communitycolleges

White House Announces Job-Training Grants

Vice President Joe Biden and Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, on Monday announced the final installment of $2 billion in competitive grants under the so-called Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Program (TAACCCT). The grants are related to a broader expansion of federal workforce programs. The $450 million will go to roughly 270 community colleges around the country, the White House said in a written statement. The grants have been aimed at encouraging close collaboration between employers and colleges, as well as leading to approaches that continue after the grants dry up. This final batch was no exception, as grants will go to partnerships between the colleges and more than 400 employers.

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Aspen's Toolkit for Hiring Community College Leaders

The Aspen Institute's College Excellence Program this week unveiled a toolkit designed to help community college trustees, search committees and search firms to hire "exceptional" leaders. There is a high turnover among top executives at community colleges. An accompanying report from Aspen said the customizable kit seeks to assist the two-year sector in finding presidents who can help move their institutions forward, with a particular focus on improving student success. 

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Essay: Finding great teaching at an expensive university and a community college

As a student at a private university I had a sneaking suspicion that the magic between the pages of our great books had nothing to do with the cost of tuition, but had much to do with the generous heart of the instructor -- no matter the setting. I think I was right.

I spent the fall of 2013 enrolled at a community college in Texas trying to discover what you really get when you pay the most in the world of higher education -- and what you get when you pay the least.

By day, I was a junior English major at Southern Methodist University, one of the nation’s most expensive private universities. By night, I was a commuter student in an American literature class at Richland College, a nearby community college. An English class at my university cost over $5,100, while at Richland it was only $153. While at SMU, after a few false starts, the liberal arts had come alive through accessible professors and vibrant class discussions, something near the fantasy of "Dead Poets Society" but with textbooks too expensive to be able to justify tearing out any pages. As the semesters passed, I began to wonder about the extent to which this experience was tied to the amount I paid for it -- what do the liberal arts look like on a budget? What does a literature class feel like at our most accessible institutions? I went to find out.

***

The most important thing I had done at SMU was to go to my English 2312 professor’s office on a Friday afternoon and tell the truth. The truth was not that I was unprepared for college, but that I simply didn’t like college. It’s a different world up there, my mother had warned. I must have misplaced the map. And I didn’t know if I wanted to stay at SMU. I wondered how I would I ever begin to come to terms with this whole college thing -- what it was for and how it could ever be worth the cost. These are hard questions to ask during the best years of your life, which is what they called college in the movies I had watched. But I couldn’t recall a scene where the freshman pulled doubts like rabbits from a hat and turned them into answers for his soul.

The teacher was there, door open and waiting, just as the syllabus had promised under the heading of “Office Hours.” My purpose was to discuss my second paper -- a postmortem. Tim Cassedy, a young assistant professor recently arrived from New York, observed that it seemed my high school had prepared me well for college writing -- an innocuous compliment to most students. But for me it was an invitation. The proper response is to say "thank you" and indicate how happy you are to be at college now instead of that dreadfully confining high school that taught you how to form simple paragraphs. I hesitated for a second, half-inclined just to agree, give the correct answer, and continue with the conversation. But another part of me, the honest part, wanted badly to tell the truth.

I began to unpack my situation, my confusion, my questions, my longing for something more from my college experience than just velvet green lawns and affluent classmates. And Professor Cassedy listened. He didn’t dismiss or diagnose. He didn’t tell me that everything would be O.K. I was surprised to find that he seemed just as interested as I was in finding the answers to my questions and wishful thinkings. He understood. I got better. And I became an English major.

That moment saved college for me. If I had decided not to tell the truth that afternoon, I could have continued to accrue credits and eventually a degree, but I wouldn’t have been to college. Something significant would have been missed and valuable time wasted. I went back to his office another time and again I was reassured and challenged. I went back again and again and the door was always open. All of my big and important realizations were tested there; made sharper through discussion, questioning and that ancient practice most simply known as “teaching.”

***

Three semesters later I was at Richland, looking again for a way to understand college. My search led me to a green armchair. You nearly trip over it when you walk into Crockett Hall 292, but its importance there has more to do with symbolism than functionality. Near the halfway point of the semester, I decided to go to the office of my English 2326 professor, Mary Northcut, and try to tell her the truth about why I was taking her class and the answers I was seeking. I say “try to” because I didn’t know whether it was even possible to experience this part of the professor-student relationship in the way I had at SMU. There were office hours listed on the syllabus, but how could my professor, who was teaching six classes that semester, possibly have the time or energy to engage meaningfully with her students one-on-one? I was mistaken in questioning her availability and commitment to her students, and along the way I found that I was wrong about many other things as well. Important, life-changing conversations are happening at community colleges too, and I was lucky to have found myself in the middle of one that afternoon.

