COVER STORY: Stepping Away From 2012, Year in Review
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Stepping Away From 2012:
Year in Review
By Paul Bradley, Editor, Communiry College Week
As they traveled about the country, or at least in the battleground states, vying for the nation’s highest office, President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney charted starkly different paths to achieving similar higher education goals.
Both candidates backed rote higher education goals: improved access and affordability, better college outcomes, the need to rein in skyrocketing tuition. How to achieve those goals was where the differences emerged. In general, Obama backed government action, while Romney promoted the role of the private sector, promising to undo many of the president’s first-term higher education achievements.
But with President Obama’s reelection, and Democrats gaining seats in both houses of Congress, the contours of a higher education agenda for the next four years are taking shape.
Most obvious is the fact that Education Secretary Arne Duncan will be staying on, ensuring continuity in federal higher education policy leadership. Obama’s victory also means that colleges can expect the White House to continue to support expanded federal financial aid and back two issues of paramount importance to community colleges: continued support for the Pell Grant, and an effort to make permanent the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which helps students attending low-tuition institutions pay for tuition, books and course materials.
During his first term, Obama championed community colleges, and that’s expected to continue. But all of his efforts will unfold in an era of sharply shrinking resources and government disinvestment in higher education. In that atmosphere, some community college advocates say the best they can hope for in the short term is to avoid more draconian cuts rather than to expect an infusion of funds.
The president’s re-election also indicates that Washington will continue to push regulations which seek to rein in for-profit colleges, denying them federal aid if their students don’t graduate and get decent-paying jobs. In addition, the growing number of colleges that get money from the fast-growing GI Bill and other veterans’ benefit programs can expect new scrutiny of their programs and educational outcomes.
For those reasons and more, Obama’s election to a second term tops CCWeek’s list of the top community college stories of 2012.
- Higher Ed Takes Back Seat In Campaign
For a brief, shining moment last February, higher education assumed a preeminent place atop the agenda for aspiring presidential candidates. During the last-minute sprint toward the Michigan GOP presidential primary, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum labeled President Obama “a snob” for suggesting that students should aspire to college. Under a barrage of criticism, Santorum backpedaled and soon thereafter receded from the national stage. So, too, did higher education, taking a back seat as the candidates exchanged barbs over the economy, the 47 percent and who built what. Through three presidential debates and innumerable campaign appearances, higher education and community colleges received scant attention. But Obama frequently chose community college campuses as settings for campaign rallies; his last campaign stop was at the Community College of Aurora in Colorado, where he made his final case for four more years in office. And higher education did serve to sharpen the differences between the two candidates. For instance, while Romney said the “gainful employment” rules regulating for-profit institutions stifled innovation and promised to roll them back, Obama contended they were designed to prevent students from racking up mountains of debt for a degree of questionable value. The candidates also differed on the role of banks in federal education loan programs, and on Obama’s push for a law that will enable some students to cap their loan payments at 10 percent of their disposable income. And while these issues failed to capture the attention of the Inside-the-Beltway media, they did show that the two candidates had substantive philosophical differences worthy of serious contemplation by voters.
- Enrollment Dips At For-Profit Colleges
When the University of Phoenix announced it was closing 115 campuses and satellite locations, it signaled more than a sudden availability of commercial real estate near highway interchanges, where for-profit colleges like to set up shop. After years of explosive growth fueled by the Great Recession, for-profit higher education is shrinking fast. Government figures showed that total enrollment in higher education shrunk nationally in the fall of 2011 for the first time in at least 15 years. The overall decline was driven by a 2.9 percent drop in the for-profit sector. The announcement by Apollo Group Inc., the University of Phoenix’s parent company, that it would shutter roughly half its physical locations, only underscored the downward trend. The company couched the move in terms of growing interest from students taking online courses, and emphasized just 4 percent of its students were affected.. But there is no hiding its decline in enrollment — it currently enrolls about 328,000 students in degree programs, down from 381,000 a year ago and a peak of more than 475,000 in 2010. Analysts cite a range of explanations: the improving economy, negative publicity and more aggressive marketing from traditional colleges and universities. But the Obama administration’s regulatory pressure has also been a major factor, particularly its aggressive of enforcement of rules preventing colleges of any kind from paying recruiters based on the number of students they enroll, once a common practice by for-profits. For-profit colleges say they are refocusing their efforts on enrolling students who can finish a degree and helping them find work when they graduate. The University of Phoenix recently announced it would partner with about 100 community colleges to help students complete their degrees.
