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21st-Century Commission deliberates recommendations

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(From left) Commission co-chairs Jerry Sue Thornton, Augustine Gallego and Kay McClenney preside over Tuesday's meeting.

​To understand the challenge facing a blue-ribbon commission charged with mapping the future priorities of community colleges, look at its agenda for this week’s meeting: workforce leadership, rethinking resources, technology as a tool, and connecting postsecondary education and the economy.

And that’s just the tip of iceberg for the 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges. There’s also college completion, college readiness, student aid, transitions from K-12 to postsecondary education, and equity and diversity.

At its meeting Tuesday in Washington, D.C., the commission heard from about a half dozen experts in these fields as it began to discuss preliminary recommendations for its final report, which will be released at the annual American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) convention in April.

More photos from Tuesday's commission meeting

Kay McClenney, co-chair of the commission and director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin, said the commission—comprising leaders from education, policy, philanthropy and business—will examine the major themes emerging from the discussions and working briefs. It is evident that community colleges must be clearer in their missions, the populations they serve, allocation of resources and their business operations, she said, noting these were topics discussed on Tuesday and the commission’s previous meeting in August.

To that extent—and as charged by AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus, who convened the commission—the panel will have to layout bold ideas to address these challenges, McClenney said.

“This is not small stuff,” she said. “We’re not tweaking around the edges.”

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The commission will likely address a short list of priorities rather than a longer list to ensure a focus, said McClenney, who was joined at Tuesday’s meeting by co-chairs Jerry Sue Thornton, president of Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio, and Augustine Gallego, chancellor emeritus of the San Diego Community College District. McClenney added that even though the commission will provide a blueprint for two-year colleges on a national level, individual community colleges will ultimately decide how to implement or adapt the panel’s recommendations.

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