The National Commission on the Future of Higher Education has now released its second draft report (Adobe PDF). Community colleges are pleased that the draft’s tone is significantly less critical of higher education than the first draft. Also, the report helpfully emphasizes that a vital higher education system is essential to America’s future well-being.
Many of the changes recommended in the draft report are in fact currently taking place on community college campuses. In particular, community colleges have already embraced the culture of accountability, and they have long been focused on keeping their costs, and tuitions, low. The colleges offer programs in a wide variety of formats, in order to make them as broadly available as possible. Community colleges embrace self-examination and change – it is part of their very nature.
The greatest weakness of the report is perhaps inherent in its extraordinarily broad scope. In 18 short pages, the Commission is attempting to diagnose and specify prescriptions for the extremely complex and diverse system of American higher education. Community colleges do not find themselves well represented in the picture of higher education painted by the report, but other sectors suffer the same treatment. Many recommendations are extremely far-reaching, and yet they lack necessary elaboration. In addition, the draft report recommends that colleges undertake a variety of new activities, without any recognition of the substantial costs that such activities would require.
Some of the positive recommendations in the second draft report include: significantly greater investment in student financial aid, and a movement away from merit aid; changes to federal tax incentives for higher education; better preparation of high school students; a focus on the needs of non-traditional students; and a substantial reduction of the regulatory burden on colleges and universities. Recommendations related to accountability, assessment, institutional reporting, accreditation, and cost controls widely miss the mark.
AACC awaits the next meeting of the Commission, scheduled for August 10. The Association will stay engaged in this very important project.