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INDIANAPOLIS — A plenary discussion at the close of the 2011 Achieving the Dream (ATD) Strategy Institute on Friday was dominated by two topics: community colleges’ important role in addressing the nation’s workforce development needs and their role in ensuring the availability of public higher education.
Carol Lincoln, senior vice president of ATD Inc., urged ATD college leaders to set institutional completion goals to help produce their colleges' share of the national goal of 5 million additional community college graduates by 2020. The 130 ATD colleges use data to develop strategies to close achievement gaps and increase the attainment of certificates and degrees.
Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, described the immensity of the national challenge. The “relentless forces” of the economy and technology, he said, “mean that postsecondary education is necessary for a middle-class life, and that for many Americans their long-term prospects depend on their success at community colleges.”
Carnevale cautioned that striving for efficiency to attain college completion goals should not prompt community colleges to change their missions.
“Efficiency is always the enemy of fairness and equity,” he said, adding that often the people who enter college most prepared “are those born with the right bank account or address.”
“The true heroes in all this are the students themselves,” Carnevale said, noting that despite the significant challenges they face, disadvantaged youths strive to make their way in the economy.
The role of foundations
Making sure that people have the skills to attain jobs that lead to self-sufficiency is the reason the Bank of America Charitable Foundation has become involved in ATD, said the foundation’s president, Kerry Sullivan.
“Corporate America can’t grow if people can’t participate,” she said.
In its partnership with ATD, the Bank of America Foundation hopes to leverage its strengths with community colleges’ expertise to help address the needs of the most “fragile” populations in the country, Sullivan said. She urged community colleges to broaden their collaborations with businesses and agencies, like GEAR UP, to help solve workforce development issues.
George Grainger, senior grant officer with the Houston Endowment, told the 1,400 institute attendees—mostly community college educators and ATD funders—that private foundations “simply do not possess the funds to fill the gaps in public funding.” Private funders, however, do have the capacity to capitalize ideas that improve the conditions that help students succeed, and they are interested in this goal.
Suzanne Walsh, a senior program officer with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, explained that the Gates Foundation seeks remedies with the potential for wide-scale impact.
“Our investment philosophy is to help you grow [innovations] … When you’re really ready to dive in, we’re ready to take it to the next level,” she said.
Bill Scroggins, president of the College of the Sequoias (California), suggested that state legislators restructure funding formulas using ATD strategies that help more students succeed.
“I’m funded for enrollment, but asked to produce completion,” Scroggins said.
Requiring all Pell Grant recipients to attend orientation would be a low-cost way of forcing colleges and students to shift the focus from simply entering college to completing it, Scroggins said. Several ATD colleges have found that student retention improves when they required first-time-in-college students or developmental education students to attend orientation.
Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro urged ATD community college educators to inform their state’s higher education governing boards about their promising practices so those practices can be considered in funding decisions. While economic realities are forcing budget cuts in many states, Castro said legislators increasingly understand the importance of completion, and they see community colleges as the “cornerstones of the infrastructure of opportunity.”
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