Shifting the Focus
The Chronicle of Higher Education explains that this report, titled, “Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future,” is the culmination of several months of research by a 38-member community. Those involved in the report include college presidents, education-policy experts and leaders of non-profit groups.
The first concern voiced in the report is that of low completion rates among community college students. U.S. News and World Report states that according to the report, less than half of all students that enroll in a community college graduate or transfer to a four-year institution within six years. The report recommends that schools improve completion rates by 50 percent by 2020. At the same time, community colleges must preserve access, enhance quality and ensure all students have access to higher education.
The report also deals with the large number of students who enter college, unprepared for the rigors of a higher education. A press release at Market Watch cites the recommendation by the committee to improve college readiness 2020. This would involve reducing the number of students unprepared for college work by half, by increasing the number of students who take developmental courses before taking freshman-level courses. Developmental courses should also be accelerated to prevent them from becoming a hindrance to completion rates.
The report also recommends that community colleges do a better job of preparing students for the workforce, through focusing on career and technical education. Bumphus agrees with the recommendation. He told U.S. News and World Report that while community colleges have made great strides in this area, they are still a long way away from the “community career centers” President Obama envisions.
To ensure community colleges become more efficient in educating the students they serve, the report encourages schools to redefine their mission to meet the needs of students in the 21st century. In some cases, this might entail taking a second look at some of the services they provide to students. It might also include a determination of what missions should be abandoned, which services could be dropped, and what type of student the schools want to focus on attracting and graduating.
Because most areas have multiple community colleges available to students, the report also recommends providing structural support that would benefit multiple schools at one time. Currently, many community colleges are standing alone, which limits how many services and courses they can offer to students. Through collaboration between schools and outside sources, including philanthropy and secondary education, students may be better served.
The report suggests that schools should enlist both public and private investments that would offer incentives for institutions of education and students to support local community colleges. In light of recent budget cuts nationwide, schools must look for other funding sources and areas of support to provide the highest quality of education for the lowest possible cost.
Finally, community colleges need to raise the bar on the quality of education they provide overall. The report recommends that schools “implement policies and practices that promote rigor, transparency, and accountability for results in community college.” McClenney told the Chronicle that the type of transformation envisioned by the commission involves much more than “tinkering around the margins.”