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 AACC Position on Senate American Graduation Initiative 

AACC Position on HELP Legislation Implementing American Graduation Initiative
8/17/2009

Click here to download this position statement in PDF format.


Representing the nation's 1,200 community colleges, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) seeks modifications to House FY 2010 reconciliation legislation (H.R. 3221) in corresponding Senate legislation. AACC strongly supports H.R. 3221, but believes that the Senate HELP Committee can make critical improvements to that bill’s community college provisions. AACC's position is based on the following principles:

  • The American Graduation Initiative program should be focused on the objective—supported by President Obama and across higher education—of dramatically increasing the number of students graduating community college and attaining related academic and career goals. Program expenditures and accompanying benchmarks should be directed towards this goal.
  • Sections 503 and 504 of H.R. 3221 should be merged into one program with two five-year grant cycles. Institutions and states should be eligible to compete for grants in each cycle. Eligibility for the second round of grant funding should be contingent upon first-round grantees making demonstrated progress towards meeting the goals/benchmarks established in first-round applications. Eligible entities could compete for the second round even if they did not receive a first-round grant.
  • The program should be funded at the full $12 billion proposed by the President.

Program Specifications - Success Grants (addressing Sections 503 and 504 of H.R. 3221)

1) Program Structure

As outlined above, the core American Graduation Initiative should consist of two rounds of competitive five- year grants made to community colleges, consortia thereof, and States. Therefore, sections 503 and 504 of H.R 3221 should be merged. It is essential to permit institutions as well as states to compete for grants in the second round of the program (unlike in H.R. 3221) because in many states there is no public entity with the requisite authority, scope and expertise to administer a comprehensive program impacting all the state's community colleges. Further, individual campuses or groups of institutions may continue to conceive and implement innovative and effective practices.

Congress should consider consolidating a portion of the Access and Completion Innovation Fund grants with the Success Grant program, both to streamline program delivery and increase the program's national impact.

Although the program's general focus on producing more degree, certificate and industry certification recipients will as a matter of course serve the nation's workforce needs, some portion, perhaps 20%, of the program funds should be dedicated to support student advancement in programs that explicitly serve defined local, regional, or state labor-market needs. A 50% match would be required from private sector entities benefitting from such programs. These funds would be viewed as a separate (though aligned) feature of the success grants, and awarded simultaneously.

2)  Program Eligibility

State grants should be limited to 25% of overall funding in the first round of grants, and 35% in the second. States should be required to pass-through 90% of funds to colleges, as in Section 504(f) of H.R. 3221. State governments would be required to consult with institutions in the development of applications.

Area career and technical schools should not be eligible for funding (as in subsection 502(a)(3)(B) of H.R. 3221). These schools are not commonly considered community colleges, have a different mission and focus, and do not grant degrees. Including them in a community college grant program could greatly dilute its impact.

3)  Program Focus/Uses of Funds

Program funds should be concentrated on increasing the number and percentage of students attaining one of the following: postsecondary degree, certificate, industry-recognized credential, transfer to another institution of higher education or becoming transfer-ready, or moving from remedial education courses into credit-bearing coursework. Colleges would set goals related to these objectives in applications approved by the Secretary of Education. (As in H.R. 3221, the Department of Labor should be involved in the program's administration.)   Colleges would be responsible for developing and reporting benchmarks related to the purposes for which funding is sought. Broad, institution-wide benchmarks should not be included in the program.

Program funds should be used for activities specified in statute or otherwise based on current research concerning  the enhancement of student success, including: improved study skills, learning communities, mentoring, sustained student academic advising, counseling, cultural acclimation, sophisticated diagnostic testing, modular courses. Consideration should be given to allowing the use of financial incentives to students to increase persistence, as some studies have shown these to be effective. Clearly delimiting the purposes for which funds can be used will help ensure that they add to existing campus activities.

4) Grant Competition

In order to ensure that smaller, less-resourced colleges can compete effectively for funding, in the initial round of grants approximately 33% of funding should be reserved for the second year. In the first year, institutions could receive small planning grants, competing in the following year for four-year grants.

In general, grants would be subject to a 33% match, with in-kind contributions as in Section 503(d)(2) of H.R. 3221 allowable.

Program funds should be used to supplement not supplant current or planned activities. Applications must clearly delineate the new activities that would be funded. Strict monitoring of this provision by the Federal government is necessary to ensure that new funding does not simply replace other funds.

Priority factors unrelated to the core goals of a program should not be assigned, as in Section 503(c) of H.R. 3221—grants should be awarded solely on the strength of the application's promise to meet the program's focused goals.

5) Program Accountability/Outcomes

Institutions and/or states that do not demonstrate quantifiable improvement after five years would be ineligible to receive a second round grant. State grants should have the same goals/benchmarks as institutional grants, but effective, documented, state-wide transfer policies between two- and four-year public institutions of higher education would need to be implemented after two years of funding in order for states to continue to receive grants.

After the second year of funding, progress reports would be submitted. Grantees that had not shown demonstrable improvement after the third year of funding would be subject to enhanced monitoring and technical assistance provided by ED and DOL.

6) National Activities

The Institute of Education Sciences would conduct a study based on the first four years of the first round of grants, to help identify best practices, priorities, etc., for the second round of grants.

ED/DOL would be directed to sponsor annual conferences to share best practices; this will help institutions foster student success.

7) Transfer

The required transfer reporting in Section 503(h) of H.R. 3221 should be deleted. Unfortunately, this requirement will largely serve to confuse rather than edify students. This is because numerous factors determine whether a particular course is accepted at another institution(s)—the transferability of a given course varies enormously, depending on the student, program, and institution involved. AACC proposes instead that states be required to make available on a Web site, in user-friendly fashion, the transfer of credit policies and practices of each of the public institutions in the state, in the maximum detail practicable.

Facilities

AACC strongly supports the use of Federal funds to help address pressing, and growing, community college infrastructure needs. These needs are estimated to total as much as $100 billion. Despite the welcome assistance provided in the House legislation, campuses urge that federal funds be authorized for use as facilities grants if they are matched by non-federal sources on a 3:1 basis, as is the case in H.R. 3221 with loan interest and related subsidies. This is particularly important since many community colleges do not have the authority to borrow, and this broader authority will help colleges leverage large amounts of non-federal funds.

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