48th Annual ACCT Leadership Congress Focuses on Pathways to Prosperity

 Opening Keynote Speakers Focus on Future Drivers of American Economy

Cesar Conde

A media leader and a tech innovator kicked off the 2017 ACCT Leadership Congress on Monday by stressing the vital role community colleges play in helping burgeoning minority populations become drivers of the American economy.

Cesar Conde, chairman of NBCUniversal International Group and NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, pointed to the 59 million Hispanics in the United States, whose population and purchasing power portend a dramatic demographic shift. “We’re no longer predicting a future when Hispanics become the new mainstream,” Conde told Congress attendees. “We’re standing in the middle of it.”

However, even as growing numbers of Hispanic and Latino students enter community colleges, the success of this vital sector of the population is not assured, cautioned Conde, who like many Hispanic students was a first-generation college student. “They’re not college legacies, they’re college pioneers," he said. "It takes courage, self-esteem, and support on every level. They often look to you.”

Conde also urged support for the nearly 800,000 young immigrants impacted by the Trump Administration’s decision on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Pointing to protections that Latinos will contribute one-quarter of the nation’s economic growth in the next few years, Conde said, “the fact is we have facts. The facts support our shared mission.” Community colleges, he added, “don’t just support the notion of the melting pot—you are the melting pot.”

Technology pioneer Lonnie Johnson, president and founder of Johnson Research and Development Co., urged community college leaders to help address disparities in high-demand STEM fields, where white and Asian workers represent 90 percent of the workforce in top technology companies.

Lonnie Johnson“We can’t succeed, we can’t lead in the world if we’re leaving large segments of the population on the sidelines,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to get everyone involved.”

Community colleges can help fulfill their mission by encouraging “a synergy of economic development,” said Johnson, arguably best known as the inventor of the Super Soaker water gun but also the holder of more than 80 patents and a contributor to several deep space missions and the development of the B-2 stealth bomber. By encouraging business incubation and community-based education, community colleges can stimulate technology development that leads to sustainable growth, Johnson told attendees. Each new technology-focused job creates five non-technically focused jobs, Johnson added.

Also during Monday’s opening session, ACCT Chair Bakari G. Lee, a trustee of Hudson County Community College in New Jersey, and ACCT President & CEO J. Noah Brown acknowledged the challenges faced by community college leaders and residents in the areas of the U.S., the Caribbean, and Mexico ravaged by hurricanes and an earthquake in recent weeks.

“We have endured a lot of tragedy and hardship in this country in recent weeks and months. It’s very easy to get discouraged,” Brown said. “We still have in this room everything we need to surmount these problems. You’re going to find the solutions, the best practices, the passion, and the compassion to tackle all the things our citizens so desperately need us to tackle on their behalf.”

2017 ACCT Congress: ACCT, Lumina Foundation Enter Partnership to Explore Trustee Role in Accreditation

During Tuesday’s ACCT Leadership Congress keynote session, a senior Lumina Foundation official announced a partnership with ACCT focused on exploring the role trustees play in ensuring and supporting quality at their institutions.

Lumina Foundation Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer Danette Howard announced the partnership during a roundtable discussion on accreditation issues with the leaders of five of the nation’s regional accrediting agencies. With trustee input collected before, during, and after the Congress, ACCT and Lumina will develop a series of webinars and a publication focused on accreditation in the coming months.

In order to meet postsecondary attainment goals set by Lumina and policymakers, it is vital that community colleges and their accreditors focus on both ensuring quality and equity by providing students from all backgrounds with credentials with equal value in present-day employment and future educational opportunities, Howard told attendees. “There’s no way we’re going to reach the goal [without] those who have been underrepresented in our completion cohorts… the students who have found hope and opportunity at your community colleges since their inception,” she said.

In wide-ranging conversations during the keynote and breakout sessions later in the day, accreditation organization leaders stressed the vital role trustees play in accreditation, the importance of accreditation in creating cultures of continuous improvement on community college campuses, the ways in which accreditors are responding to innovative models of learning, the limitations of how policymakers view completion data and other policy issues impacting accreditors and their member institutions. Mary Ellen Petrisko, president of the WASC Senior College and University Commission, urged community college leaders to have students share their experiences with policymakers.

“This is a human enterprise serving humans who… often have one choice, and they deserve the absolute best,” Petrisko told attendees. “These institutions serve them really well. Getting that across by letting them tell their story is very impressive.”

Business Leader Urges Trustees to Focus on Partnerships

Pointing to the roiling pace of disruption in the 21st century economy, a Nevada business leader called community colleges “the first responders for education” and urged their leaders to focus on industry and community partnerships during Wednesday’s keynote luncheon at the 2017 ACCT Leadership Congress.

“Community colleges [are] always at the inflection point when the economy changes,” said Michael J. Brown, president of Barrick USA, the world’s largest gold mining company, and founder of the Nevada Corporate Giving Council.

American businesses are facing an array of overarching issues, Brown said, including the impact of climate change, rapid changes in technology, and the opportunities presented by an emerging China. Community colleges must be just as nimble to respond to these shifting workforce needs and technological changes in their own delivery models, he said. “As community college leaders, you need to step back and talk to folks on the cutting edge of this,” Brown said.

A first-generation college student who began higher education at Lorain County Community College in Ohio, Brown’s company has partnered with Great Basin College on a variety of innovative job training and retraining initiatives, he told Congress attendees. And it is partnerships where community college trustees have the most important role to play, he said.

“The 21st century is going to be about speed, innovation, digitalization, and partnerships,” Brown said.  “For many of you as trustees, that’s really the complicated part of the job… If you have competent management and good instructors, the instructional part will move where it needs to go. But engaging the community, being the advocate, being the face for the biz community and the partner for everyone the community college touches is such a critical role for the trustee.”

: Incoming ACCT Chair Stresses Strategic Partnerships

Incoming ACCT Chair Emily Yim told trustees at the closing general session of the 2017 ACCT Leadership Congress ThursdayHi that she would focus on highlighting student success and fostering strategic partnerships with a broad range of stakeholders. 

With community colleges focused on equity, completion, and workforce issues and many of their students facing challenges ranging from mental health issues to food and housing insecurity, continuing to foster partnerships with K-12 systems, industry, state and local governments, and community organizations will be critical, said Yim, a trustee at Edmonds Community College in Washington.

“We cannot meet these complex needs by ourselves, which is why there is such promise and power in partnerships,” she said. “We are stronger together.”

Also during Thursday’s closing general session, Carol D’Amico, executive vice president of mission advancement and philanthropy for Strada Education Network, unveiled consumer research that points to critical gaps in how low-income and first-generation students make decisions about attending college and the programs of study they take. 

These students rely less on the informal sources of information that drive the majority of college decisions, in large part because their families may have limited experience with higher education, she said. Information from work-related settings such as internships, job shadowing, and mentorships was found to be both valuable and often absent in these decisions, suggesting a need for greater investments in these areas, according to D’Amico.

“This is a call to action to increase work-based experiences into the curriculum,” she said.

More than 1,600 trustees, presidents, staff, education experts, and community college advocates attended the 2017 ACCT Leadership Congress. Attendees and presenters tweeted throughout the event, using #ACCT2017.