ORLANDO, Fla. — Nearly 2,400 community college chancellors, presidents, deans and faculty members descended upon the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort and Convention Center for the 92nd annual American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) convention. Amid a community college’s moment in the sun, as an economic downturn has highlighted community colleges’ value proposition, the Orlando World Center Marriott is buzzing with activity, and community college leaders and faculty members of all stripes seek to propel their respective institutions to higher levels of success.
AACC President Walter Bumphus said this year’s AACC convention “may be the largest one we’ve ever had. We’re just so thrilled with the interest in community colleges right now.”
Over the weekend, the AACC released a report from its 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges titled “Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future.” The report, which was spearheaded by Bumphus, who served as chairman of the commission, calls for fundamental shifts in the leadership orientation of community colleges, from just being focused on access to a focus on completion.
“We always talked about getting more and more and more. We saw ourselves and valued ourselves on getting more, not necessarily getting [students] out,” says Dr. Ronald Williams, who serves as vice president with the College Board and sits on AACC’s board of directors.
“It’s not that we ignored [completion], but it was not where our validation came,” said Williams. “We told people how big we were, and I think what Walter is trying to do is refocus that conversation, in such a way that now we shift from that entry point … to this notion of rather to see our value as the end point, rather than the entry point.”
The current economic challenges require significant action, according to the AACC. “In a rapidly changing America and a drastically reshaped world, the ground beneath the nation’s feet has shifted so dramatically that community colleges need to reimagine their roles and the ways they do their work,” the report said.
For low-income students and students of color, an inability to finish a certificate or degree and inadequate job preparation can have a devastating effect on those with the greatest need for community college programs.
“Higher education is struggling with low student success rates and employers complain about inadequate student preparation for the job market,” Bumphus said.
The report urges a focus on three priorities: “Redesign, Reinvent and Reset.” The redesign is for students’ educational experiences, while colleges must reinvent their institutional roles. Colleges and policymakers must help “reset” the system to create partnerships and incentives that focus on student and institutional success.
Community colleges “are doing great work against all odds,” Bumphus told Diverse, but they must be “laser focused” on student success. In one goal outlined in the report, colleges must increase completion rates for certificates and associate degrees by 50 percent by 2020. In doing so, they also should address attainment gaps based on income, race, ethnicity and gender.
As part of this work, the report recommends action to change “fragmented course-taking to clear, coherent educational pathways” plus a commitment to eliminating achievement gaps.
Currently, 46 percent of students who enter community college with a goal of earning a degree or certificate attain that goal, transfer to a baccalaureate institution or are still enrolled six years later, the AACC noted. “The rates, unfortunately, are lower for Hispanic, Black, Native American, and low-income students,” it stated.
Bumphus noted that one goal is for colleges to have “courageous conversations” about how to increase success rates. While access remains a priority, college success also must be a core goal, he added.
The study also recommends that colleges improve readiness by doubling the success rate of students who take remedial or developmental courses. Remedial education “is all too often a burial ground for student aspirations,” said the report, and colleges can respond by promoting accelerated learning and providing more student supports.
Elsewhere, the report seeks to close skill gaps by focusing career and technical education on the skills needed for existing and future jobs. Strong partnerships with business and industry are essential to make this happen, Bumphus said.
Strategic public and private investments are another priority, particularly at a time when more than 40 states are cutting support for community colleges, he added.
To help colleges meet the goals of the report, the AACC is creating a 21st Century Center to help members with strategic planning, leadership development and research. This report marks the end of phase two of the AACC’s 21st-Century Initiative, which has a goal to help an additional 5 million students receive degrees, certificates or other credentials by 2020.
The entire report can be accessed via: www.aacc.nche.edu/AboutCC/21stcenturyreport/index.html.