CC leaders question college ratings plan

Dubious about President Obama’s plan to rate colleges’ value, community college leaders grilled U.S. Education officials at the Community College National Legislative Summit, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. Linking college ratings to federal aid raises will be challenging, admitted Jeff Appel, a deputy undersecretary of education.

Under Mr. Obama’s plan, colleges that performed well in the ratings would be rewarded with additional federal dollars while colleges that performed poorly would lose some aid. Skeptics fear such a system would punish colleges that serve many low-income and minority students and would encourage open-access institutions to tighten their entrance criteria or dumb down their standards.

More federal dollars could flow to selective colleges with wealthier students said Peter L. Mora, president of Atlantic Cape Community College, in New Jersey.

Pauline T. Jaske, board chair of Waukesha County Technical College, in Wisconsin, suggested that the administration place less emphasis on a college’s graduation rate and more on whether its students achieve the goals they came to college with—transferring to a four-year institution, earning a job promotion, or simply gaining additional skills. “If they reached that goal, that’s a success,” she argued.

Mr. Appel said the department was considering using the results of alumni surveys as a measure in its ratings, saying satisfaction scores could be “potentially useful” to consumers.

Michele Bresso, associate vice president for government relations at Kern County Community College, in California, asked for relief from redundant and sometimes conflicting reporting requirements. 

There may be streamlining opportunities, said Mr. Appel, despite the “triad” of federal, state and accreditor oversight.

The White House plans to release a draft rating system in the spring and publish the first ratings in the 2014-15 academic year. Then the president will ask Congress to link federal aid to the ratings. 

The “ambitious timeline” is troubling, said Karin M. Hilgersom, president of Sullivan County Community College, in New York. She asked how the administration would get results that aren’t “garbage in and garbage out,” given the shortcomings of federal outcomes data.

Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News and designer of its college rankings, also questioned the Obama plan at a federal symposium, reports the Washington Post. Who’s in charge? he asked. How will decisions be reviewed?

How should community colleges be rated when many of their students are not really seeking degrees but instead are aiming for certificates or just taking a couple of random classes? And of those who are seeking degrees, many transfer to four-year schools without getting an associate’s degree. Shouldn’t that be considered a success? If so, how will the government track it?

If outcomes are not properly measured, “things start to get more dicey for community colleges,”said Patrick Perry, a vice chancellor of California’s huge community college system.

Drone tech is job of the (near) future

Atlantic Cape Community College in New Jersey will offer drone technology training as part of the New Jersey college’s aviation studies program.

Although usually associated with the military, drones also are used for civilian purposes in border patrol, law enforcement, farming and academic research. Amazon.com is testing delivering packages using drones.

“Interest in UAS technology is expanding, and it is expected UAS operations and analytics personnel will be required by law enforcement, homeland security, fire safety, etc., in the future,” (spokeswoman Stacey) Clapp said.

New Jersey has been chosen as a drone testing site. Atlantic Cape students will visit the William J. Hughes Technical Center, the FAA’s national scientific facility in Egg Harbor Township, which will provide research support for drone testing conducted by Rutgers and Virginia Tech.

“I can imagine UAV systems being used in agriculture, search and rescue, shore monitoring, lifesaving, firefighting and other constructive uses,” wrote Dennis Filler, the tech center’s director,  in a Facebook post.

Colleges aid students hit by Sandy

Coastal community colleges and their students continue to struggle after Hurricane Sandy, reports Community College Times.

Ocean County College (OCC) in New Jersey shut down for two weeks, due to loss of power.  Since reopening, professors have tried to help students catch up with schoolwork.

“The college has made everyone feel very warm and welcome,” said Thomas Kosenski, whose home was flooded.

. . .  OCC set up a relief fund that raised $15,000. Those funds are going toward gas cards and money for food and school supplies to ensure that students and staff can continue at OCC.

. . . staff can apply for a one-year emergency loan to help cover expenses until they receive insurance payments.

For students who lost textbooks in the storm, the college’s bookstore was able to arrange loaner books through the publishers.

At Thanksgiving, an area chef hosted dinner for displaced faculty, staff and students.

Atlantic Cape Community College (ACCC), also in New Jersey, started a relief fund for students, using social networking. Donations have come from Gloucester County College (New Jersey), Wayne Community College (North Carolina) and Portland Community College (Oregon).

“The response was great and gratifying and immediate,” said Patricia Gentile, a dean at ACCC.

Some 425 students have applied for help from the fund, which now stands at $40,000.  Monica Tejeda, who’s working on an associate degree in human services, is one of them. Her basement apartment was flooded, destroying her computer and textbooks.  FEMA put Tejeda and her husband in a hotel.

Faculty has been lenient with assignments, Tejeda said, but she’s finding it “hard to focus.”

“How do you concentrate on writing a paper when you’re dealing with so much?” she asked.

Tejeda helps the older evacuees at the hotel, preparing for what she hopes will be a new career working with the elderly.

Students are trying to finish the semester, but community colleges aren’t sure how many will register for spring. So far, the numbers are down.