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Commission Calls for Redesign of U.S. Community College System

April 25, 2012

U.S. community colleges are in dire need of an overhaul, according to a report issued by the 21st Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges. Currently, fewer than half (46 percent) of all student who enter community college with the goal of earning a degree or certificate achieve that goal. About 60 percent of students entering community college after high school must take developmental education classes to prepare for college-level work. Also, community college students are frequently unable to make smooth transitions into four-year institutions or the job market after graduation.

The commission calls for a redesign of the system that would focus efforts on local employment needs, emphasize transparency and accountability and offer coherent pathways for students. The commission was convened by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) last summer, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, ACT and the Education Testing Service.

After a nationwide listening tour and finding broad consensus on the urgent need for reform, the commission assembled the report to sketch a framework for the reinvention of the system. The report offers seven recommendations to redesign, reinvent and reset the community college system as a more vibrant resource for students and communities. Recommendations include:

  • Increase completion rates to 50 percent by 2020 while maintaining quality and accessibility by building structured pathways for students, promoting transfers to baccalaureate institutions and identify and assisting students who have already earned 30 credit hours;
  • Reduce by 50 percent the number of entering students unprepared for college-level work by collaborating with K-12 districts and redesigning developmental education programs;
  • Prepare students for available jobs and fill local labor market needs by designing stacked credential systems, identifying local needs, and creating partnerships to increase the value of an associate degree;
  • Meet the needs of students and communities by creating an open learning environment and offering venues to engage with institutional leaders;
  • Collaborate with other institutions to collect student and graduate data and offer transparent documentation of student skills;
  • Create new incentives for all educational institutions and students to support the value of a community college education; and,
  • Implement policies and practices that promote rigor, transparency and accountability to increase the quality and acceptance of associates programs.

AACC also proposes the creation of a 21st Century Center that would coordinate the implementation of these recommendation and act as a repository for promising practices. Read Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation's Future...

workforce, higher ed, policy recommendations