CC summit will miss the point

Next week’s White House summit on community colleges is “designed to miss the point,” writes Community College Dean. To start with, “not a single community college professor or on-campus administrator” is invited. But the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CEO of Accenture will be there.

The summit will be hosted by Jill Biden, the vice-president’s wife, who teaches at a community college. But she’s the only instructor on the guest list? That’s crazy. (College presidents and students have been invited.)

Workforce development and increasing graduation rates are the goals, according to the website. “Ask the wrong questions, and you’ll get the wrong answers,” writes the dean.

Graduation data count first-time, full-time, degree-seeking students, a group that’s a small minority on  community college campuses.

If we wanted to ‘game’ our graduation rates, we could just put in place policies that favor the first-time, full-time student over the returning student or the part-time student. That’s easy enough — sometimes it happens without our even trying — but it’s contrary to the mission of the college.

Community colleges do lots of workforce development, but much of it isn’t counted in statistics like graduation rates, the dean argues.

When a large local employer contracts with the continuing-ed arm of my cc to run some ESL classes for its entry-level employees who mostly speak Spanish, that’s a version of workforce development, but it’s completely disconnected from our IPEDS numbers, and it won’t show up in certificate completions.

What community colleges really need, the dean writes, is “a sustainable funding model.”

Part of that implies a direct, long-term, sustained infusion of operating cash. Money won’t generate success by itself, but you won’t generate success without it. When community colleges are struggling just to keep doing what they’re already doing, asking them to do even more with even less is just silly. If you want real improvement, you need to pay for it. Whether that means direct federal infusions, or bloc grants (with strings) to states, or dramatically higher Pell grants, is open to debate. The mechanism could be any number of things. But unless the bottom line is increased dramatically and permanently, we’re blowing smoke.

Colleges need to stop measuring academic achievement by the credit hour, the dean writes. Federal leadership could be a big help.

The feds could look at the unintended consequences of disability law, the repeal of mandatory retirement ages and the judicial assertion of a property right inherent in tenure, which “add tremendously to overhead and don’t result in better student outcomes.”

Finally, improving the K-12 system so graduates are literate and numerate would be a huge help to community colleges, the dean writes.

But that’s not going to happen.

Update: President Obama will attend the summit, the White House has announced.  Both K-12 teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, were invited to send representatives. Jill Biden’s office says community college faculty have been invited, but provided no names. Adjuncts are demanding a voice, reports Chronicle of Higher Education.

Maria Maisto, who teaches English at Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio, leads the New Faculty Majority, a national advocacy group for adjuncts.

. . . she is baffled over why the faculty is not playing a more-significant role in the discussion. She is especially troubled by the fact that Ms. Biden, an effusive supporter of community colleges, would leave the adjunct faculty’s voice out of the summit.

Adjuncts now do most of the teaching at community colleges.

POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON October 1, 2010

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Sara Goldrick-Rab

Hi–The claim that no instructors are invited is completely false. I personally know of a faculty member from Madison Area Technical College attending the summit (a graduate student of mine).

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