The National Commission on the Future of Higher Education has now approved its report, subject to editorial modifications. AACC commends the work of the commission and, in particular, the contributions of Charlene Nunley, President of Montgomery College. AACC testified twice before the commission.
On balance, the report is positive for postsecondary education in general and community colleges in particular. The report makes a persuasive case for assigning a greater national priority to higher education, given the critical importance education holds for our nation’s future. However, the report does not entirely capture the current realities and challenges facing community colleges.
The report’s single most important feature is its recommendation for a substantial increase in need-based student aid as a means of enhancing access and success in college. AACC hopes that Congress will take note of this fundamental recommendation. Appropriate simplification of the student financial aid system is also needed. It is unfortunate that the report fails to warn about the growing use of merit aid and would perpetuate the misconception that increases in student financial aid fuel tuition increases — this is patently untrue at community colleges.
Also, AACC deeply regrets that the Commission eliminated earlier references to the current, inefficient system of federal tax preferences for higher education. These provisions work poorly for community college students and low-income students in general, and need substantial reform.
Many of the changes recommended in the report are currently taking place on community colleges campuses. In particular, community colleges have already embraced the culture of accountability, a central theme of the commission’s work. In truth, many of the report’s recommendations would duplicate or even impede existing parallel efforts. While greater accountability and transparency are highly desirable, implementing new systems will be complex and costly, further taxing community colleges’ finite resources. AACC pledges to build on existing work occurring in this area to help increase the effectiveness of its member institutions.
Some of the report’s other positive recommendations include: the need for significantly better preparation of high school students, and better alignment between K-12 and postsecondary education; a focus on the needs of non-traditional students; and a substantial reduction in the costly regulatory burden on colleges and universities. The emphasis on improved STEM education is welcome, but policymakers must ensure that community colleges are part of new initiatives in this area.
AACC is disappointed that the report does not adequately address the critical roles that state and local funding, which provides 66% of revenues, has in the health of community colleges. Also, the report neglects to address the sustained exploitation of students by the proprietary school sector.
AACC looks forward to working with commission members and other interested parties in translating these recommendations into desirable improvements throughout higher education.