We have just elected new members of Congress, so this question has likely crossed your mind: What does this mean for higher education policy?
Last Monday, EdWeek published an article, Thorny Higher Education Issues to Confront Next Congress, and chief among the issues highlighted was the need to overhaul federal financial aid and student grants, with a particular focus on disadvantaged youth.
Community colleges are very familiar with serving the nontraditional student. Many of our students are low-income or they are first-generation immigrants; 84 percent are employed and 29 percent are parents. As we think about any future changes to higher education policy, students are at the top of our minds because their success is at the core of our missions.
Regardless of the election’s outcome and any subsequent bills this new Congress might pass, community colleges must continue to improve both academic and financial aid advising. Students — particularly those facing financial barriers and family obligations — cannot be expected to successfully navigate complicated financial aid processes alone. In addition, strong faculty support and academic advising are imperative to help students reach their educational goals.
We all know the challenges our students face in completing their education. According to a 2012 report by the American Enterprise Institute, only one in four community colleges students graduate, compared to three in five students at four-year institutions.
Many community college students take longer to graduate or don’t complete their degrees or certificates because they end up accumulating credits they don’t need. Additionally, a significant number of community college students are first-generation immigrants, and language barriers, coupled with a lack of knowledge of the American higher education system, can make navigating financial aid applications difficult. Financial aid and academic advisers can work with these students from the moment they set foot on campus to define the resources that will best fund their education and the courses and programs that will lead them to a certificate or degree.
In our recommendations on Mission and Roles, AACC has laid out how faculty can help students overcome barriers to completion (whether financial, language or otherwise) and ensure that all students feel empowered to navigate their path to college success:
- Strengthen the role of community colleges in advising, learning assessment and credentialing. Allow each student to focus on what he or she wants and needs to learn, and minimize time wasted on unnecessary work.
- Empower students as partners in developing their paths and achieving their educational goals. Community colleges can advance the completion agenda only by intensively engaging students — in goal-setting, in choosing an academic or career pathway and in purposefully interacting with other students, faculty and advisers.
- Redefine faculty roles. Faculty must have multiple dimensions of expertise: effective teaching practices, curriculum pathway design, instructional technologies, learning assessment and student development.
With the mid-term election behind us and the future of higher education policy unclear, the words of the New America Foundation’s Ben Miller to EdWeek ring true: “People don’t all agree on the exact best methods and what information should be given to students, but there is interest from everybody about providing a greater degree of transparency and more advising.”
What steps is your college taking to empower students to achieve their goals. Tell us in the Comments.