Community colleges are doing more with less, writes Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, in Community College Week. But there are limits to what the hard-pressed system can do well.
The fundamental question in analyzing the ever-evolving mission of the community college is, “where do we draw the line?” Prepare students for transfer? Check. Deliver a skilled workforce? Check. Provide lifelong learning and community service? Count on the community’s college. Now some states are making our colleges the linchpin in plans to deliver more baccalaureate completers — the $10,000 proposition that governors in Texas and Florida are making political hay by promoting.
But does that mission need to be redefined? One of the key recommendations in a report by the 21st-Century Commission on the Future of the Community College was to “refocus the community college mission and redefine institutional roles to meet 21st-century education and employment needs.”
In sum, the commissioners stressed the need to add the word “no,” as in “no longer,” to the community college vocabulary and to put energies and resources into only those activities that will reinvent the learning experience.
Community colleges also need to develop new leaders for the future, writes Bumphus. It’s estimated 70 percent of community college presidents will retire in the next 10 years.
Pell Grant funding will continue for two years under debt-ceiling proposals by both Republican John Boehner and Democrat Harry Reid. Both congressional leaders propose cutting the interest subsidy on Stafford loans to graduate students to fund Pell, notes Higher Ed Watch. But the future is murky.
As Ed Money Watch reported last week, any proposal that Congress ultimately adopts to reduce federal spending would include caps on annual appropriations for future years, and would be enforced by across-the-board spending cuts called “sequestration.” These caps on so-called discretionary spending will squeeze education funding over the coming years as nearly all federal education programs are funded through the annual appropriations process.
More than a third of Pell Grant recipients attend community colleges, notes the American Association of Community Colleges in a policy brief. With the federal aid, students are more likely to enroll full time and to cut work hours, boosting their chances of earning a credential.
However, federal expenditures for Pell Grants have increased by 182 percent in five years, making the $35 billion program an attractive target for budget cutters, notes Community College Times.
“Discussions on Capitol Hill about changes to the Pell Grant program should factor into them the real lives and people who could be impacted,” said AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus. “The Pell Grant program has historically been a vital support for many seeking to better themselves.”
. . . “More people are turning to community colleges to help them keep their dreams of higher education alive, and they need funding to stay in school and earn the credentials needed for the workplace,” he said.
Traditionally, Pell Grants have enjoyed bipartisan support, but those days may be over. Republican and Democratic lawmakers clashed on the growing cost of Pell Grants when U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan testified Wednesday before the Senate panel that oversees K-12 spending, notes Ed Week’s Politics K-12. Aid for low-income college students is “eating up an ever-larger share of the U.S. Department of Education’s nearly $70 billion budget.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the K-12 spending committee, admonished Duncan about runaway spending at the department. He said the department has requested a more than 20 percent increase in spending compared with two years ago.
But Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the panel’s chairman, pointed out that most of that money is Pell Grants. “What’s going on is, we’ve got a lot of people out of work,” he said. “Most of this increase is because of the increased use of Pell grants.”
Joining a conference call earlier this week, President Obama thanked student leaders for a letter on the importance of student aid. However, he made no promises.
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.
Community college leaders say they’re trying to educate more students with less money, according to a Campus Computing Project survey released at the meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges in New Orleans.
Sixty-nine percent of community college presidents and district chancellors reported higher enrollment and 58 percent reported cuts in their operating budgets, notes Inside Higher Ed.
In his keynote address Saturday, AACC President Walter Bumphus said community colleges should speak “with one voice” and refuse to be “timid” when seeking funding.
Enrollment growth at community colleges appears to be slowing, the survey revealed. Fewer colleges report rapid growth.
As for the financial picture, midyear budget cuts are becoming less common as the economic recovery continues. Thirty-one percent of community colleges reported them this year, compared to 54 percent last year and 61 percent in 2009. The average midyear cut also declined from 7 percent last year to 5 percent this year.
Eighty-two percent of community college presidents reported rising online enrollment.
“Student demand rather than efforts to reduce instructional costs clearly drives the gains in online enrollments in community colleges,” explained Kenneth C. Green, director of the Campus Computing Project.
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.