Community colleges, occupational certificate programs and apprenticeships are key parts of the campaign to improve higher education success, write policy analysts in Getting to Graduation: The Completion Agenda in Higher Education. The book calls for rethinking financial aid, remediation and funding policies to promote completion.
Editors Andrew P. Kelly, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and Mark Schneider, vice president for the American Institutes for Research, discussed needed reforms in an e-mail interview with Inside Higher Ed
The growth in middle-skill jobs, particularly in fields like healthcare and information technology, means that we are going to need more workers with sub-baccalaureate credentials.
The book highlights two particular approaches to boosting sub-baccalaureate productivity. First, several states have invested in one or two-year occupational certificate programs that have shown promising results. For instance, Tennessee’s Technology Centers boast high completion rates, low costs-per-degree, and strong labor market returns, providing the state with a high return on its investment.
. . . Second, federal and state governments should expand formal apprenticeship programs, where students learn on the job and complete academic coursework, all while earning a wage from a participating employer.
Community college leaders can’t just wait for public funding to return, Schneider and Kelly write. They must look for changes that will improve productivity.
It is important to remember that although community colleges are cheap for consumers, they can be expensive for taxpayers. High rates of remediation and student attrition often translate to high costs per student outcome.
Adding student success initiatives to the existing structure won’t be effective, they argue. Entrepreneurial community college leaders are asking:
How can colleges shift some of their instruction from brick and mortar classrooms into quality online models that lower costs and build capacity? How can they leverage a competency-based approach to reduce the time and money spent on remediation?
. . . tweaks to student aid programs, more articulation agreements and even replication of particular “disruptive” innovations will not be sufficient to achieve new goals.
State and federal policies should “encourage providers — new and established, public, nonprofit or for-profit — to compete with one another on the value they deliver to their students,” Kelly and Schneider conclude. “If we wish to make dramatic improvements in student success and productivity, policies should cultivate a market that rewards those things.”