Professor Northcut has been teaching at Richland College for nearly 40 years. After completing a doctorate at Texas Christian University, she immediately devoted herself to teaching outside the spotlight but inside a social mission. She first taught at Bishop College, a historically black college that later closed its doors in 1988, and then at El Centro College before transferring across the Dallas County Community College District to Richland. At some point during her decades-long stay she must have acquired this green padded chair, the arm of which served as my seat during our hourlong talk. She was a fascinating conversation partner, possessing the tendency toward eccentricity that marks college professors everywhere. Between exchanges on the nature and purpose of higher education we discussed her love for horses, East Asian cinema and collecting Ancient Grecian coins. (In fact, it seemed I had walked into her office at a crucial moment in an eBay bidding war over a coin bearing the image of Phillip II of Macedon.)

But what deeply moved me, largely because I had foolishly believed that it couldn’t possibly be true, was this important truth: Professor Northcut wants to be at Richland and she is there on purpose. She is convinced that community colleges serve a vital purpose in aiding the best and brightest students who lack the resources to attend four-year schools right out of high school, or perhaps got sidetracked along the way. By her description, Richland exists explicitly to help those students find their way to universities and brighter futures. She is not at Richland because she never found a better job, or to collect a few extra paychecks before retirement. And she certainly does not see her students as the caricatures they often become in our higher-education debates -- representatives of broken systems; too unprepared to make it at a “real college.”

She knows them to be just as capable of academic success as any other students. And she has an astounding track record of helping her students take the next step. Professor Northcut is full of stories of her students, many of whom she describes as being like her own children, going on to schools like TCU, SMU and even Columbia University. To her, Richland College is a serious place with serious goals, and despite decades of changes and challenges, she is no less committed to its mission now than she was as a newly minted Ph.D. joining the ranks of socially conscious community college faculties in the 1970s. She told me she plans to keep teaching full-time for the foreseeable future and to retire later, reducing her teaching load to only “one or two classes” per semester. Two classes per semester is the ordinary teaching load for professors at SMU and most other elite colleges.

As I sat listening to all this on the arm of the green chair, worn threadbare by the pants of many students before me, I was overwhelmed with an awareness that the ancient art of teaching had found a home in this small office also. And the stakes in this office were much higher, the problems more pressing and the margin for error more perilously thin than perhaps in most of the offices at SMU. Futures were forged here not from an abundance of advantages but out of a struggle for a fighting chance. I don’t consider it an exaggeration to say that lives were saved in that office, in addition to the moments of intellectual growth we expect from any college experience. And most important for me, I left with that same feeling I had found my freshman year in Professor Cassedy’s office -- that the world is full of complexity and college is here to help you recognize and make sense of it. The best professors show you how. The best professors are everywhere.

***

I can no longer assume that office hours and compelling professors are the exclusive property of private universities. But of course, I cannot guarantee that they exist at every single college either. I can only claim this: I am a product of office hours and great teachers and truth-telling, and I would not pay for a class, be the cost $150 or $5,000, that doesn’t include the chance to find an open door and welcoming ear whenever the questions become too large to face alone. This is the difference between a degree and an education.

Preston Hutcherson is an undergraduate English major at Southern Methodist University.

Researchers discuss the relationship between higher education and employment

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New data on the labor-market returns of short-term certificates show both the value and pitfalls of using earnings data as a yardstick in higher education.

NOVA's Robert Templin Will Retire and Work with Aspen

Robert G. Templin Jr., the longtime president of Northern Virginia Community College and one of the nation's most prominent two-year chiefs, has announced that he will retire from college in February 2015. After stepping down Templin will work part-time as a senior fellow at the Aspen Institute's College Excellence Program. In recent years Aspen has studied the performance of community colleges and awarded a $1 million prize for excellence every two years.

Aspen Prize Finalists for 2015

The Aspen Institute today announced the 10 finalists for the 2015 installment of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Awarded every two years since 2011, the $1 million prize is based on metrics and qualitative assessments that seek to measure how colleges perform in student learning, certificate and degree completion, graduates' employment, and the access and success of minority and low-income students.

The 10 finalists are Brazosport College (Tex.), El Paso Community College (Tex.), Eugenio María de Hostos Community College of the City University of New York, Indian River State College (Fla.), Kennedy-King College (Ill.), Lake Area Technical Institute (S.D.), Olympic College (Wash.), Renton Technical College (Wash.), Santa Fe College (Fla.) and West Kentucky Community and Technical College (Ky.).

