I spent five days in Washington DC last week. I am a member of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) Commission on Research, Technology, and Emerging Trends. The meeting of this group coincided with the annual AACC Conference. The conference is always a wonderful opportunity to gain insight into the challenges faced and solutions achieved by community colleges throughout the nation. It was frosting on the cake to have the conference in the nation’s capital at the beginning of the cherry blossom season. Saturday was a gap day between the Commission meeting and the conference. I took full opportunity of the spring weather to walk many miles, see the museums and monuments, and stand in awe of the history and accomplishment of this country.
I will devote this update to some of the highlights of the conference and the trends that are emerging:
Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great” and other books related to business leadership, related his ideas to community colleges. He noted that the “brutal facts” for colleges include low graduation rates, unproductive developmental education programs, public funding cuts, and a misunderstanding of the vital role that two-year colleges have in their communities. Recognizing these facts and still building a great team and focusing on “one big idea” are marks of great leadership.
Dr. Jill Biden spoke of her deep commitment to American community colleges and her adamant retention of a full-time teaching position at North Virginia Community College despite her involvement as the nation’s Second Lady. Vice President Joe Biden, referring to himself as “Middle Class Joe,” talked about his belief that community colleges are the greatest pathway to economic security. He announced the Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium (RACC), a new federal initiative that will make it easier for students to turn apprenticeship experiences into academic credit. The consortium will include colleges, employers and unions.
Gen. Colin Powell, former Secretary of State, delivered a great performance that closed the conference. He is much funnier that I could have ever imagined – particularly relating to his experience on the last day of his public service. His primary message was “optimism is a force multiplier,” urging attendees to recognize that difficult situations can be surmounted through positive focus on goals.
Many of the sessions at the conference focused on developmental math. College-level math is one of the most potent barriers to college completion. If in-coming students can successfully overcome their difficulties with math, they have a much better chance of completing their college program.
The Khan Academy offers tremendous resources for students and faculty members that are free and open source. Some colleges have developed learning labs that allow students to progress at their own pace, guided by faculty facilitators. Others have taken traditional classroom approaches, but have integrated new resources that are inexpensive for students.
A really moving part of the conference is the recognition of community college alumni who have done great things. This year the Association recognized, Toshiko Abe, Japan’s Parliamentary Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and alumna of Gadsden State Community College in Alabama; Geno Auriemma, Head Coach of women’s basketball at the University of Connecticut and alumnus of Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania; Doug Blevins, Kicking Coach in the NFL and alumnus of Virginia Highlands Community College, John Dau, Founder and CEO of the John Dau Foundation and lost boy of Sudan and an alumnus of Onondaga Community College, New York, Elias Provencio-Vasquez, Dean of the School of Nursing at the University of Texas at El Paso and alumnus of Gateway Community College in Arizona; and Joseph Searles, President of Joseph Searles & Company and alumnus of Pratt Community College in Kansas.
Their profiles are worth researching – all are inspiring. I was most moved by the stories of John Dau who survived a 1,000 mile trek from Sudan to refugee camps in Kenya as one of the “lost boys.” He thrived on the education he was able to acquire in the refugee camp and was sponsored to come to America where he attended Onondaga Community College. His experience was featured in the 2006 documentary film“God Grew Tired of Us.” He founded the John Dau Foundation which aims to transform health care in South Sudan.
The Kentucky Experiment
The Kentucky Community and Technical College System is engaged in a great experiment. It has developed a new online option for students that is called “Learn on Demand.” Courses are offered in modules. Students can pre-test and post-test to determine if they have already acquired the competencies that the module includes. If they have the competencies, they can proceed to the next module. Students pay a monthly subscription fee, rather than tuition per course or credit and can move through the curriculum at their own pace. The work of faculty is dis-aggregated. Some faculty members develop the curriculum and modules, some faculty members are available to students as individual mentors and tutors, and some faculty members conduct the assessments of student learning. So far, approximately 3,000 students in Kentucky are exploring this pathway.
Student Success Initiatives
Many sessions were devoted to student success initiatives. These really resonated with the work we are doing at Northland through our “Commit 2 Complete” initiative. Many colleges are trying a variety of approaches to increase student retention and completion. The most effective seem to relate to advising, personalizing approaches to students, and course section availability at the times that students need them.
I hope you all have a great week. We look forward to welcoming the entire Junior Class of Lincoln High School to the Thief River Falls campus on Tuesday. They will have a chance to meet with the faculty and students of programs that interest them. Last week, we had 200 students from regional high schools at a similar event in East Grand Forks.
Upcoming College Events
April 14-18: National Library Week observance at NCTC campus libraries
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
• 10:00 AM – Lincoln High School Junior Class Visit – TRF
• 9:00 PM – Rock ‘N Bowl – TRF
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
• 3:00 pm – Softball vs. Fond du Lac TCC
• 5:00 pm – Softball vs. Fond du Lac TCC
Friday, April 18, 2014
• TBD – Baseball vs. Vermilion CC
• TBD – Baseball vs. U of Winnipeg
Saturday, April 19, 2014
• TBD – Baseball vs. Vermilion CC
• TBD – Baseball vs. U of Winnipeg
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
• 11:00 AM – Earth Day Campus Clean-Up – TRF
• 3:00 pm – Softball @ Rainy River CC
• 5:00 pm – Softball @ Rainy River CC
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
• TBD – Baseball @ Rainy River CC
My Schedule This Week
Monday, Apr. 14 – EGF
Tuesday, Apr. 15 – TRF – Rep. Peterson UAS Summit
Wednesday, Apr. 16 – EGF
Thursday, Apr. 17 – TRF – Cabinet, NCTC Foundation Exec. Comm., EGF – GDREDC Annual Meeting
Friday, Apr. 18 – Possible Vacation