the greatest diversity of individuals to the higher education superhighway. We are the most critical sector to restoring the economy and ensuring our people achieve the American dream."

During Thursday's general session luncheon, speakers pointed to the growing connections between industry, K-12, and higher-education systems. Bill Green, executive chairman of Accenture, touted community colleges as the lynchpin of talent acquisition for employers, calling the community college model "the shortest time from aspiration to a job."

Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, discussed the more stringent Common Core standards being implemented at the K-12 level and made the case that community colleges and school districts should work together to address the ongoing challenge of students who leave high school unprepared for college or careers. "There's no reason for us to graduate a student who then goes into remediation," Wilhoit said, urging community colleges to engage in "deep conversations" with the clusters of K-12 districts that feed into their campuses. "Better for one of our students to stay in our system a bit longer than go into your system unprepared," Wilhoit added. "That should happen in K-12, but it cannot happen without your help."

"The good news," said Paul E. Lingenfelter, president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers, "is that we're starting to get it as a country. The level of K-12 and community college collaboration is higher now than it's ever been. We're working together to reform teacher education and develop the capabilities to meed this agenda… We're beginning to stop pointing fingers and trying to find a silver bullet, but coming together around this agenda and really working to achieve the kind of educational success that we achieved 50 years ago, when Sputnik frightened us and almost on a dime we changed the way we… set aspirations as a country. We're on the verge of doing it again."

In a Town Hall meeting Thursday evening, a group of experts argued passionately that community colleges can deliver on what society needs most from them. Community colleges "make up part of the only system that has the opportunity to respond to the crisis," said Elizabeth Mason, CEO and co-founder of Single Stop USA, which has helped more than 50,000 community college students receive wraparound services over the last two and a half years. "The resources are there, the colleges are there, the demand is there and the leadership is there. We need to have the will to move forward." Douglas Wood, program officer for the Ford Foundation, agreed, adding that the foundation is focusing on community colleges as the "anchor institutions" to provide meaningful links between higher ed, K-12 systems and economic development organizations in "corridors of college success."

As a roadmap, AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus pointed to recommendations from the Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation's Future report, created by the AACC's 21st Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges. Byron McClenney, director of student success initiatives at the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin, emphasized the importance of trustees in shifting cultural mindsets. "Culture eats strategy for breakfast," he cautioned. "It starts with the board doing things differently and saying we're going to elevate the student success agenda and have the back of the CEO as he does the tough, courageous work."

ACCT Chair-Elect Jean Torgeson, a trustee at North Iowa Area Community College, told trustees that it is too late to make minor changes, adding that transforming colleges will require the participation of all stakeholders. "What's it going to take?" she asked. "Every single one of us."
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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

2012 Symposium on Completion: Bringing a 'Culture of Evidence' to Bear on Student Success

A focus on data has become essential to community college efforts around the student success agenda, stressed speakers at ACCT's third annual symposium on college completion. "Analytics and data are critical to you and your students being able to see inside the black box that is higher education," said Dr. Diana G. Oblinger, president and CEO of Educause. "We need to learn how to use data as a flashlight, not a hammer."

Held with support from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Kresge Foundation, the two-day symposium brought together community college leaders and thought partners from more than 20 organizations at a time in which the recession has dramatically accelerated the critical needs around completion. A full two-thirds of new and replacement jobs will require some form of postsecondary education by 2018, said Dr. James Applegate, vice president of program development for Lumina Foundation. "Jobs for high school graduates are just dropping off the charts, while for [postsecondary degree and certificate holders], we've fully recovered," he said. "Don't let anyone tell you we don't need more people with postsecondary degrees."

Another shift caused by the recession is that the number of incoming students entering community colleges with the goal of attaining a degree has increased from 59 percent to 83 percent in just a few years, said Dr. Kay McClenney, director for the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. "It's gone up dramatically because your students know a postsecondary credential is not just a ticket to the middle class and economic mobility, but in fact, the only ticket," McClenney said. "There's no more powerful lever for change than data that paints a picture of our community college students and tells the truth about which groups are disproportionately falling through the cracks."

Stressing the importance of community college leaders establishing a "culture of evidence," McClenney and other speakers emphasized that the role of trustees is not to micromanage and sift through data, but to establish priorities around student success, identify appropriate metrics, and hold their CEOs accountable to them. "You are local leaders who can move this agenda," said Dr. Narcisa Polonio, ACCT executive vice president for education, research, and board leadership services. "What's important to you becomes important to the institution."

The Voluntary Framework of Accountability continues to emerge as a key tool to help colleges understand and communicate the data around student success. With a beta of the tool used to collect data from colleges to be tested early next year, the goal is to begin active data collection by late fall of 2013, said Dr. Karen Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania, which beta tested the framework. "I look at the VFA locally as a catalyst to building my understanding of the institution to focus on governance, and nationally as a catalyst for understanding our areas of opportunity for the future," she said.

A public policy agenda developed by community college leaders at last year's symposium and during a town hall meeting at the 42nd Annual ACCT Leadership Congress is now available on ACCT's website. Speakers urged member boards to use the agenda as a roadmap to developing policies that support student success and completion.

ACCT President & CEO J. Noah Brown put the importance of putting the data into context succinctly. "Every one of those numbers is a face, and every one of those faces is a human being," he told symposium attendees. "And every human being deserves the right to live in dignity. That's why you're here." Read more!