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2013 September 30 - 12:00 am

POV: Care Needs To Be Taken In Crafting Accountability Measures

Brenda Hellyer, Chancellor, San Jacinto College (Texas)

President Obama recently announced his plan to make higher education more affordable for millions of students in the United States. I applaud his efforts, and agree that education is the ultimate equalizer that continues to be the ticket to the middle class.

Here in the heart of the petrochemical industry and one of the largest ports in the world, I have the privilege to see this reality every day. College affordability continues to remain the laser-focus of the San Jacinto College Board of Trustees. Student success is at the heart of everything we do, and we know that part of that success means our students can afford the education and workforce training they need to move on to a four-year university or enter the workforce.

Accountability, both on the part of the student and the institution is key. At San Jacinto College, we are constantly looking for ways to assist our students in achieving their educational goals. We want our students to complete what th5ey start at San Jacinto College, whether that is an associate degree, a certificate or credential, or additional training to gain the knowledge and skills they need to move ahead in their career.

At San Jacinto College, nearly 70 percent of our students attend part-time, similar to numbers at community colleges across the nation, which leads to a misunderstanding about graduation rates. So while the idea of rating colleges to determine how federal dollars are allocated seems practical, we need to take a hard look at the formula for how this will be determined.

Here in Texas, community colleges worked closely with our elected officials during this past legislative session to develop an accountability plan that is not based solely on graduation rates. Rather, it is based on student outcomes, which addresses the multiple points that students need to achieve in their educational courses at community colleges.

On the national level, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) is working with community college leaders across the nation on the Voluntary Framework of Accountability to look at student success metrics for community colleges. As an active member of AACC, it is my hope that President Obama and the White House staff will work closely with us to determine the best metrics for community colleges and our students.

President Obama also mentioned innovation as one of his goals for this plan. At San Jacinto College, we agree that this is key and we encourage our faculty and students to take the lead. As an example, our robotics team is working with the University of Houston Clear Lake on Acoustic Flame Suppression Mechanics to study the effects of sound waves to distinguish flames in space. This is innovation at its finest, and could have tremendous effects on our future.

Again, I applaud the efforts of President Obama for taking a hard look at the importance of higher education in our country, and laying out a plan to assist our students in completing their degree or certificate affordably. However, there remains work to be done.

IT'S YOUR TURN: CCW wants to hear from you!
Q: What metrics should be included in new community college accountability measures?
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