There are many objectives that need to be more strongly on our economic development agenda, chiefly plans to develop more entrepreneurs, to wean ourselves from subsidizing companies with tax freezes to get them to love us, to attract and develop more talent, and to create a stronger, more vibrant sense of place.
Add another one. The Aspen Institute released its list of the top 120 community colleges in the U.S. yesterday, and Southwest Tennessee Community College — or any Tennessee community college, for that matter — is not on the list. Southwest Tennessee Community College is a critical, and undervalued, force in creating the workforce that we need to be competitive and in tying an educational curriculum to real job needs in Memphis.
Because of it, we need a plan to move our community college to the top 10% of the 1,200 community colleges in the country. Come to think of it, we also need a lobbying campaign to fight for Pell grants so they don’t fall victim to the Ryan budget plan and its cuts to programs that have helped build America’s middle class.
Community colleges have gained much-needed attention to their importance in recent years and have moved from a dispensary for two-year associates degrees to an institution directly connected to the community’s workforce needs. The new vocationally-oriented courses that lead to a certificate is a brand of career training that is vital to Memphis. Over the years, Southwest Tennessee Community College has been responsive to the needs of our medical community but it must become more responsive to the jobs that we need if Memphis is to be competitive in the future.
The history of community colleges as an extension of high school is a faint memory and the shift to job skills training accelerates. More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that community colleges are often the gateways to bachelor’s degrees, and it is absolutely imperative that we increase the percentage of college-educated people in our region because it’s this factor that is tied to about 60% of a city’s economic success. That’s why Leadership Memphis – in its pursuit of the Talent Dividend (1% increase in college-educated people to generate $1 billion in economic impact) – has wrapped community colleges into its overall strategies for success.
In this way, Southwest Tennessee Community College, like its sister institutions, is a vehicle for social mobility for its students. This is particularly crucial because community colleges have large ethnic populations who can take advantage of low-cost, easily accessible education. It serves the needs of our economy by upgrading the skills of their community’s labor force, both in providing remedial and vocational training to “traditional” students who have just recently graduated from high school, and especially to older, non-traditional students. Community colleges on balance regularly do a better job of connecting and working with the business community than four-year colleges.
It seems that the rest of the nation has discovered community colleges again in the wake of the recession and recovery, but here, we should never have forgotten the role that Southwest Tennessee Community College plays in our region. Now the test is to bring up its standards so it can be in the top 10% of U.S. community colleges by making it as progressive as possible so our students will be ready to succeed in work and life. This requires higher standards, learning community opportunities, and a faculty that is supported with quality professional development.
Here is the information about Aspen Institute’s 120 great community colleges:
Yesterday, the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program released a list of the top 120 community colleges, based on high standards for learning, completion rates, and training for competitive jobs.
For a full list of the colleges, click here.
Eye on the Prize
Of the country’s 1,200 community colleges, these schools ranked in the top 10 percent are eligible now to complete in the new $1 million fund for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. There will be one winner of approximately $700,000 and two to three runners-up announced in December.
Former Michigan Governor John Engler and former Secretary of Education Richard Riley will co-chair the jury.
The colleges that made the top list unveiled today were chosen after an analysis of publicly available data on student outcomes. An advisory committee, co-chaired by William Trueheart, chief executive officer of Achieving the Dream, a non-profit that works to help community college students succeed, and Keith Bird, former chancellor of the Kentucky Community College System, considered three criteria:
• performance (retention, graduation rates including transfers, and degrees and certificates for full-time students)
• improvement of completion performance over time
• equity (institutional record for completion outcomes for disadvantaged students).
Those schools that want to compete for the Aspen Prize must submit applications and show they deliver outstanding student results, use data to drive decisions and continually improve over time.
The Aspen Prize is funded by the Joyce Foundation, which also provides grant support to the publisher of Education Week; the Lumina Foundation for Education; the Bank of America Charitable Foundation; and the JPMorgan Chase Foundation.