Duncan: Education Best Path to Better Economy

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that a post-secondary education remained the surest path to professional and economic success, even as more Americans than ever are going into debt to pursue higher learning.

Duncan said students should consider some form of higher education, including college or vocational training, if they want to more easily secure a job after high school graduation. Outside of mortgages, student loans are the top source of household debt.

“Going to college, by far, is the best long-term investment any individual can make for their future,” Duncan told reporters in North Las Vegas. “Some form of higher education has to be the goal of every single young person in this country.”

Duncan touted President Barack Obama’s student loan relief plan, which would reduce the maximum repayment on student loans from 15 percent of discretionary income annually to 10 percent, among other measures. About 1.6 million borrowers could be affected.

The Education Department has loaned $490 billion to 23 million borrowers this year, compared to $102.2 billion to 11.5 million recipients last year.

Duncan’s remarks came amid a nationwide tour to promote Obama’s American Jobs Act, which would set aside tax dollars for teacher salaries and school construction. In all, Duncan made two stops in southern Nevada, first addressing a federal student aid conference on the Las Vegas Strip, and later participating in an education panel at the College of Southern Nevada in North Las Vegas.

Duncan also addressed the nation’s wounded economy in this hardest-hit state, telling educators and students gathered at the College of Southern Nevada that investment in public schools is the only way to strengthen the nation’s work force and compete globally. Nevada tops the nation in foreclosures and unemployment and has some of the most underfunded public schools in the nation. (Read more.)

Via Cristina Silva, Associated Press on Community College Week.

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2011 Year-in-Review for Community Colleges

Community college leaders generally eschew and resist all manner of rankings, believing their institutions are simply too diverse, their missions too different, to lend themselves to a qualitative analysis.

But voices of dissent were few and far between when the Aspen Institute embarked on a yearlong quest to identify the nation’s top colleges and reward them with a total of $1 million for their exemplary work. Community college experts pored over applications, analyzed reams of data and conducted site visits. A prize jury of former elected officials, education experts and civil rights advocates reviewed the data and selected the winners.

When the analysis was done, Valencia College, which educates more than 50,000 students a year in Orlando, Fla., won the top prize and $600,000. Four other colleges were named “finalists with distinction”: Lake Area Technical Institute (S.D.); Miami Dade College (Fla.); Walla Walla Community College (Wash.); West Kentucky Community & Technical College (Ky.).

More than heaping praise on community colleges, the awards served notice that open-access community colleges, too, can achieve excellence and distinction just like four-year universities. It was a chance for colleges of all stripes to bask in the national spotlight.

Indeed, the colleges that were honored are as diverse as the sector itself: Lake Tech, for example, is a college of just 1,400 students with a minority student enrollment of just 2 percent; Miami Dade, is the nation’s largest public college, with nearly 100,000 students, 87 percent of whom are members of underrepresented minority groups.

Yet all of the schools have managed to exceed national averages on graduation rates, transfers to four-year colleges, job placements and learning and equity outcomes. They are training the next generation of nurses, laser technicians, teachers and small business owners. They are demonstrating how a combination of actions can improve student success, the institute said.

For elevating the discussion of community colleges from access to success, the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence tops Community College Week’s list of the Top Ten Community College Stories of 2011. (Read more.)

Via Paul Bradley, Community College Week.

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Community Colleges Struggle to Train Workers With Limited Funds

Business leaders depend on community colleges to offer work-force training, but high unemployment and state budget cuts have made it harder for the sector to do that work. That’s the message of a report released on Wednesday by the Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama.

The report, “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: Challenges Community Colleges Face to Reach the Unemployed,” is the third in a series based on results from the latest annual survey, conducted over the summer, of the 51 members of the National Council of State Directors of Community Colleges (Georgia has two).

Two years ago, 11 members of the council reported that unemployed workers in their states could attend community colleges tuition-free for retraining. By 2010, only four indicated that was the case. Unemployment, meanwhile, has remained stubbornly high, while stimulus funds have dwindled and state tax revenues have yet to bounce back. This year members from 21 states reported that funds for work-force training had been exhausted.

