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Community College Experts Urge Greater Collaboration To Boost Completion Rates

SILVER SPRING, Md. – In order to ensure better access, persistence and completion at their institutions, community college leaders need to collaborate with high school educators to develop standards that ensure a high school graduate is actually ready for college.

That was one of the key points made during a series of panel discussions at Montgomery College on Wednesday at the Community College Virtual Symposium led by Second Lady Jill Biden.

The symposium is a capstone event for a series of meetings that followed the Biden-led White House Summit on Community Colleges last fall.

The initiative is meant to shine the spotlight on the role that community colleges will play in reaching the Obama administration’s goal of producing the most college-educated workforce in the world by 2020.

“There’s no question that having community college faculty and high school faculty work together to develop standards and understand what they’re doing is absolutely essential to this,” Dr. Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, said during a panel discussion on aligning secondary and post-secondary career technical education, more commonly known as CTE.

“I think institutions have to have a policy where they encourage that and make sure that type of thing happens,” Bailey said, citing dual enrollment as one strategy that has forced secondary and post-secondary institutions to interact with one another. “What we’re talking about is having those institutional relationships.”

The symposium served as a sort of preview on a series of issue briefs expected to be issued in the near future regarding effective strategies for community colleges to more effectively move students from the classroom to jobs that pay family-sustaining wages. The issue briefs will deal with topics that range from how to engage employers to integrate industry-driven competencies into education to how to do better assessments and more effective developmental education.

The symposium also featured what has essentially become the usual cast of characters for the community college case: U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Education Under Secretary Martha Kanter, and Jill Biden.

Biden and all of the Obama administration leaders recited what has become an increasingly common refrain in their speeches—basically that community colleges, while often unheralded, play an indispensably important role in preparing youths, workers, career changers, veterans and others for the high-growth and high-demand jobs of the 21st century.

Community college leaders welcome the attention that the Obama administration is showering on their institutions, particularly at a time when budgets are stretched.

This week has been particularly beneficial in terms of attention. Earlier this week, for instance, Dr. Biden announced a $1 million award for community colleges that do an outstanding job of preparing students for careers.

On Friday, President Obama is expected to give the commencement speech at Miami Dade College, where he will receive what Miami Dade College President Eduardo J. Padrón said would be Obama’s first honorary associate degree.

In the case of Wednesday’s symposium, the venue was the Cultural Arts Center at the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus of Montgomery College.

Though the auditorium was hardly half full, the symposium was attended online by a 1,000 or so visitors throughout the country, organizers said.

Montgomery College President Dr. DeRionne Pollard, who assumed her new post this past August, said hosting the symposium was a proud moment for her institution in what has been a “phenomenal year” for community colleges.

She said Bailey’s remarks about the need to collaborate with high school educators resonated with her, particularly since the institution she leads already has made considerable headway in this area.

“We have a good partnership with the Montgomery County Public Schools system,” Dr. Pollard said. “We’re probably one of the best in the country in this regard.”

She said community college leaders and other educational leaders must view themselves “as part of a bigger enterprise and not just our own populations” in order to boost college degree attainment, as called for by the Obama administration.

“If we see ourselves as truly interdependent, we’d have a different attitude,” Dr. Pollard said.

Though Montgomery College has a graduation rate of 14 percent, the school sees 32 percent of its students transfer.

Dr. Pollard said it’s still amazing as many students graduate given the complexity of their lives. She also said she’d like to focus more on having students complete instead of transferring out of the college.

Once students earn their two-year degree, she said, they always can go on to a four-year college or their respective careers.

“I’d like them to complete and transfer,” Dr. Pollard said.

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