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Arizona Court Upholds Law on Maricopa Board

The Arizona Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a new law that will create two at-large board seats for the Maricopa County Community College District, which has had only five board members, each representing districts, The Arizona Republic reported. A lower court had thrown out the law, which was challenged because it applied only to Maricopa. The law imposed the at-large board requirement on districts with more than 3 million people. As a result, only Maricopa was covered. The lower court said that this made the law unconstitutional. But the Supreme Court reversed the ruling. No opinion was issued because the Supreme Court expedited consideration of the case so that the law could be carried out in this fall's elections.

 

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California Community Colleges Set Completion Rate Goal

The California community college system on Wednesday announced a goal to produce 227,247 more certificates, degrees and transfer students in its next 10 incoming freshman classes. That would mean increasing six-year completion rates for degree and transfer-seeking students to 62.8 percent from the current rate of 48.1 percent.

The system's 112 colleges enroll 2.1 million students. Its student success rates will be crucial to whether the college completion goals set by President Obama and powerful foundations can be met. Recent system-wide policy changes aimed at improving those rates include giving some students priority in registering for courses, redesigned student support services, streamlined transfer processes and closer collaboration with K-12 schools in the state.

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Another tough year in the trenches for community college student advocate (essay)

F.

F is the grade I give myself for this past academic year at Bunker Hill Community College. 

F?  I ran out of bread.  

A few Fridays ago, at the end of the day, I asked a young boy, maybe twelve, if he had had anything to eat that day.

“No,” the boy told me. 

He had arrived with his mother, a student, who was looking for help. We used to ask students if they were hungry. The question was too easy to evade. Instead we ask, “Have you had anything to eat today?” A colleague helped the mother.

I had just the end of a baguette -- from the four? five? boxes of bread that Panera had donated that day. All day, students had arrived for loaves of bread or to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, to find help enrolling for food stamps, to sign up for the next food pantry when the Greater Boston Food Bank each month delivers 5,000 pounds of groceries that vanish in an orderly hour. All this, remember, at an institution of higher education in the United States in 2014. 

I drew the baguette end from a plastic bag.  To make a tiny sandwich for the boy, I broke the bread. I what? For crying out loud, you don’t have to be an English major. I broke the bread. (I know, I know; that’s just what I did.)  I came to Bunker Hill seven years ago to teach College Writing 1. I have become a jury-rigged social worker. No complaints. I hadn’t worked out then that relieving hunger is a prerequisite to teaching College Writing. 

F?  Again? (Click here.) So far, I have no decent plan, beyond shouting, to persuade 14,000 poverty-pummeled students to commit to a job letter or a transfer essay free of errors in grammar, in punctuation, in ESL. 

F? I failed to put a question about hunger/poverty on the federal College Scorecard.  Even with a deputy under secretary of education interested, I failed to persuade enough colleges to write in with the request.  F? No luck on my plan to improve college completion with my way-too-simple idea – a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich for the nine million students on Pell Grants. (Details here.) I even lobbied the peanut lobby. Forty-five million peanut butter sandwiches a week added to the federal budget?  Not a nibble. 

Paying students to study, to ease the money-for-rent/time-to-study tradeoff? (Details here.) Nowhere. 

Slight shifts in tax policy?  Nope.  Any action to alter the reality that the neediest college students in the U.S. receive the least college aid? Nope. (My failed May 2013 proposal, Time for a Revolution.) Did I find a plaintiff to bring this to federal court?  Nope. 

“Are you off your meds?” a close family member demanded. “Stop being so depressing.” Find a shrink in August? I’ll put on J.S. Bach, no, WGBO Jazz 88 in Newark to stir me in a cheerier direction.

F? I haven’t stopped that asteroid about to smash into the U.S. economy and society. What asteroid? The nine million students on Pell Grants. That group for whom the accepted, not-Cassandra, not-Chicken-Little truth higher ed experts believe (and I agree) is that half will fail to complete their college degree or professional certificate. Query to the many wonks more able than me: Which half will fail? Help me begin?

My refrain, for as long as I’ve been writing, I still pray every day for better ideas than mine. I have many critics; no takers with better ideas.

F? Am I Cassandra? Chicken Little? Or just a fool? 

Am I wrong about the asteroid? How about another metaphor? America’s Perfect Storm: Three Forces Changing Our Nation’s Future, the 2007 report by Arwin Kirsch, Henry Braun, Kentaro Yamamoto, and Andrew Sum, published by the Educational Testing Service, the higher ed establishment itself. (Click here for details.) The report details how “substantial disparities in skill levels (reading and math); seismic economic changes (widening wage gaps); and sweeping demographic shifts (less education, lower skills)” are creating skill and income gaps that shut too many out of the workforce. The American Dream, the report despairs, could become the American Tragedy.

Why are we, the people, stuck? 

