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Thursday, June 4, 2015
Building High-Quality Community Colleges: The Forgotten Piece

In a recent piece for the Washington Post, education columnist Jay Mathews opines that President Obama’s proposal for free community college – while well intentioned – falls short in addressing some of the most pressing challenges facing today’s students. In addition to concerns associated with tuition and fees, Matthews lays out living expenses, working while going to school, and a failed college structure as key barriers keeping students from graduation day.

Some key excerpts:

“Community colleges provide such a disorganized mess of courses with so many dead-ends that many students never get to where they want to go.” “…the push to provide as many courses for as many students as possible has backfired.” “Regular students blunder through on their own with mostly bad results. More than 80 percent of students entering community college say they plan to graduate from a four-year school. Six years later, just 15 percent have done so.”

While this is all true, a core part of the President’s proposal does, in fact, seek to address these concerns, calling for the “building [of] high-quality community colleges.” The proposal specifically states that, “colleges must also adopt promising and evidence-based institutional reforms to improve student outcomes” – reforms like those in place at CUNY ASAP and the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology where highly-structured programs and proactive advising ensure many more students earn their degree or certificate.

The attention and dialogue around the President’s proposal – especially this often omitted element of it – provide an important opportunity to help community colleges realize their full potential and address some inherent challenges in their systems and structures. This is where the Complete College America Game Changers come in. By providing remediation as a corequisite, not a prerequisite, alongside the college-level course, we can ensure significantly more students finish their gateway courses and move into their programs of study. GPS provides the backbone of highly-structured programs by creating default pathways, clear academic maps, and implementation of intrusive advising to help students find the most direct path to graduation. Structured schedules, which provide a reliable and consistent block schedule from the beginning of the degree to the end, make it easier for students to move through and complete on time, even as they balance work and school. Finally, encouraging full-time attendance of 15 credits per term or 30 credits per year ensures that students finish their programs in a timely fashion, without additional cost. We believe in the need for more investment in higher education to give students a better chance to enter and complete.

However, it is highly structured programs and transforming systems through the Game Changers that will help more community colleges become the high-quality institutions that students need and deserve, saving students valuable time and money. After all, it is far cheaper to earn your degree in 2 or 4 years rather than in 5 or 6.

posted by Julie Johnson

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