- Immigrant Students Get Legal Reprieve
It was about two years ago that the promise of the DREAM Act became a nightmare for legions of young illegal immigrants who fell victim to a yawning political divide and a Republican-led Senate filibuster. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act had first been introduced in Congress in 2001 and had a history of bipartisan support. It would have provided a path to permanent residency and citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came here as children, graduated from an American high school completed two years of college or served two years in the military. It died at the end of the 2010 session of Congress, falling four votes short of the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster. But the dream of staying in America has been revived — at least in part — for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, the vast majority of them Hispanics, with potentially profound impacts on the students and on community colleges. Last June, the Obama administration announced its Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, kind of a scaled-back version of the DREAM Act. Under the program, young illegal immigrants who previously faced deportation are being given the chance to remain in the U.S. and go to college or get a job. In effect, the new rules give temporary relief to young undocumented immigrants who would have qualified for legal status under the DREAM Act, though it does not provide a path to citizenship. More than 300,000 people have applied for deferred action so far, though as many as 1.7 million illegal immigrants could be eligible. More are on they way; as many as 65,000 illegal immigrants are estimated to graduate from high school each year, and many of them likely will be headed to community colleges under the new rules.
- Roueche Makes An Unhappy Departure
When John E. Roueche stepped down as director of the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin, he left behind arguably the most successful program of its kind, one that has produced more community college administrators than any other. Through its legions of loyal graduates and its NISOD (National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development) and CCSSE (Community College Survey of Student Engagement) affiliates, the CCLP had made a broad and lasting impact far beyond the borders of Texas. It has influenced hundreds of colleges by providing skilled leaders, sharing best educational practices and collecting and disbursing valuable data. Roeuche’s departure was marked by effusive praise describing him as an unparalleled leader in the community college movement whose keen intellect and warm heart have changed lives. But his was not a happy departure. The circumstances surrounding his departure dismayed CCLP and Roueche himself after UT decided to fundamentally change the program’s underpinnings, rejecting its defining characteristic — applied research in the field — in favor of more extensive scholarly writing and publishing. Roueche, who authored more than 40 books and hundreds of articles, as head of CCLP, said, “To say that we are not going to continue this strong field presence is a bad, bad decision. And down the road it will cut off the very support that has made the CCLP program the very best in the country. It’s a misadventure.” Roueche is not leaving the community college scene, however. He is the director of the Roueche Graduate Center, currently being developed by National American University.
- CUNY Builds New College From Scratch
In an era of shrinking resources and heightened accountability, it’s not often that a new community college can be built from the ground up, testing concepts, implementing reforms, creating a culture from scratch. But as the 2012-13 academic year began, that’s what unfolded in a former secretarial school in midtown Manhattan. There, the New Community College opened its doors to its first students who are now at the center of a bold educational experiment being closely watched around the country. The product of 18 months of planning, the college became the seventh community college in the City University of New York system, and the first community college CUNY has opened in 40 years. The college is testing a completely new way of doing business. It will not be all things to all people. There will be no workforce education classes. Instead, the college will be devoted completely to getting students to the educational finish line, ready for a meaningful job or entry into a four-year college. The college has a goal of reaching a 40 percent graduation rate within five years; currently, only about one in five community college students graduate within three years. The defining characteristics of the New Community College represent radical departures from practices at CUNY’s other six community colleges. They include a requirement that students attend full-time, at least for their first year in college; a merging of remediation into credit coursework; a limited number of programs of study that provide well-defined pathways to degree, transfer or employment; an Office of Partnerships to manage internships and employment opportunities; and a Center for College Effectiveness that will do continual assessments and disseminate information to faculty, staff, students and administrators.
- Aspen Searches For Nation’s Best 2-Year Colleges
For the second straight year, the Aspen Institute for College Excellence conducted a competition aimed at identifying the best community college in the country, offering a $1 million prize fund to be awarded in March to the winner and up to four finalists-with-distinction. (The 2011 winner, Valencia College, was ineligible to compete this year). More than 1,000 community colleges competed in a process that winnowed potential winners to 120, and then narrowed them to the top ten, which are now competing for the top prize Colleges are being judged on their achievements in four areas: student learning outcomes; degree and college completion; labor market success in students securing jobs after college; and minority and low-income student success. The 10 finalists reflect the broad diversity of the community college sector itself. They range from the giant Broward College, with more than 56,000 students spread across three campuses and six educational centers in south Florida, to tiny Lake Tech Technical College, located in a corner of South Dakota with a service area of more than 18,000 square miles. They are located in crowded urban areas like Brooklyn, N.Y. (Kingsborough Community College) and rural outposts like Cumberland, Ky. (Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College). What they have in common, said Josh Wyner, the program’s executive director, is a willingness to adapt to their peculiar challenges, adopt approaches that work in addressing them and discarding those that don’t. “The best colleges are developing policies that are consistent in meeting their challenges, and measuring those policies to see if they are working,” he said. “It’s a real willingness to recognize that serious challenges exist. It’s not finger-pointing. It’s a real hunger for finding out what works.”