Three points, beyond "The Perfect Storm," I can’t reconcile. First, from the Holy of Holies of higher ed thinking, the College Board, "Education Pays 2013: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society," a thorough report by Sandy Baum, Jennifer Ma, and Kathleen Payea. Education is a good investment, for society and for individuals. (Oversimplified, I know.) I agree.

Second, the U.S. is a market economy. If education is a good social investment, and if the U.S. needs more trained workers, should we, the people, be shortchanging nine million students we all know are at risk? Finance 101 says public capital should follow good investments. Wouldn’t, then, more public investment to prevent the perfect storm be a sound investment? Won’t undereducated students cost more public money? Why isn’t public capital trying to invest in even one million of the nine million? 

To the critics about to post comments below: I have oversimplified nothing here. Don’t blame Congress and the U.S. Senate. Why are we, the people, stuck? Do I mean free discretionary education for all? No, I have proposed federal funding first focus on essential skills -- reading  writing, and math. My plan is that Pell students must pass the Advanced Placement exams in expository writing and statistics before being eligible for Pell funding for courses in any other subjects. F again. (Click here for details.)

But, third, why are we, the people, watching this asteroid plummet? Or, worse, going to conferences with free lunches? Spewing undereducated, industrious, motivated human beings into society and the economy makes no sense. To me, anyway.

We may not (yet) have a unified theory to solve everything for the nine million students on Pell Grants. How about lunch and a T pass? Apply the Hippocratic oath? Paul Farmer, in public health, has called out similar blindness to public health crises such as AIDS in Africa. What gives any of us the right, Farmer might ask, to just watch 4.5 million students fail? “A failure of imagination” is one of Farmer’s terms. I feel so convicted. Anyone else?

Here is an example, of such “failure of imagination.” School opens again in a few weeks. What about the federal free and reduced lunch students voluntarily going on to a postsecondary credential? 

Here in Boston, leaders know 70 percent of the k-12 public school students are on federal free and reduced lunch and most receive a free bus/T pass. Any of these students continuing their education after high school lose their lunch and the T pass. The T pass is $70 per month. Lunch? Pick a number. 

I’ve heard no disagreement to the notion that students on free and reduced lunch are low-income, poor.  I’ve read of no infusions of capital after high school for such students.  So, the students are down $100 per month, and often hungry, for choosing to go beyond high school. And I’ve added food stamp certification, bread, peanut butter and jelly, and food-bank-pallet unloading to my professional skills. 

“Cheer up. Can’t you write a column about the good that happened this year?” said another empathetic /despairing/weary friend. 

O.K., with my essential disclaimer: All my good outcomes depended, too, on many, many people. “Might not have happened without me (or them)” is my good-outcome criterion.

  • A student who had gone on to graduate from UMass Boston came by with an impenetrable offer of financial aid (or maybe not?) from her “dream school” in public policy.  I connected the student with a human being at the school. Success. The student is back on her track to start an NGO to help women in poverty in Africa. 
  • “You came to my class a few weeks ago, to show us that cool website to help us with grammar and punctuation. I know I need to improve my writing. I have some questions about the site. Can you help me?” This was after spring classes had ended. The speaker standing in the doorway of my office?  A male, of color, urban, U.S.-born, in other words the group deemed least likely to succeed in college. At my door. We are working on grammar. 
  • Six veterans succeeding this summer in the Research Experience for Undergraduates at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. 

Should I be cheered up?  But, but, but…. Such success reporting just enables the stuck-in-a-swamp narrative we have about educating the poor in the U.S. today. “Oh, the problems are overwhelming. What can we do? Help one student at a time. Thank goodness people like [fill in the name of a public school teacher or community college professor you know] are willing to do what they do every day.” 

And the asteroid plummets closer. 

F? I ran out of bread?  I can’t mark any progress. 

A homeless student showed up late one Friday last summer. I had bread enough to make him a weekend's worth of PB&Js while he telephoned shelters. I had a bag, and I sent him on his way with more bread and jars of peanut butter and jelly, a plastic knife and napkins. 

Progress this summer? A family instead of one student in need, including children? And I ran out of bread? Is it progress that this summer I could send the boy on his way with a 40-oz., instead of a 16-oz., jar of peanut butter?

F? Yes, because this summer I ran out of bread.

Wick Sloane is an end user of a higher education. Follow him @WickSloane.

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New College Success Group in Arizona

The Arizona College Scholarship Foundation has merged with the Arizona College Access Network to form a new group that will serve as a "statewide voice for college access and success," according to a written statement. The group will add supports to an existing network of 200 college access programs across the state, which provide standards, training and tools aimed at helping more students graduate from college. The scholarship foundation has a particular focus on first-generation college students who are members of minority groups.

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