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2015 July 8 - 04:11 pm

Hitting the Pause Button

League’s Trends Report Allows CEOs To Take Stock, Reset


Community college CEOs responding to the League’s trends survey said they anticipate a growing emphasis on the STEM fields.

For the better part of the past decade, the community college movement has been hurtling forward at breakneck speed.

There has been one initiative upon another, fueled by demands for more graduates, the rise of the completion agenda, disinvestment by state governments and the need to build educational ecosystems with K-12 systems and regional universities.

It’s created a palpable initiative fatigue, so it just might be time for the sector to slow down, take a look around and adjust the GPS to make sure it is headed in the right direction.

That’s one of the purposes of the annual Trends Report published by the League for Innovation in the Community College: a chance for community college leaders to hit the pause button, take stock and adjust course.

“Diverse leaders from across the community college—faculty, staff, and administrative—help plan for, guide, respond to, and sometimes make change,” the report says. “However, the press and pull of doing increasingly more with significantly less often makes it difficult to take the time to step back and take stock of what’s at hand and what’s to come. Indeed, the rhythms that used to define college life no longer really apply in our worlds, particularly as we move to monthly course starts and new and novel delivery and learning models.

The survey found that the completion agenda has taken hold; 97 percent of those surveyed predicted aggressive steps to improve student completion.

“The trends survey conducted by the League… is an attempt to both catalyze and inform those ready to take a breath and take a look down the road ahead.”

Written by League President and CEO Gerardo E. de los Santos and Mark Milliron, co-founder and chief learning officer of Civitas Learning, the report is based on a survey of 1,050 college and campus leaders. Of the campus leaders who received questionnaires, 280, or 26.7 percent, responded.

The survey instrument contained 29 questions, each starting with the prompt, “Do you believe in the next two years at your institution…?” followed by a series of statements. Responses were measured using a variation of the seven-point Likert scale designed to differentiate levels of intensity.

The report is the sixth installment of the League’s trends report. It comes at a time when the focus of community college policy and practice has undergone profound changes, shifting from maximizing access and enrollment to stressing access and completion with clear-cut learning outcomes.

The use of technology is also experiencing seismic, significant shifts, the report says.

“The expansion of technology is increasingly less about powering traditional models with modern tools and more about creating the infrastructure for new learning and delivery models that have moved far beyond innovative pilots and segregated distance learning programs,” the report states. “These are at-scale reframings of how community colleges deliver their core services, particularly in developmental education. Undergirding these shifts is a major move from a focus on accountability analytics—conversations and innovations focused on getting data to administrators, legislators, and trustees— to action analytics, where the focus is on getting real-time and predictive data into the hands of teachers, advisors, and students on the front lines of learning.”

The report is divided into seven trend clusters that the authors believe will challenge community college leaders for years to come: access and completion; learning outcomes; learning models; structural issues and incentives; working the regional educational ecosystems; data and analytics; and future-ready work.

The survey found that several trends which emerged over the past several years have been cemented, particularly attitudes toward the completion agenda. Just a few years ago, college leaders concentrated on the core mission of the community college movement: opening up access and opportunity to the demographic groups that need it the most. Those values are still held dear, but now are coupled with a drive toward completion and success.

Mark Milliron, Co-Founder and Chief Learning Officer, Civitas Learning

“It’s very clear and compelling just how strongly the completion agenda has taken hold,” Milliron said. “It really is part of the core mission of community colleges.”

Indeed, when asked whether their institution in the next two years would take aggressive steps to improve student completion, 97 percent of respondents answered “yes.”

Only 18 percent of respondents said they believed that the completion agenda would have a negative effect on access to community colleges, but the concern about access is real. One college president said, “Community colleges will strive to serve all students, but will end up turning some away as concerns surrounding completion rise.”

The reports also found, however, “that most of the surveyed presidents think the completion agenda can be married with a commitment to access. They argue that, in order to effectively focus on both access and completion, they need to help their institutions embrace the idea that the pathway to better completion outcomes is not restricting access, but actually helping more students, and more diverse students, successfully navigate their journeys.”

De los Santos said the survey also found that college leaders still have some work to do to make sure that faculty and other stakeholders fully understand the need for new strategies and innovations to further the completion agenda.

“CEOs need to keep their finger on the pulse of their institutions,” he said. “There is a lot of work to be done to make sure faculty knows what their work means. Colleges will need to invest more in professional development.”

The surveyed CEOs see significant changes looming over the horizon: 81 percent said they believe the use of mobile devices will be expanded to improve learning; 78 percent predict their institutions will begin experimenting with competency-based models for program or course delivery; and 95 percent said their institutions will try and test new developmental education models within the next two years.

Against this backdrop, college leaders are increasingly concerned about the dwindling financial support for community colleges.

Gerardo E. de los Santos, President and Ceo, League for Innovation in the Community College

The report states: “Without question, one of the biggest concerns for presidents is the dramatic decline in public funding for community colleges. One surveyed community college president succinctly described the challenge of innovating in the midst of declining resources:

‘We are at the end of more with less— it’s now less with less.’ “The near future of community college structural issues and incentives are likely to include an increase in federal regulations, more transparency demands, continued expansion of the community college baccalaureate, the need for capital improvement funding, increased collaboration among institutions to make more effective use of limited resources, and stronger demands for middle-skill training. In addition, more states are moving toward new and different forms of performance-based funding models.”

One trend that shows no signs of slowing is the expansion and emphasis on STEM programs. Ninety-four percent of respondents said they expect a continuing push to expand STEM offerings to meet employer demand; 84 percent answered “yes” when asked whether student completion of STEM credentials would be a key focus over the next two years.

“There is such a strong focus on STEM,” de los Santos said. “Some colleges seem to be turning their entire curriculum over to STEM.”

More and better uses of data are also on the minds of community college leaders. So are new learning models: 97 percent of those surveyed said they believe the ability to use data to better understand and serve different student types will be expanded; 94 percent predicted data will be used in more sophisticated ways to respond to increasing calls for accountability.

But the expanded use of data – particularly in getting it into the hands of students through new applications – will pose a challenge for the sector, Milliron said.

“How do you get data to people on the front lines?” he said. “You have to do it in the right away. It will not happen overnight. It’s not only technological change. It’s a cultural change. And that’s not easy stuff.”

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