In recent months, a national spotlight has been focused on community colleges across America. The reason for the focus is that while unemployment remains high, job creation has become the significant test for recovery, and community colleges are the most workable and affordable solution to prepare individuals for high-demand, skilled jobs.
The Community College of Allegheny County has recently joined several state and national initiatives that emphasize the importance of community colleges to the future of our region and our country. The Call to Action of the American Association of Community Colleges commits CCAC and other institutions to improve student success and completion, and the AACC’s Voluntary Framework of Accountability will provide consistent, relevant data on progress toward those goals. AdvancePA, an initiative of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, seeks to expand knowledge of the ways that community colleges prepare individuals for high-demand careers and further education.
CCAC has launched innovative programs aimed at specific sector training, drawing from close relationships with employers, development agencies and other workforce partners as well as solid data, including a study CCAC commissioned earlier this year to identify the regional industries and sub-sectors that are poised for growth. For example, weatherization training prepares workers to build, refit and maintain energy-efficient homes and businesses; mechatronics, or advanced manufacturing, prepares students to work in a wide variety of high-tech industries; and bioremediation enables graduates to help solve elements of the environmental challenges presented by Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.
While we are proud of our complete training programs, our graduates can also choose to transfer to four-year colleges and universities. They can save as much as $46,000 during their two years at CCAC while receiving personal attention in small classes led by professors with careers of devotion to students and teaching.
In order to achieve their educational goals, however, our students need to complete their course of study at CCAC. Like most community colleges, CCAC has long struggled with low graduation rates. Many factors influence this statistic, including the growing need for additional pre-college preparation and the difficult balance of our students’ work, family and academic responsibilities. These factors currently lead many on a longer path to graduation; others never graduate at all. We can do better.
President Obama has presented a challenge to America’s education community: Return the United States to the top college graduation rate in the world. In order to contribute to our portion of the president’s goal, CCAC will need to graduate 50 percent more students in 2020 than we do today. The CCAC Board of Trustees has approved a tactical plan for Integrated Student Success Initiatives. This document brings together existing and new programs with benchmarking and measurable goals to ensure that we make progress in student preparation, retention and completion.
To emphasize our commitment to this goal, we have accepted the “Call to Action” of the American Association of Community Colleges, in which CCAC and other colleges pledge to work actively toward improving student success. CCAC is also among 40 national pilot colleges for the Voluntary Framework of Accountability, which will establish a set of consistent key measurements to enable fair and accurate comparisons among institutions.
In difficult economic times, funding is a major concern for any educational institution, and CCAC is no exception. Ten percent of Pennsylvania’s funding for higher education—including community colleges—is currently filled by federal stimulus funding, set to expire this year. In spite of increased fundraising efforts at CCAC, this shortfall places increased pressure on our mission of providing affordable, quality education. Recognizing the critical role of CCAC in our region, Allegheny County, our local sponsor, has generously committed to modest annual increases in their contribution to CCAC’s operating expenses and has provided additional funding for capital needs.
CCAC has joined the 13 other community colleges in Pennsylvania in calling for state and federal lawmakers to recognize the importance of community colleges in the commonwealth’s economic development. This campaign, AdvancePA, also asks Pennsylvania residents to sign an online petition expressing their support for community colleges at www.advancepa.net.
We believe that the future success of the national economy will be tied to the success of community colleges in preparing students for the workforce and continued education. CCAC is committed to meeting that challenge with the support of our lawmakers, residents, employers, faculty and students.
Alex Johnson, Ph.D.
William Russell Robinson
Chair, CCAC Board of Trustees