ACCT Symposium on Student Success Focuses on Workforce Development

The 2016 ACCT Symposium on Student Success, launched yesterday in New Orleans, brought together community college leaders and advocates to focus on workforce development and new research on vulnerable student populations, including working students, parents, and minorities. 
"This is a time for focus," ACCT Chair Roberto Zárate told Symposium attendees. "There's a real discussion around the country about what we are training our communities for."
The seventh pre-Congress Symposium, sponsored by ACCT in partnership with USA Funds and with support from Lumina Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, opened with a sobering statistic: while 98 percent of chief academic officers at higher education institutions believe they're doing a good job of preparing students, just 11 percent of employers and 13 percent of the public agree, according to Gallup research conducted for USA Funds. At the same time, nearly 6 million jobs go unfilled each year because employers can't find qualified candidates, according to Alison Griffin, USA Funds' senior vice president of external and government relations.
Also yesterday, ACCT and USA Funds announced the launch of a new partnership to enhance student success and to focus on community college trustee selection by informing appointing authorities about the roles and responsibilities of community college boards of trustees. Read more about the Governance by Design initiative.
Researchers focused on workforce and higher education presented briefing papers exploring a broad range of issues that community college leaders must confront--and received feedback from community college leaders that will inform their work going forward. 
Barbara Gault, vice president and executive director of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, focused on the growing numbers of students raising children, including more than half of all African American women attending community colleges. "If we are serious about meeting our community college completion goals, we need to pay much closer attention to the role of parenthood," she said, noting that the number of community college childcare facilities has steadily decreased as demand has risen.
Jonathan Rothwell, a senior economist for Gallup, cited evidence that schools offering a greater mix of healthcare and technical programs consistently generate higher paying jobs for their graduates.  Student success also is correlated to teacher quality and student support services, he said.
Mark Schneider, vice president and research fellow for the American Institutes for Research, noted that the "bachelor's addiction" that once pushed students to attain four-year degrees has been dampened by mounting student debt. "The challenge for community colleges is to show there are better, faster, and cheaper ways into the middle class-and it can be done," he said, noting that programs that help students learn how to "fix things" or "fix people" "can put students solidly in the middle class."
Terrell L. Strayhorn, director of the Center for Higher Education Enterprise at Ohio State University, noted that differences persist between the incomes of African American students and white males who complete associate degrees, with African American women earning less than either group.  
Nicole Smith, research professor and chief economist of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, focused on working and economically disadvantaged students-and the connections between the two. Low-income students are less likely to take out loans for college, meaning they are more likely to work the long hours that research has shown makes them less likely to succeed. In addition, surveys show that economically disadvantaged students are less likely to believe they will attain a bachelor's degree. "They almost start off with the premise they're not going to get there," Smith said.
Trustees worked collaboratively to develop policy responses to the issues raised by this new research, which they will refine further as the Symposium continues today, with remarks concluding at noon. 
The 47th Annual ACCT Leadership Congress kicks off tonight at 5:00 p.m. with a keynote address by The Honorable Joseph A. Garcia, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. Garcia will discuss what trustees need to know about the national higher education picture.
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About the Association of Community College Trustees
 The Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) is a non-profit educational organization of governing boards, representing more than 6,500 elected and appointed trustees who govern over 1,200 community, technical, and junior colleges in the United States and beyond. For more information, go to Follow ACCT on Twitter at