More Problems Identified in Massive Building Project

The Los Angeles Times continues to uncover problems in the management of building projects by the Los Angeles Community College District. The latest discovery: The company hired by the district to oversee $450 million in spending on the campus of Mission College took consulting fees from one of the contractors whose work it was supposed to be monitoring. While it was taking the consulting fees, the company signed off on payments to the contractor -- over the objections of architects and engineers who believed the billing was excessive.


Completion Push for Two-Year Colleges in Illinois

Lt. Governor Sheila Simon of Illinois on Thursday announced a proposed reform package aimed at improving the 20 percent graduation rate for the state's community colleges. In a speech and accompanying report, Simon, who is the governor's point person on education, made the case for performance-based funding and the creation of publicly available report cards that would evaluate each college's progress toward completion goals. And in order to ease the remedial math pressure on two-year colleges, she recommended that public high school students be required to take four years of math to graduate.

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AAUP Balks at CUNY Transfer Initiative

The American Association of University Professors last week sent a letter to the City University of New York chancellor and board chair, citing concerns about the “Pathways to Degree Completion Initiative,” a move by CUNY to enable smoother transfer for its community college students to CUNY's four-year institutions. The initiative was approved by CUNY’s Board of Trustees in June 2011. In the letter, the AAUP said that faculty members had complained about the new framework for the transfer of credits between CUNY’s 19 undergraduate colleges and the way these changes were adopted by “an administration-appointed Task Force and its associated committees,” bypassing elected faculty bodies. The faculty members have also complained about the soundness of the initiative itself and the consequences for academic freedom. (Some faculty members at community colleges have backed the changes, saying that they were necessary to help their students.)

Jay Hershenson, senior vice chancellor for university relations at CUNY, said the process had been a struggle, but that the initiative would raise quality and increase accountability. “CUNY’s Board of Trustees unanimously adopted the Pathways Initiative after extensive consultation, hearings, and meetings. Hundreds of faculty have participated in the curricula development process and CUNY’s elected student leadership hailed the reforms as long overdue,” he said.

Community Colleges Urged to Do More for Immigrants

Many community colleges "struggle" to "effectively meet the needs of immigrants," says a new report from the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education. The report notes that community colleges and immigrant groups vary, but suggests that certain parts of "a framework" are needed regardless of groups served or the characteristics of the college. These parts include high-level commitment to serving immigrant students, "proactive outreach" to immigrant students, a redesign of English as a second language programs, a "holistic, integrated" approach to student services and efforts to support leadership qualities in immigrant students.


California 2-Year Board Endorses Task Force Report

The Board of Governors of the California community college system on Monday voted to endorse recommendations from a state task force that seeks to improve student success amid a backdrop of deep budget cuts. The recommendations include more of an emphasis on first-time students who are on-track to a degree or credential, a controversial shift for a system that has long been steadfastly committed to open access. But the task force and system leaders argue that the 112 colleges are already rationing slots, having turned away 140,000 students in a recent year, with an estimated 200,000 who will be frozen out this year. California's Legislature is scheduled to consider the recommendations in the next two months.

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Montgomery College follows remedial math revolution

New Montgomery College math lab takes increasingly popular "emporium" approach to remedial math, where professors change their role to boost student success.


Job Training Programs Strained at Community Colleges

State community college leaders say they are struggling to meet workforce training needs because of high unemployment levels and budget woes, according to a new report from the University of Alabama's Education Policy Center. The report, which was based on a survey of two-year system leaders in 50 states, found strained job training capacities at community colleges in 35 states. And federal workforce training funds have been exhausted in 21 states, according to the report. "Right now, workforce training is an underfunded Band-Aid," said Stephen G. Katsinas, the center's director and a coauthor of the report.

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Community college in Michigan ramps up tenure-track faculty

A community college in Michigan will grant tenure or tenure-track status to all full-time faculty, bucking the adjunctification trend in higher ed.

Essay questions criticism of short-term certificate programs at community colleges

It's no secret that the community college sector and the completion agenda in particular, derived in large part from the American Graduation Initiative (AGI), have gotten a lot of attention recently. It's inarguable that we need an educated citizenry and that community colleges have a significant role to play in educating our workforce. Full federal funding didn’t follow the ideas in AGI, but the basic premise of certificate and degree completion as a primary measure of student success has gained ground among our federal and state leaders, and among private foundations. The goal of performance based accountability measures is laudable, as is identifying appropriate metrics to benchmark both institutional effectiveness and student success.

