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Community College Report Calls for Reform to Improve Success

To move community colleges ahead and meet workforce needs, a new report calls for a shift in focus from student access to finding innovative ways to improve completion.

Reclaiming the American Dream: A Report from the 21st Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges was released by the American Association of Community of Community Colleges at its annual convention in Orlando, Fla., on Saturday. In the report, higher education and business leaders suggest major reforms to redesign students' educational experiences, reinvent institutional roles, and reset the system to promote rigor, transparency, and success.

Too often, students arrive at community college campuses unprepared, without a career focus, and don't take advantage of campus supports, the report says. Among high school graduates, only 24 percent of those intending to go to college meet all four ACT benchmarks of college readiness in English, math, reading, and science. About 60 percent of community college students take at least one remedial course.

Once on campus, 30 percent of students skip orientation, and just 30 percent say a college adviser helped set academic goals and create a plan for achieving them.

The report sets a goal by 2020 of reducing by half the number of students entering college in need of developmental courses and, for those who do, doubling the rate at which they successfully completed those programs.

Completion rates should also increase by 50 percent in the next eight years, the authors recommend. Now, about 46 percent of students who enter community colleges with the goal of earning a degree or certificate actually do so within six years. To turn things around, the report calls for helping students develop clear educational pathways, better institutional collaboration, shifting to a focus on learning, and tying funding to enrollment and student success.

"We need to completely reimagine community colleges for today and the future," said Walter G. Bumphus, president and chief executive officer of AACC, which commissioned the report, in a press statement. Higher education is struggling with low student success rates, and employers complain about inadequate student preparation for the job market, he said. The report is intended to be a road map to help the country's 1,100 community colleges with strategic planning, leadership development, and research.

It is the culmination of a yearlong AACC program, the 21st-Century Initiative.

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