As we approach the onset of a new academic year, there is always a renewed sense of enthusiasm at the prospect of encountering new students, launching new programs or initiatives, and enjoying new or renewed facilities. This academic adrenalin can help us seize new opportunities and confront new challenges in the months ahead.
This coming year also represents a time for envisioning the future of our college community, particularly through the facility master planning process that we shall initiate next spring. That future is best served if there is strong (or, perhaps more accurately, stronger) public policy to support the role of community colleges in the coming decade.
Educators Brian Pusser and John Levin in their December 2009 report, "Re-imagining Community Colleges in the 21st Century," argue for greater student-focused decision making not only within our institutions of higher education, but also in the realm of state and federal policy. Pusser and Levin believe our students face a challenging, "advanced learning and working environment beyond the community college," and they offer a number of recommendations in support of transformative change in our core areas: career and technical education, developmental education and the transfer function.
Among their recommendations are:
New approaches to training and credentialing. "States and federal legislation should support innovative, credit-based. . .programs that respond to student and industry needs." At the College, our new proficiency certificates are credit-bearing certificates that can lead directly to entry-level jobs but also be applied to a full associate degree programs.
Funding for colleges and financial support for students. "But students in community colleges need new and more comprehensive forms of aid if national goals for degree attainment are to be realized." The cost of higher education is one of the preeminent issues for our students. Recent increases in Pell have contributed to our own increasing enrollment and to an increase in the proportion of full-time students at our College. But an expected leveling off of Pell support may exacerbate an already severe financial situation for students, as well as affect future enrollments for the College.
Policies to promote developmental education. "The goal should be to significantly reduce the need for postsecondary remediation through early assessment, intervention and numerous accountability at all levels of state educational systems." A major thrust of our Achieving the Dream efforts is to move more students successfully through the developmental pipeline toward attainment of a degree or certificate. We need to expand our collaboration with the School District of Philadelphia at the front of that pipeline and reinforce our own systemic change on behalf of increased student outcomes at the same time.
Higher transfer rates to four-year colleges. This is an area where the College has strong institutional policy, data collection and model collaborative practices in place. One of our principal objectives is to communicate more clearly and persuasively to students the advantages of completing an associate degree prior to transferring to a baccalaureate institution.
The Pusser and Levin study offers one venue for reflecting on strategies to achieve policy support for community colleges at a moment when community colleges are a "hot topic," but are still lacking in adequate financial support. Read the full study.