Community College Leaders Gripe Over Obama’s Proposed Rate System

By: Ashmar Mandou

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - EducationThe Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) held a meeting between Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) presidents and the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last month in Chicago, at this year’s annual conference, “Championing Hispanic Higher Education Success: Securing the American Dream.”  Over a dozen presidents and chancellors of HSIs took advantage of the opportunity to share input on President Obama’s proposal for higher education accountability.  In addition, HSIs presidents voiced their concerns over the proposal’s new rating approach to tie higher graduation rates to federal aid. 

“On average there are about twelve new HSIs every year.  Last year alone 44 more institutions became HSIs.  However, instead of increasing support to meeting the increasing need, federal funding for HSI programs has gone down significantly,” said HACU President and CEO Antonio R. Flores in a statement.  “Our institutions will not be able to prepare the next generation of leaders if we don’t give them the resources to do so.”  HSI leaders expressed their apprehension with continuing cuts to federal programs and encouraged the administration to increase support for these programs in their FY 2015 budget.  Among the HSI leaders who took part in the meeting was Dr. Dana A. Grove, president of Morton College who shared his thoughts about the meeting and the proposal.

Report Card

What President Obama wants to do is make city colleges and universities more accountable to the public by creating this Report Card rating, which we don’t have any problem with.  What we do take issue with is the performance indicators and what they are going to be…that’s what concerns us and President Obama is fixated on graduation rates and wants to give colleges with better graduation rates more federal dollars or more opportunities for federal dollars.  This concerns all of us, particularly community colleges.  On average, 75 percent of our students who enroll in community colleges are not immediately prepared to go into college-level work so they have to take remedial classes in English and Math.  That postpones their graduation.  For a two-year college, students have to graduate within three years, they have to be a full-time student, and they have to declare a major.  This works against a typical community college student.    If graduation is postponed because a student has to take remedial classes there’s no way they could graduate in three years time.  So the President’s narrow definition of graduation isn’t necessarily fair or an accurate way to judge the success of the college. 

Performance Indicators

That is something I brought up to the Secretary.  What are the performance indicators?  The Secretary kept referring to outcomes as the graduation rates and I said to him, ‘I think you have a confusion of words here.’  I told him I distinguish between inputs, outputs, and outcomes.  The inputs are the number of students who attend college, the outputs would be the graduation rates, and the outcome would be how much those students have learned when they were enrolled.  For me, that is the most important thing, it’s what they’ve learned, not the graduation rate, nor the job.  That where, I think, community colleges excel because our students come in at a rate which they were not prepared for college work and through time were able to get up to graduation. 

Quality Education

Certainly, there’s this community college stigma.  I have worked at several community colleges before coming to Morton College and the stigma is out there.  However, slowly, but surely we have started to snip away at the stigma by providing our students with the highest quality of education to prepare them for the workforce.  We know students who have graduated from Morton College serve as our greatest ambassadors. 

The meeting was the first in a series of meetings that Secretary of Education Duncan plans to hold during the next months to receive input on the new proposal. 

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