Thursday, March 20, 2008


Ask My Readers: Questions for Some Bigwigs

Scott Jaschik, at, will be moderating a panel at the AACC meeting in Philadelphia entitled “Community Colleges: Who Should Judge Them and How?” The blurb in the program reads:

Higher education is in period of unprecedented scrutiny, with constant talk of accountability, assessment, and standards – all with a backdrop of a tightening budget picture. This panel – together with the audience – will explore such questions as: Who should evaluate whether community colleges are doing a good job? What are appropriate measures? Do traditional and new measures reflect the changes in the community college curriculum and student body? What are the roles of the government, accreditors and the press? Do traditional means to evaluate higher education hurt community colleges and what can be done about it?

This session will not feature long talks, but will largely be a freestyle discussion among panelists and the audience.


--George Boggs, president of the American Association of Community Colleges

--Kevin Carey, research and policy manager for Education Sector and creator of a community college rankings system for Washington Monthly.

--Gail O. Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College

--Felice Nudelman, education manager of The New York Times

Moderator: Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside Higher Ed

Scott and I discussed having me on the panel, but we couldn't figure out a reasonable way to do that without 'outing' me. Since the President of a cc at which I'm a candidate for a VP position will be at the conference, I'm guessing this isn't the time. And the old “unknown comic” shtick of a paper bag on the head just isn't terribly dignified. (“The unknown blogger” seems almost redundant.)

So instead, we agreed that I'd ask my readers for questions to pose for the panelists. I'll add a few of my own, and Scott can use his discretion in deciding which to use. With two major media outlets, a college President, and the President of the AACC on the panel, this is a chance to pose difficult but important questions to folks with real influence.

So my question for my wise, worldly, learned, and good-looking readers: what would you like to ask these folks?

I have a bit of a two-staged question.

A. How and to what extent will the current fiscal crisis, which several economists have pegged as the worst since the Great Depression, shape community colleges and their missions?

B. How and to what extent can community colleges help the local communities that they serve better respond to the current economic downturn?
Whoa, nothing but crickets today?

First, will the results be summarized at IHE?

I would add a part C to what calugg said, which is: How can community colleges manage the anticipated anti-cyclic enrollment growth with what is likely to be declining state and/or local revenue.

However, my question was formed even before I read the second paragraph about evaluation measures. I was glad to see those questions there, but I don't like the plural; getting 4 different measures from 4 people is not going to help the discussion. I'd like to know if the four panelists and the moderator can identify a single assessment measure or metric they all agree is a good way to tell if a community college succeeds in its mission. I would still be happy if there were different answers for AA and AS programs. I would be unhappy if the answer ... well, that would be something to blog about.

I like your question about "traditional means", since I know our students don't care if it takes them four or five years to get out as a result of needing a year of remediation and fitting in a 40+ hour work week and maybe taking care of a child. They only care that they are learning and making progress toward a goal, and they are ecstatic when they achieve that final goal.
How do we preserve programs like nursing (which will never pay for itself based on enrollment) that serve a vital community need?

Is there any way to get Foundations to fund endowments for these programs instead of getting short term grants for new projects? How can we get funding for operational expenses?
What useful information can be gleaned from Board elections, enrollment, graduation rates, and community campaigns? And what are the dangers of relying on these for feedback?

Do colleges really -- and I mean really, really -- want student feedback?
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