Looking back to move forward

AACC President and CEO Walter G. Bumphus introduces community college presidents who have used AACC's “Empowering Community Colleges to Build the Nation’s Workforce: An Implementation Guide” to help frame their reforms. The presidents highlighted their efforts at the AACC Fall Meeting in November. (Photo: AACC)

As we take a look at AACC Pathways and the many ways in which it is working at community colleges, it is important to reflect upon the road that we have traveled together.

Less than a decade ago, we were challenged to improve our colleges. Our nation and higher education had changed dramatically and community colleges were at a crossroads regarding their mission of open access and their responsibility to ensure student success. Community colleges were under increased scrutiny, particularly regarding student success and completion. As leaders, we were being challenged to reimagine the very notion of a community college while protecting the fundamental access afforded by our colleges to all Americans who deserve a pathway to higher education.

Five years ago, AACC published “Reclaiming the American Dream.” The report was the culmination of countless hours of research, field work, policy review and, most importantly, listening. For me, it was in the listening that we learned the most. We heard from leaders, faculty, staff and students. We heard about the challenges and the needs for resources and about initiative fatigue. We were able to identify commonalities that could benefit from a global approach to finding and implementing solutions.

“Reclaiming the American Dream” well outlined the recommendations developed by a group of dedicated, talented individuals who served on the AACC 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges. These commissioners helped to identify the essential elements needed to help to propel our colleges into transforming their programs and services in support of the 21st-century student. The commission and our nine Implementation Teams next developed implementation strategies and services for each of the recommendations.

Onward along the path

Today, this work continues. The AACC Pathways program is well underway. The second cohort of colleges is working toward building capacity for community colleges to design and implement structured academic and career pathways at scale, for all students.

The work has brought together an enormous network of talent and resources organizations that continue planning, implementing and evaluating these pathways. Both California and Texas have announced statewide initiatives based upon the AACC Pathways model and remain steadfast in their commitment toward scaling these programs to maximize their impact on student success.

Using the ‘Blue Book’ as a guide

Accountability is another of the recommendations identified in the report. AACC has advocated for many years to improve the tools and metrics used to measure colleges, programs and student attainment information at the federal level. Digging deeper, “Reclaiming the American Dream” recommended that rigor and accountability be meaningfully tied to data and outcomes.

Better data via VFA

In response, AACC developed the Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA). The VFA is more than data collection. It is the first and only data system that was designed by and for community colleges.

The VFA allows colleges to truly see where they stand by providing measurements of student learning and employment-related data outcomes. The data allow you to engage in meaningful program review on campus and provides you with better measurements of key performance indicators.

Nationally, VFA data will help support policy and reporting at the federal level. Recently, AACC determined that participation in the VFA was critical for our members and made it a part of the membership benefits offered by the association.

There are several other recommendations from this seminal report. More importantly, there are also implementation strategies that are used every day at community colleges. The 21st-Century Initiative is something that was and is transformative.

This article comes from the current issue of AACC’s Community College Journal.

About the Author

Walter G. Bumphus
is president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges.