American Graduation Initiative: Strengthening Community Colleges

Yesterday, the President announced a historic commitment to higher education and especially community colleges. Today, Chairman Miller is building on that proposal to do even more for children and young people with his introduction of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009. I just want to voice my support for that effort.

When we first proposed the shift to direct lending in March, we made the point that it is better to invest money for education rather than subsidizing banks. Clearly, the Chairman shares that view—as do many others.

The President, Chairman Miller, and I believe that $90 billion dollars can be better spent increasing college access and affordability by funding Pell grants, college completion grants, Perkins loans increases, community college challenge grants, infrastructure, and FAFSA simplification.

We need to pursue the President’s goal of producing more college graduates than any other country by 2020 while also being fiscally responsible. This week we’ve taken two important steps in that direction.

Arne Duncan


  1. The low retention and completion rates of two year colleges, varied governance structures allowing some to operate at deficits with no accountability for fund expense, and absence of supports for adult students strongly suggest that this investment in higher education be targeted at programs that work – whether they are in community colleges or not. The community college fiscal infrastructure is embedded in local politics – should precious resources be thrown into a potential black hole? How about open source as the Center for American Progress suggests, allowing other entities to apply? and certainly a performance based pay structure such that community colleges cannot receive ‘free’ dollars without producing real results.

  2. I think there needs to be a national exploration into the certification of community college instructors. We require such strict certification requirements for our secondary teachers; why not expect the same level of quality for our community colleges.

    We also need to adopt a national standard for cut scores for community colleges to use to determine a student’s level of preparedness in academic areas. Only ~19 states have adopted state-level cut scores, while the rest of us try to prepare students for a moving target.

  3. Many students are unprepared for college due to the K-12 over regimentation and forced teacher standards. Praxis testing, frameworks, rules and procedures have hogtied the educator.

    Years ago, individualism, unorthodox methods and autonomy empowered the teachers to educate even the most untrained minds.

    Today, students and teachers are overwhelmed with minutae, technological noise and conflicting pedagogy.

    Keep it simple and watch the kids learn.

  4. As a school psychologist working in public schools and a parent of three community college students I can agree with the initiative as well as the comment from the Coalition For World Class Math. NC has an excellent community college system that provides affordable education and smooth transfer to our equally excellent 4-year universities.

    As a school psychologist however I see students with credit for algebra who can’t perform simple calculations (e.g. long division or multiplying fractions) without a calculator. They don’t know common measurements and can’t find lapsed time. Many students with A/B grades in high school find themselves taking remedial math and English in college – increasing tuition costs and prolonging graduation.

    As we establish world-class standards across the states we must work backwards from college requirements and build the skills of every child up from kindergarten.

  5. There does not seem to be any discussion about the fact that eliminating the FFELP will make loans more expensive for those of us who are relegated to borrowing for college because we do not qualify for grants. Increasing the Pell is all well and good, but it does nothing for most of the middle class.
    Lenders can offer interest rate reductions, fee reductions, and other incentives that make it less expensive to borrow. The DLP does not do this, but no one seems to want to discuss this.
    It’s going to be harder for people like me to send my children to college while you funnel more money in to need-based aid and $1.2 billion to HBCU’s.

  6. Kudos, Secretary Duncan and President Obama, for this. As a parent of two grown daughters, I know how expensive college is and how hard it is…even for the most committed families…to afford a college education for their children.

    On this we can agree. 😉 This is a step in the right direction.

  7. First, I echo your thoughts that we should be spending our tax dollars on education rather than bailing out banks and the auto industry. However, the announcement of the appropriation of the extraordinary amount of tax dollars for community colleges seems misdirected.

    Over 40% of 2-year college freshmen take a remedial math course. Community colleges provide remedial courses. But, what is more striking is the community colleges only see 37% of these remedial students graduate. It is not the fault of the colleges, but rather, the unprepared student. The issue is deeper than adding more money and increasing enrollment. I believe it lies in K-12 preparation.

    Based on statements you have made this year, Mr. Duncan, you have made it clear there exists a problem with the K-12 system in the United States and that each U.S. child should receive the same, rigorous education regardless of zip code. Again, I agree.

    Thus, the CCSSO and NGA partnership in developing a national core curriculum needs to incorporate the voices of the mathematically literate parents, teachers and mathematicians from 2 and 4-year colleges who are blatantly absent from the process of defining a rigorous, internationally benchmarked education. State lead efforts and transparency rather than keeping the process in the “clubhouse” are also necessary if K-12 eduaction is to improve. And, more students can then successfully complete a 2-year degree and perhaps, go on to earn a 4-year degree.

    Providing financial access to college is not an answer, nor is altering the college curriculum to allow more to attend. But providing a meaningful education that allows an eager student to successfully enter college, well prepared, and graduate is a better path to be on. Mr. Duncan, I believe you have your agenda as well as the education money misappropriated.

    On behalf of the United STATES Coalition For World Class Math

    My e-mail may be shared with Mr. Duncan if he requests.

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