This post continues my comments and observations from attending the 2011 Annual Convention of the American Association of Community Colleges.

Critics of Student Success Agenda

The completion agenda is not without its critics. Several college presidents reminded me that the Graduation stigma of community college as being grades 13 and 14 still exists in some quarters. Also, some transfer students who are focused on community college being a vehicle to a Bachelor’s Degree, don’t see the value of earning an Associate’s Degree before transferring. And many employers don’t recognize the value of certain community college certificates. All of these factors are barriers to motivating students to do what is necessary to receive a credential of completion.

One presenter asked, “Why isn’t jobbing-out an acceptable outcome?” Another presenter made us aware that although average completion data might be improving across the country, segments of the population, such as low-income minorities, are completing at a much lower rate. For example, Pima College (Arizona) spends $22 million each year providing developmental courses and has only a 4% success rate.

Other observations from presentors:

  • Faculty (full-time and part-time)are at the “fulcrum” for change. They must be part of the solution.
  • The message we are sending to High School students is that they don’t have to do anything and they will still be able to go to college. Is this the message we want to be sending?
  • We are also sending the message that community colleges are the economic engines of the community and that we will train everyone at very low cost. Can we continue to keep doing this?
  • Pell grants are not performance based. In effect, Pell is a reward for not graduating.

Job Supply Side of Success

Several presenters encouraged us to think about community college education from the job supply side of the equation. Roberts T. Jones had this to say about the job market:

  • Percent of workforce eligible people is declining
  • Today’s jobs require more skill and more knowledge
  • 85% of new jobs require a post-secondary education
  • One third of the workforce doesn’t have a post-secondary education
  • Jobs for many of the unemployed are gone forever
  • Employees need the ability to learn new jobs quickly
  • People in the current workforce are not prepared for new jobs
  • Need to align workforce training with college credit and workplace demands
  • Need a performance-based and performance-driven system

Folks from ACT are promoting a national system of assessing (of course) and credentialing workers, especially mid-level employees. In Breaking New Ground: Building a National Credentialing System, they argue for identifying a core set of skills and then measuring where all workers are on each of those skills. I have my doubts about the value of such a system, although I can see why ACT would want it.

Peggy Taylor, VP of Global Talent Acquisition, Hilton Worldwide, made an important observation about community colleges partnering with companies. She gave the example of Hilton needing to hire 50 accountants in the next 30 days. She wants to go to community colleges for help but they need to recognize that she, too, is trying to do more with less; they shouldn’t expect her to spend a lot in this collaboration.


Community College League of California has done a lot of work on issues of access and success. They published 2020 Vision, which has many suggestions on how to improve access and success in community colleges. The contributors to this report encourage inviting legislators to meetings to discuss how to increase student success in the face of budget cuts. They also talk about “stackable certificates” that mark progress and accumulate to a degree. And they talk about requiring students to take courses that are essential to progress and completion. One person said, “Students don’t do optional.”

One of the treats of the conference was hearing from Geoffrey Canada, founder of Harlem Children’s Zone. He said that when he tells people that he spends $5,000 per child in addition to school aid money, they say, “But Geoffrey, you can’t bring that to scale,” and then he says in response, “We brought $37,500 per prisoner to scale; why can’t we spend $5,000 now to prevent spending $37,500 later?” For many students, college success depends on investing more in them before they get to college.