Rebuilding America’s Middle Class, a coalition of community colleges, met in Indianapolis last week to discuss workforce development policies, affordability and removing regulatory barriers to training community college students for jobs.
“We face a defining moment for America’s future – one that will determine just how committed we are to providing everyone a shot at the American Dream and the middle class,” said Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges and founding member of RAMC.
America’s community colleges provide a pathway to the middle class at a much lower cost than their four-year counterparts, the coalition points out. Students can complete a professional certificate in one to two semesters for $1,500 to $4,000 or a two-year degree for $7,000 to $8,000. An associate degree in nursing, with training time in a clinical setting, averages $10,000. That’s less than half what students pay at state universities.
In a keynote speech, Lumina’s Jamie Merisotis reaffirmed the foundation’s commitment to its “big goal” of raising the number of Americans with high-value college credentials and degrees from 40 percent now to 60 percent by 2025.
Community colleges . . . can be the exemplars for change in the system as a whole. And change is certainly needed.
Without question, this nation needs a more productive higher-ed system—one that enables institutions to meet each student where he or she is and provide the support each student needs to succeed. We need a system that ensures quality by fostering genuine learning, not mere program completion … a system that truly prepares students for work—and for life—in an increasingly global society.
Such a system would allow students to accumulate credits from different institutions over several years to earn a degree, minimizing waste and duplicative learning. It would acknowledge and credit prior learning—skills developed through work or military service and which often reflect a student’s abilities as well as or even better than earning classroom credit. It would also be far more focused on the needs of students and less on the needs of higher education institutions.
And it’s critically important that the system be designed to serve today’s students—the ever-growing number of low-income, first-generation, minority and adult students who constitute the “real world” on campuses and in classrooms these days. To reach the Big Goal, America needs all types of students to succeed, and they must succeed in far greater numbers. That means we need a student-centered system—one that is flexible, accessible, accountable and committed to quality.