What choice do I have? I’ll hereby toss my hat into the ring for the presidency of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). Typing with just one hand, while with the other I breathe into a brown paper bag to remain calm, is slow going. Apply I must.
Have you read the job description and the presidential profile? I first thought I’d missed a keystroke and ended up in the National Archives. This, I thought, could only be the posting from, I don’t know, 1850? No, this is the current information.
No mention of crisis management, of the dire situation for community colleges today. Nothing about everything that’s hitting the fan for these 1,177 campuses and 11 million students. Any mention of disaster, implosion or explosion? Nope. Or that enrollments this fall may be higher than last fall, when the levees broke.
That’s not the worst of this search. No call for the new president to have the skills to achieve the April 20, 2010 AACC pledge to increase student completion by 50 percent. No mention that Melinda Gates may already have rendered the AACC obsolete anyway. No mention that community colleges have no plan, big or small, for reform out there, in spite of a few billion put down by the President Obama, who is asking, no, begging for proposals from community colleges.
First, I’ll take the job for the lesser of $75,000 or whatever is now on the table. The AACC's federal tax form from 2008 reports $439,565 in pay for the AACC president. (For another day: This means my students at Bunker Hill Community College, and their peers, are working multiple jobs and commuting to school to pay tuition that goes to dues that pay the AACC president how much?)
I’ll put the difference into renewal programs for the first-rate AACC staff, who have been on the front lines of this battle for years. Exhaustion is an issue, nationwide, in bringing fresh solutions to community colleges today. Second, I’ll ask that staff for a list of every idea they have to put on the table, and we’ll make that into a federal legislative agenda.
I’ll move my office into a trailer, no air conditioning, that I’ll park at the community college at the University of the District of Columbia. The 21st century AACC president cannot linger in the luxury of One Dupont Circle, aka The National Center for Higher Education, or The Death Star. Is it fair to the struggling community college students and faculty for the AACC president to be able to walk at lunchtime to Kramerbooks and The Phillips Collection? No way. The new AACC president cannot forget, even for a second, the conditions at community colleges that are paying the AACC dues.
AACC will use the MoveOn.org model to link all community college students, faculty and staff in a database sorted by zip code. Community college funding combines state, local and federal issues. We will alert everyone to when it’s time to speak up in their state and in the nation. If, as AACC says, the nation has 11 million community college students, why do those students lack a voice at the policy and legislative tables? We’ll change that, fast. We’ll make only reasonable requests for a fair share of federal funds. With each request, everyone in Congress and the U.S. Senate will receive 11 million e-mails, postcards and telephone calls.
I will bid adieu to the other Five -- the American Council on Education, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Association of American Universities, Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, and National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Most alarming in the job description is that the new president will keep the AACC as a member of "The Six" -- large, presidentially based associations.” I hereby stipulate the integrity of The Five, whose interests are legitimate, too. But am I the only one to have noticed that since the beginning of time the colleges and universities of The Five have received pretty much all of the federal money? While community colleges have had the most students with the highest need? Under my presidency, the Five are going to have to work, not laugh, their way to the bank.
Effective immediately on appointment, I will establish the AACC Union Dues Escrow Fund. Community college faculty and professional staff, for starters, will be able to contribute their dues to this fund. Same principle as a rent strike. I will then invite together to my trailer the National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, the American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, and the American Association of University Professors President Cary Nelson. Plenty of free coffee but no bathroom breaks until the three presidents, whose unions represent most community college faculty, spell out and commit to a powerful, substantial action plan to support community college faculty. These professors have full-time faculty workloads of four and five courses per semester and many more are adjuncts without health insurance. Attention union presidents: no whining about money. Figure that out. The escrow fund will pay out dues based on successful union actions creating tangible benefits for union members.
I will establish the AACC Textbook and Computer Purchasing Collaborative. No longer will community colleges have to negotiate pricing campus by campus against huge national vendors. We’ll meet the vendors as one. Anyone reading from Amazon.com? How about if 11 million students make an opening bid of $9.99 per textbook?
Instead of "The Six,” AACC will partner with the World Health Organization to see what public health can teach U.S. public education. The burdens and barriers that students face outside the community colleges they attend by day or night or midnight have more to do with college completion than actions any campus can take. Would a society just give people clean water a few hours a day a few days a week, while in school, and then expect those same people to be healthy? Until community colleges -- with help -- address all dimensions of the students’ lives, we are stuck with the completion rates we have.
Finally, we’ll get to work on a reinforced-concrete foundation for the U.S. economy and democracy for the 21st century. We’ll create a federal program that pays a bonus to students who score higher than 100 on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam and to those who pass the AP exams in English Language and Composition and in Statistics. (The specifics of the AP plan are in my pamphlet, Common Sense – The Bachelor’s Degree is Obsolete, downloadable free here.) But before AACC makes that deal, AP sponsor College Board president Gaston Caperton has to cut his pay (more than $600,000 last time I looked) to my salary and move to my trailer. The difference between Governor Caperton’s former salary and his new salary can go to faculty renewal and development at community colleges.
Paying for the required reforms? First, eliminate federal tax deductions for all donations to colleges and universities except those to endow need-based scholarships. Then, 1 percent each from the Defense Department, from past and future financial services industry bailouts, and from all federal research grants to higher education.
Softer agendas for the nation’s community colleges will not dent the completion rates, and we’ll pay the same amount of money, probably more, in social costs.