Nearly three-fourths of survey respondents agreed that in the face of such challenges, community colleges are being pushed to offer “quick” job training without academic credit. That limits colleges’ ability to invest in more expensive long-term programs, the report says, in fields like allied health, engineering, and information technology—the very fields that need more workers and tend to offer better pay. Forty-two members indicated that their states need more funds to expand programs in those areas.

The report ends with a warning. “Even as community colleges have long been known for persisting despite budget cuts and enrollment increases,” the authors say, “we are left wondering whether the sector has neared its limits.”

Via Beckie Supiano, Chronicle of Higher Ed.

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College Presidents Aim to Bolster Entrepreneurship Efforts

A national organization focused on promoting entrepreneurship through community colleges has launched a national campaign to encourage more two-year college leaders to focus on such efforts to create local jobs and bolster economies.

The call from the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) comes in response to the first board meeting of Startup America, a White House initiative to advance entrepreneurship and create jobs across the country. During the meeting on Dec. 8, its board members announced commitments from more than 50 private-sector partners to deliver more than $1 billion in value—from free software to free consulting and legal services—to 100,000 startups over the next three years.

President Barack Obama also took the opportunity to renew his call for Congress to develop ideas from his American Jobs Act plan to help small and growing businesses access capital.

Key Local Players

Over the past few years, community colleges have been recognized for their potential to turn out a wide range of entrepreneurs. This has caught the attention of lawmakers who are eager to find ways to create jobs and help economies locally and nationally.

“As a national organization supporting entrepreneurship development, NACCE touches the lives of students and community members across the country,” said Thomas, NACCE board chair and president of Dakota County Technical College (Minnesota), said in a statement. “NACCE has an obligation to lead the way in providing assistance to entrepreneurship education programs, which are an essential part of the economic recovery at local, regional, national and global levels. Research is clear: New businesses are the key to job creation now and in the future.”

More than 100 community college presidents have already agreed to become part of the effort, according to NACCE, which aims to have 300 presidents participating by April and 600 by the end of 2012. (Read more)

Via Times Staff, Community College Times.

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Two-Fifths of High School Graduates Are Unprepared for College or the Workforce

Two-fifths of high school students graduate prepared neither for traditional college nor for career training, according to a study from researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Arizona.

College-preparatory programming has expanded dramatically in the past decade, with participation in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate more than tripling. Career-preparatory programs have evolved, as well, and school-to-work “pathways” have replaced tired old vocational programs.But they are not enough. One-third of high school students complete the modern college-preparatory track, and another one-quarter graduate from career-preparatory programs. The remaining high school population, an estimated 40 percent, do neither.

They are “a virtual underclass of students,” the researchers write, who finish high school with a transcript filled with watered-down general education courses and few prospects for success either in traditional college or in professional training.

The study is titled “The Underserved Third: How Our Educational Structures Populate an Educational Underclass,” and it was written by Regina Deil-Amen at the Center for the Study of Higher Education, University of Arizona, and Stefanie DeLuca, a sociologist at Hopkins. It actually published last year in the Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, but the findings were released to the general public Monday.

Many contemporary jobs require less than a bachelor’s degree; indeed, workers in high-demand fields can earn more money without a bachelor’s degree than counterparts in low-paying fields who have a degree.

But the structure of American high schools is trapped, the authors write, in a culture that “blindly advocate(s) bachelor’s degrees as the only valuable option and the cure for all social ills.”

“Tracking” is a dirty word in public education. Yet, high schools have tracked students since time immemorial, and tracking endures to this day. The approximately one-third of all high school students who participate in credible AP or IB study make up the gifted, college-preparatory track. Another group, about one-quarter of the student population, is steered instead into career preparatory study and occupies a lower track, although no career programs are ever advertized in quite that way. (Read more.)

Via Daniel de Vise, Washington Post.

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