A new book, Redesigning America’s Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success (Harvard University Press) is an important step forward for community colleges. The work bridges the all-too-familiar divide between research and practice, outlining actionable, transformative recommendations to improve student attainment that have emerged out of the extensive portfolio of research conducted over the past 20 years by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College of Columbia University. And while many aspects of the book deserve discussion, how change can be effectively instigated at community colleges is a pivotal issue on which any reform efforts will hinge.
Obviously, the call for organizational and structural change is nothing new. Early on the book notes that “recent reforms did not question the fundamental design of community college programs and services.” Redesigning America's Community Colleges boldly asserts that “to improve their outcomes on a substantial scale in an environment very different than the past, colleges must undertake a more fundamental rethinking of their organization and culture.”
The book’s authors, Thomas R. Bailey, Shanna Smith Jaggars and Davis Jenkins, argue that necessary institutional change will result from conscious redesign of many community college processes along the lines of behavioral economic principles. This implicitly challenges conventional wisdom that attributes successful change to college leadership -- typically the president. For years, community colleges have been bombarded with the belief that getting the right person into the presidency is the critical factor governing institutional success. Indeed, there is an entire cottage industry of community college leadership programs, consulting firms and organizations that promote the grooming and selection process of the community college president.
Redesigning takes on the “great leader” theory of change by providing specific and clear suggestions about how college intake processes, curriculum plans and organizational framework can be altered to directly impact student success. Of course, the authors recognize the importance of presidential leadership and commitment to the process, but they bet the farm on fundamental organizational change versus intervention by great men and women.
The authors present a useful strategic framework built upon CCRC’s research. But accompanying this wisdom is a significant challenge. Even if presidential leadership is decisive, how is the design and implementation of these changes driven throughout the institution? The closest the book comes to addressing this issue is noting the necessity of faculty involvement, overlooking the imperative to focus on administrative managers, who are in charge of the organizational structures that Redesigning targets for change.
Any leader of a large community college knows that their middle-level management is critical to institutional change. These are the directors of key units, the associate deans who work directly with the faculty, and the business, information technology, financial aid and student services staff. Many of these individuals are tethered to their colleges, infrequently interacting with other institutions, and have significantly longer tenure than most presidents and senior leadership. In most cases, they are the staff members who possess institutional memory and critical operational knowledge. They maintain most of the day-to-day contact and communications with faculty, students and community.
Winning their commitment to change is crucial to redesign efforts, because it is their jobs and their processes that will be the most challenged. Therefore, an important step to driving the organizational reforms proposed by the book will need to be supported by efforts focused on developing midlevel managers in community colleges. Too many currently available programs concentrate solely on senior talent management.
Paradoxically, a renewed emphasis on middle-level management could also help the oft-cited dilemma of the lack of a sufficient pool of those qualified and interested becoming community college presidents. It has almost become a ritual among the leadership programs to decry the lack of interest by high-level administrators willing to step up into presidential roles.
Who wants to work 12-hour days, attend frequent political events -- often involving early morning and evening commitments -- and chase after alternative funding sources, all the while serving as the pivotal internal change agent? A more empowered and determined staff could make the job of community college president more focused and manageable, while integrally contributing to change designed to drive higher levels of student success.
James Jacobs is president of Macomb Community College.
Alternate remedial math sequences that emphasize statistics and quantitative reasoning instead of college algebra have yielded promising results at community colleges, according to a new report from Policy Analysis for California Education and LearningWorks.
Most students entering two-year colleges are placed in remedial math courses, based on their scores on placement tests. Those math courses trip up large numbers of students and are unrelated to most students' career aspirations, the report found. Yet the addition of alternative remedial math courses has been difficult in California. The state's public universities have expected all students -- including transfers from community colleges -- to have completed two years of algebra.
Officials at the San Diego Community College District in California will see a significant increase in the number of degrees earned this semester. The district announced a 37 percent jump in associate degrees earned this year compared to last year. More than 3,300 degrees will be conferred compared to more than 2,400. The colleges are attributing the increase to the Earn More Than a Degree campaign, which seeks to double the number of students who earn a degree or certificate by 2022.
New data from the University of Connecticut reveal transfer students from the Connecticut Community Colleges system lost on average 12 transferable college credits when they moved over to the flagship university.
The data are detailed in a report from Gateway Community College in New Haven and was based on reports UConn gave the state's Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee. It shows that 479 community college students transferred to the university last year with 54.17 credits per student, but only 42.57 credits per student were applied toward major or general education requirements.
John Mullane, the counselor who analyzed the data and published the report, said lost credits are harmful to students because they force students to pay more in tuition and extend their time to completion.
"This extra cost is harmful to both the student and the state of Connecticut," Mullane said in a news release. "Much of the problem would be solved if the University of Connecticut would join the State Colleges and Universities in the transfer articulation policy currently in development. Connecticut needs statewide transfer and articulation agreements that guarantee seamless transfer to all public four-year institutions."
Meanwhile UConn put out a news release that said the university describes transfer policies clearly on its website.
"We clearly specify on our website which courses transfer and which do not, and we have specific reasons for our decisions based on careful analysis of students' needs and the courses required for certain majors. We also ask all of our community colleges' academic counselors to help students interested in transferring to UConn by advising them early in their course selection to maximize the allowable transfer credit," said Stephanie Reitz, the university's spokeswoman, in the release.
Robert Breuder, president of the College of DuPage, started a medical leave today, days before the college's board was expected to put him on administrative leave, The Chicago Tribune reported. Breuder has been the subject of intense scrutiny by many over accusations of inappropriate spending, and faculty leaders have been calling for his ouster.
Since 2012, community colleges in Texas have experimented with an alternative approach to remedial math that the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin has developed. Rather than focusing on algebra, the New Mathways Project emphasizes practical math skills and basic quantitative literacy and statistics.
The program is showing promising returns, according to a new study from MDRC, a nonprofit education research group. As of last fall, 20 community colleges in the state offer at least one of the alternative courses. And 30 percent of students in the program completed both their remedial and college-level math courses in the first year, according to the study.
A group of three Senate Democrats, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, this week introduced a resolution promoting debt-free public college. Several Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives put forward an accompanying proposal. The brief Senate resolution describes a plan to help states pay more for higher education, to increase financial aid to cover students' living expenses and to encourage innovation that would make college more affordable.
“A student at a public university today faces tuition prices that are more than 300 percent of what his or her parents faced just 30 years ago, and total outstanding student loan debt now stands at a staggering $1.3 trillion,” Warren said in a written statement. “Our country should be investing in higher education and working with colleges and universities to bring down tuition costs so that students don't have to take on crushing debt to get an education.”
The Washington Postreported that the push, which two liberal groups are supporting, is intended to encourage Hillary Clinton to make the plan part of her campaign proposals. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Demos released a policy paper this week that attempts to flesh out the plan. The groups are arranging events at 10 college campuses this week to promote it.