There are, though, a few caveats to consider seriously. There is an assumption that community colleges can be more efficient in these austere times and, at the same time, provide the growing number of services our students deserve, and that we can increase student success rates without compromising open access. Further, a narrow definition of student success as degree or certificate completion discounts the myriad of reasons beyond a goal of graduation that students attend community colleges.

The American Association of Community Colleges' Voluntary Framework of Accountability defines multiple measures and practices that lead to student success. Other organizations have sought to define student success through a more limited and prescribed lens. For instance, Complete College America (CCA) is benchmarking awards granted as a primary metric for community college students. However, when considering certificate awards they have chosen to count only those certificates of 30 hours or more. Futureworks, commissioned by CCA to produce "Certificates Count: An Analysis of Sub-baccalaureate Certificates,"  recommends that "short-term programs that lack significant labor-market payoffs should be discouraged" based on their analysis of available data. The organization carries this too far, however, in that the core metrics of CCA exclude the short-term certificates (less than 30 hours) that in many cases meet academic standards and local labor market needs very effectively.

It is this benchmarking of 30-hour certificate awards and the besmirching the lesser credit hour certificates or courses that meet local or regional needs that concerns me. If state leaders and foundations are influenced by reports such as the one produced by Futureworks, and they evaluate our performance on these narrowly defined benchmarks, I fear that our local constituents and economies will not be well-served, and our students may be denied a viable educational starting point. In many cases short-term certificates provide access to job credentials that lead to a sustainable wage, with a curriculum agreed upon by faculty and business leaders. We would be doing our students a disservice by needlessly raising the floor for credentials.

In Connecticut, the fastest growing occupations are middle-skilled jobs. For many such jobs, a short-term certificate is the credential of choice by the employer. At my college, short-term certificates account for 60 percent of students enrolled in certificate programs, and 10 percent of all awards. For example, we offer short-term certificates in computer aided drafting of 15 credits in lean manufacturing of 6 credits and a 600-hour precision machining program in which a student can earn 12 credit hours towards a credit certificate or degree. These certificates provide students with access to a robust job market in manufacturing, and a sustainable wage. Short-term certificates for medical insurance specialists (22 credits) and paralegals (29 credits) do the same in their fields. Students who respond to program graduate surveys report being employed in their field, including 75 percent for recent grads of our precision-machining program, and 90 percent for a recent class of students earning paralegal certificates.

I think we can agree with Futureworks that the longer-term certificate options designed by faculty and advisory boards to meet certain employment needs may indeed provide a higher wage for workers, but the corollary isn’t that short-term certificates don't accomplish a similar goal or that they shouldn’t be counted and benchmarked; they should be embraced for the advantages they provide our students and our communities. Aren’t our program advisory committee members and our local employers the most knowledgeable in helping our colleges determine the types of programs we offer? According to the CEO of Whitcraft LLC, “We are here [in Connecticut] because of the highly skilled aerospace manufacturing workforce in the region." Or the president of Highland Manufacturing, who believes "MCC has played a vital role in the development of new and creative talent for our company."

Clearly, community colleges need to form partnerships with local and regional economic development agencies to ensure we have the programs, funding, space and equipment that produce students who have the skills and intellectual acumen -- forget whether that’s a degree or certificate for a moment -- that are needed to keep this fragile economy going, to ensure that families have sustainable incomes, and that education doesn’t become victim to thoughts of discretionary spending.

Frankly, no matter what the assessment of the aggregate national data, I’m going with whatever is most necessary to support my local community, and my programs will be implemented with academic integrity and rigor whether it’s one course, a certificate of any length, or an associate degree.

Gena Glickman is president of Manchester Community College.


Performance Funding Found to Increase Use of Data

A new study released by the Community College Research Center found that performance-based funding policies lead to greater use of data by colleges in institutional planning. Performance-based funding also encourages academic improvements and better student services. However, the policies can create unintended consequences, such as compliance costs, narrowing of institutional missions and grade inflation, the study found.


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