New group trying to raise profile of community colleges

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Community college leaders in Virginia, Indiana and other states say their schools' roles in giving students an affordable education and job training are undervalued, so they're banding together to fight for federal policy changes.

Virginia Community College System Chancellor Glenn DuBois and his counterparts in Indiana, Louisiana and North Carolina have formed Rebuilding the Middle Class. The coalition, which held its first meeting last week in the group's home base of Indianapolis, is raising money in hopes of building its profile among the public and with lawmakers.

"We were seen as high schools with ashtrays — we weren't real," DuBois said. "The perception was that this was the place to go if you couldn't get into college."

That has changed as more employers now require a post-secondary education while the costs for attending four-year schools have skyrocketed. The two-year schools are typically far less-expensive to attend and serve as an interim step for many students between high school and four-year colleges and universities.

Community colleges in particular have seen a growing number of low-income and minority students attain credentials, associate's degrees and workforce certificates over the past two decades.

Joe May, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, heads the new group. He said that although community colleges have become more important in recent decades, federal policies and programs created to aid students — including grant and loan funding — haven't grown accordingly.

"Since the Pell Grant was created in the 1970s, they haven't fundamentally changed, but students really have changed," May said. "In the 1970s, the majority attending college were young and lived on campus. Students today are much older, a majority are working while going to school and half of undergraduate enrollment is at community colleges."

Also, the required education level for workers has increased, heightening the need for post-secondary education. In the 1970s, 75 percent of middle-class jobs required only a high school diploma. By 2007, that figure had dropped to 40 percent, May said, citing a Georgetown University workforce study.

Federal grant programs such as Pell grants and Perkins loans for low-income students need to better accommodate part-time students and students with families to help them meet employers' expectations, he said.

Since he took office, President Barack Obama has touted the role community colleges play in training workers for jobs in high-demand fields. So has Vice President Joe Biden's wife, Jill Biden, an English teacher at Northern Virginia Community College.

A $10 billion initiative proposed in 2009 was aimed at growing the U.S. work force by increasing the number of community-college graduates. "But his proposal fizzled," DuBois noted, and Congress decided to make it a competitive grant program worth $2 billion over four years.

"We just need more help in getting that conversation going so that important policymakers will see the value of this tool when they're making important decisions about the economy and the workforce," he said.

In Virginia, for example, two-thirds of undergraduates at public colleges and universities are enrolled in community colleges, and 40 percent of next year's graduates will have had taken coursework at community colleges, DuBois said. There are about 400,000 Virginians enrolled in either credit-granting courses or workforce-training programs in the state's community college system. In comparison, there were about 164,000 undergraduates at Virginia's public four-year schools and about 81,000 at the four-year private colleges last fall.

Besides DuBois and May, the founders of Rebuilding America's Middle Class include R. Scott Ralls, president of the North Carolina Community College System, and Tom Snyder, president of Ivy Tech Community College System in Indiana.

The fledgling group has partnered with not-for-profits such as the Lumina Foundation, a group that aims to increase the number of Americans attaining college degrees. It also is coordinating with the American Association of Community Colleges, the main national advocacy group representing more than 1,100 two-year institutions.


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Why should I a home owner pay for this"car sharing" ????

  2. By the way, the right to work law is intended to prevent forced union membership, not as a way to keep workers in bondage as you make it sound, Italiano. If union leadership would spend all of their funding on the workers, who they are supposed to be representing, instead of trying to buy political favor and living lavish lifestyles as a result of the forced membership, this law would never had been necessary.

  3. Unions once served a noble purpose before greed and apathy took over. Now most unions are just as bad or even worse than the ills they sought to correct. I don't believe I have seen a positive comment posted by you. If you don't like the way things are done here, why do you live here? It would seem a more liberal environment like New York or California would suit you better?

  4. just to clear it up... Straight No Chaser is an a capella group that formed at IU. They've toured nationally typically doing a capella arangements of everything from Old Songbook Standards to current hits on the radio.

  5. This surprises you? Mayor Marine pulled the same crap whenhe levered the assets of the water co up by half a billion $$$ then he created his GRAFTER PROGRAM called REBUILDINDY. That program did not do anything for the Ratepayors Water Infrastructure Assets except encumber them and FORCE invitable higher water and sewer rates on Ratepayors to cover debt coverage on the dough he stole FROM THE PUBLIC TRUST. The guy is morally bankrupt to the average taxpayer and Ratepayor.