- 7$500M in Grants Distributed to Colleges
In September, the Department of Labor released $500 million in grants to community colleges and universities around the country for the development and expansion of workforce training programs. The grants are the second part of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training initiative, which promotes skills development and employment opportunities in fields such as advanced manufacturing, transportation and healthcare, and encourages STEM math careers through partnerships between training providers and local employers. The Labor Department is implementing and administering the program in coordination with the U.S. Department of Education. Through the initiative, each state, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, will receive at least $2.5 million in dedicated funding for community college career training programs. In total, 297 schools will receive grants as individual applicants or as members of a consortium. The grants include 27 awards to community college and university consortia totaling $359 million and 27 awards to individual institutions totaling $78 million. Twenty-five states that were without a winning individual submission will be contacted to develop a qualifying $2.5 million project. Colleges will use the funds to create affordable training programs that meet industry needs, invest in staff and educational resources, and provide access to free, digital learning materials. All education materials developed through the grants will be available for use by the public and other education providers through a Creative Commons license. These grants emphasize evidence-based program design, officials said. Each grantee is required to collect rigorous student outcome data annually and conduct final evaluations at the end of the grant period. The goal is to build knowledge about which strategies are most effective in placing graduates in jobs and expand successful approaches to community colleges around the country.
- CCSF Fights Back Against Closure Threat
When the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges ordered the City College of San Francisco to show why its accreditation should not be revoked, the story captured national headlines. The largest community college in the country’s largest state was being threatened with closure. It was the gravest sanction the commission could have issued, short of actually yanking the college’s accreditation. If eventually the college loses its accreditation, neither the school nor its students would be eligible for critical state and federal financial aid programs, a blow that would force the CCSF to close its doors. The struggle has raised some larger questions about the future of the community college movement: can a college which prides itself in embodying the essence of the community college mission — openness, access, diversity and opportunity — thrive, or even survive, in a current era of heightened higher education accountability and rapid government disinvestment? College officials vow that the 77-year-old college — with nine campuses, 200 neighborhood educational sites, an enrollment of more than 90,000 and a place deep in the culture of the city — will not close. The commission report praised the college for its student-centered approach and commitment to diversity. But it also rebuked the college for poor fiscal stewardship, particularly for failing to adjust to the recession-fueled financial crisis afflicting all community colleges in California; since 2008, CCSF has lost $40 million in state funding over the last four years. The report said the college has done a poor job of adjusting to its new fiscal realities. The college has taken the first steps toward addressing the commission’s concerns, including dismantling a long-standing system of faculty leadership and closing two instructional sites and an administrative building. CCSF is now devising ways to a $15 million budget gap expected for the 2013-14 school year.
- Tax Hike Rescues Calif. From Brink
Community colleges and public schools in California avoided deep spending cuts when voters handily approved Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature tax measure on Election Day. By an 8 percentage point margin, voters approved Proposition 30, which increases income taxes on high earners and boosts the state sales tax to 7.5 percent from 7.25 percent. If it had been defeated, nearly $6 billion in automatic spending cuts, falling almost entirely on public schools, colleges and universities, would have been automatically enacted. California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris said the vote means colleges will be spared devastating mid-year budget cuts and can begin to serve some of the hundreds of thousands of students who have been shut out of community colleges over the past four years. If the measure had failed, Harris said, colleges would have been cut an additional $338 million in January. That would have translated into 29,000 fewer classes offered and 180,000 fewer students served throughout the 112-college system. With the passage of Prop 30, community colleges instead will receive $210 million in additional funds for the 2012-13 academic year. San Diego Community College District Chancellor Constance Carroll said 700 course offerings would have been cut if Prop 30 didn’t pass. Los Angeles Community College District Chancellor Daniel LaVista said Los Angeles area colleges avoided cutting 2,000 courses. Contra Costa Community College District Chancellor Helen Benjamin reported that her district will no longer need to cut 278 courses. “I’m so glad my fellow Californians saw the value in our community colleges,” Carroll said. “They saw all the good that a community college education means and realized the impact on the economy had the cuts occurred.”
- New Success Metrics Approved
The ascendency of community colleges to the forefront of the debate around America’s ailing system of higher education has been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the once-neglected sector is enjoying its time in the spotlight. On the other, the colleges have become a convenient whipping boy in a poisoned political atmosphere, pummeled in Washington D.C. and in state capitols for their poor graduation rates and shaky student outcomes. But the days of easy bashing community colleges for lousy graduation rates could be nearing an end. After more than a year of work by its Committee on Measures of Student Success, the federal Department of Education put its imprimatur on the panel’s recommendations, outlining an “action plan” aimed at broadening student graduation data to reflect the diverse student populations at two-year colleges. Community college leaders have long complained that the government’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the chief measure of college success, presents a grossly distorted picture of their institutions. Under IPEDS, large swaths of community college students are never counted. That’s because colleges are required to track graduation rates only for full-time, first-time students. Students who transfer to another college are deemed to have failed—ditto for the college itself—no matter the outcome at the second college. Under the new measures, both transfers and part-time students will be tracked for the first time. It could take months or years for the Education Department to develop and approve the specifics of the new measures. Once it does, community colleges will see more accurate assessments.
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