AACC: Grad rates aren’t that bad

Community colleges are working to improve graduation rates and don’t need any help from the American Enterprise Institute, writes the American Association of Community Colleges in response to an AEI report on the high cost of low graduation rates.  “The so-called analysis is a pseudo-academic attack on community colleges,” writes the AACC in a statement.

AEI looks at three-year graduation rates (22.1 percent), instead of  “more accurate” four-year rates (27.6 percent), AACC writes. And many students who leave college are “stop-outs” rather than drop-outs.  “Federal data indicate that 62 percent of those who leave a community college in the first year re-enroll at an institution of higher education within the next five years.”

The report assumes that those who leave a community college earn the same as high school diploma holders, rather than those who have “some college.” By definition, students who start and leave a community college have attained “some college.” In 2011, median weekly earnings for high school graduates were $638 as compared to $719 for those with “some college.” The unemployment rate was also 0.7% lower for those with “some college.”

In addition, the AEI report “dramatically understates” community college transfers and their success rates, AACC charges.

More help for low-income students

By linking low-income community college students to benefits such as food stamps, medical insurance, child-care assistance, legal aid and other public help, the Benefits Access for College Completion hopes to increase retention and graduation rates.

The American Association of Community Colleges has launched the three-year, $4.84 million initiative, which will be piloted at six community colleges.  Led by the Center for Law and Social Policy and AACC, with funding from the FordKresgeLuminaAnnie E. Casey and Open Society foundations, BACC hopes to help students complete college faster and become economically self-sufficient.

The participating schools are Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Gateway Community and Technical College and Owensboro Community and Technical College in Kentucky, LaGuardia Community College in New York, Northampton Community College in Pennsylvania, and Skyline College in California. In addition, two schools in Michigan — Macomb Community College and Lake Michigan College — will share perspectives from similar work.

LaGuardia Community College President Gail Mellow said the initiative is a “huge opportunity” to help “financially troubled students get the benefits they are eligible to receive” and to help “shape the policy environment.”


Community colleges in the 21st century

The 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges will rethink the mission of the nation’s largest and fastest growing higher education sector.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) named three co-chairs to guide the 36-member commission: San Diego Community College District Chancellor Emeritus Augustine Gallego, Cuyahoga Community College President Jerry Sue Thornton, and Dr. Kay McClenney, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement.

In addition to college and university leaders, the commission includes Kati Haycock of the Education Trust, Mark Milliron of the Gates Foundation, Diana Oblinger of EDUCAUSE and James T. Ryan of W.W. Grainger, Inc.

“We have very intentionally selected commissioners who bring diverse viewpoints and backgrounds,” said AACC President Walter G. Bumphus. “That includes a few friendly critics who have consistently challenged community colleges to increase accountability and improve student outcomes.”

The first commission meeting will be held Aug. 12 in Washington, DC.

“We will focus the collective intellect of the commission on such issues as use of disruptive technologies to speed learning and the redesign of structures, calendars and processes to better match the needs of our increasingly diverse student population,” Bumphus said. “We will also not shy from criticism, such as our perceived need to be all things to all people.”

Community colleges are trying to cope with rising demand for education and job training and declining state funding. President Obama wants community colleges to graduate an additional 5 million students with degrees and certificates by 2020.


CCs try revenue-generating ideas

Hit by funding cuts, community colleges are looking for new ways to generate revenue, reports Community College Times. At the American Association of Community Colleges convention in New Orleans, panelists talked about what their colleges are doing.

“We have to be more innovative to increase our revenue,” said Preston Pulliam, president of Portland Community College (Oregon).  PCC added more weekend and late-evening classes to maximize the use of its facilities, banned smoking on campus to cut health-care costs and hired an auditor to analyze ways to run payroll and financial aid more efficiently.

Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) in New York rents the college’s video production and computer labs when students are not using them to small media companies.  The college also charges physicians $6,800 to earn a certificate in polysomnography.

Tacoma Community College (TCC) in Washington state is making a profit on two- to four-week programs for international students, who improve their English skills and earn about American culture before committing to a long-term program.

Perhaps the most controversial idea at TCC is charging higher student fees for certain high-demand programs, such as nursing, radiology technology and nanotechnology. The idea is appealing because higher fees would help sustain and even expand such programs that are more expensive because of the equipment needed for training, (TCC President Pamela) Transue said. However, she is concerned that higher fees could price out some lower-income students.

Rio Salado College in Arizona, primarily an online community college, charges higher course fees for dental hygiene classes and saves money by using facilities provided by the Arizona Dental Association.

Colleges also are reaching out to potential donors, including alumni, faculty and staff and foundations.

Initially, Portland-area foundations were reluctant to support PCC because it receives state funding. The college made the case that it needs help. One foundation provided a $1 million matching grant, and another gave a grant to help the college improve its fund-raising operation.

The new mission

Rebalancing the Mission: The Community College Completion Challenge, a policy brief by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), looks at the issues colleges will face as they move from focusing on access to stressing success.

The new mission includes providing dual-credit classes for high school students, affordable classes for “swirlers” also enrolled in four-year institutions and vocational classes for “retoolers.”

Traditional completion rate measures count only associate and bachelor’s degrees, the policy brief notes. Success should include helping students earn certificates that will help them find employment quickly. In some cases, retoolers only need one or two classes to meet their goals.

Other students need help finding their education paths.

Stackable credentials, career pathways, and applied associate and bachelor’s degrees have emerged as ways to provide opportunity for continued academic progression for those who might otherwise have enrolled in terminal training programs.

Federal officials and higher education leaders are looking for better ways to define success, reports Community College Times.

Bumphus to lead AACC

Dr. Walter Bumphus will be president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges. A professor in the Community College Leadership Program (CCLP) and chair of the Department of Educational Administration at the University of Texas at Austin, Bumphus has served as senior administrator, community college president, system chancellor and executive in private industry.