Magazine article The Catalyst

National Completion Agenda Is Local Work

Magazine article The Catalyst

National Completion Agenda Is Local Work

Article excerpt

Community colleges are in the national spotlight today due to President Obama's agenda calling for a 50 percent increase in student completion rates at community colleges. Major educational foundations are embracing the completion agenda, with countless state and national initiatives mobilizing to advance the agenda nationwide. This spotlight on community colleges, while mostly positive, does present challenges that may underscore chronic concerns the community colleges share with employers and other segments of education across the country.

The most serious impediment to increasing the number of people who complete a degree, certificate, or some other credential is that the postsecondary school enrollees often are unprepared to do college-level work. A 2004 Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research study found that collaboration, accountability, and articulation among our systems of education- secondary and postsecondary- is relatively nonexistent. Thus, students in many cases graduate from high school and soon find they are not well prepared for college.

This secondary/postsecondary disconnect means that most students entering community colleges need remedial coursework. Community colleges typically are equipped to help students prepare for college-level work while they are in college, but the catch-up work occurs at a high cost to students, their parents, and the supporting taxpayers. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education's Paying Double: Inadequate High Schools and Community College Remediation, community colleges spend $1.4 billion per year providing remedial education to recent high school graduates.

The goal of increasing completion rates becomes harder to achieve when students require remedial work upon entering community college and perform at a lower level in college courses than do adequately prepared students. Without question, the high rate of remediation helps to explain national statistics showing low retention rates from the first to second year of community college. According to National Center for Education Statistics data (2006), slightly more than half of entering community college freshmen return as sophomores.

The Search for Solutions

Given these challenges, it is imperative to search for and develop ways to make secondary and postsecondary student success the norm. The spotlight on completion goals originates at the national level, but the work necessary to make needed changes must occur at the local level.

For this reason, the League for Innovation in the Community College, with generous support from MetLife Foundation, led a year-long action research project that produced the Significant Discussions Guide. Local educators, well positioned to guide a grassroots movement to increase student success, can use the Guide's insights and materials to improve student transitions from one education system to another.

Insights and practical advice came from participants convening at the nine community colleges who led Significant Discussion groups:

* Anne Arundel Community College, Maryland

* Central Piedmont Community College, North Carolina

* Leigh Carbon Community College, Pennsylvania

* Maricopa Community Colleges, Arizona

* Miami Dade College, Florida

* San Diego Community College District, California

* Southwestern Oregon Community College, Oregon

* Sinclair Community College, Ohio

* St. Louis Community College, Missouri

In addition, a national review panel of six prominent secondary and postsecondary education experts served as advisors to the project.

The culmination of the nine community college discussion groups is the Significant Discussions Guide, drawing upon the expertise of over 150 secondary and postsecondary faculty and administrators, together with business and community partners.

Components of the Guide

The Guide is designed to help local partnerships collaborate to improve curriculum alignment between their secondary and postsecondary education systems and improve student success leading to employment. …

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