The Road AheadSince 1997 the League for Innovation in the Community College has issued the Trends Report – a compilation of research and surveys designed to catalyze and inform community colleges from the boardroom to the student senate, as well as legislative stakeholders. The sixth installment of the report has recently been released. It comes at a time of significant change for the community college, and it offers insights into future trends and the road ahead. What is clear is the road ahead is a fast lane for change across the colleges.
MethodologyThis year’s Trends Report was written by Dr. Gerardo E. de los Santos, president of the League, and Dr. Mark David Milliron, co-founder and chief learning officer of Civitas Learning. The League’s survey was sent to 1,049 colleges and campus CEOs with 26.7 percent response rate split roughly between 60 percent male and 40 percent female. As predicted in previous Trends Reports, tenure and retirement have introduced a new cadre of leaders. The 1997 survey responses had an average tenure of 9.1 years with the modal group of presidents having 11-15 years in the CEO role. This year’s survey found the modal group to have just 1-5 years of tenure as president or CEO. These new leaders are more vocal than previous peers with more than 100 of the 280 respondents offerings issues, ideas, commentary and suggestions for future research in their survey responses. This is a time of tremendous shift for colleges. They have moved from a previous access and enrollment imperative to access and completion. Other change includes a substantial shift in analytics being used for auditing and reporting function, to the embracing of predictive analytics to improve learning outcomes and retention. Also noted are the development of new hybrid learning models and increased reliance on educational networks spanning the ecosystem.
Seven Key TrendsThe report identifies seven key trend clusters that will challenge leaders and their staff in the years ahead. These are identified below.
Access & Completion
“We are committed to closing achievement gaps… and have already completed math redesign, shortened ABE/ESL pathways, added mandatory orientation, college success classes, [and we] call students who are on academic alert or probation status to have them meet with faculty or advisors to make a plan for success. The list could go on. All this is to say, we are changing the culture of the college to one focusing on student success. A very high-touch culture.” – Community College PresidentA plethora of publications, policy, presentations and initiatives have surfaced in the last five years moving the focus from getting a broad and diverse array of students into our community colleges to a focus on getting these students successfully through course work leaving with a postsecondary degree or credential with value in the workforce. Many colleges expressed a tension between the need for broad access and the accountability requirement for completion. Given the often part-time status of working adults that make up the majority of the community college population, this difficult balance of access – completion goals is likely to continue with some respondents expressing concerns that access may be limited to enroll students more likely to complete. Most of the presidents surveyed believed the completion agenda could still be married to a mission-focused commitment to access. Faculty and staff have come to better understand and even embrace the completion agenda in the last two years. With the focus on credentials with labor-market value, there is a growing need to get clearer and better defined pathways for students which will come to include more industry-aligned, sub-associate certifications and certificates, including badges. Given the broad acceptance that not all community college students are preparing for transfer to a four-year institution, a call is coming for milestones and other records of achievement along the pathway to the credential.
Learning OutcomesWith the goal on completion some institutions worry about a loss of focus on what students are actually learning. Because the debt now associated with a college degree or certificate is a growing concern, there is greater focus on ensuring the credentials have value in helping students go into successful careers with the ability to earn a living wage and more. The report states the clear challenge of defining learning outcomes in a national landscape with such regional variations in career options. What we are seeing is the core skills of a liberal arts education – critical thinking, problem solving, reasoning – do have tremendous value in the workforce and are a given across degree and certificate programs. A rising tide of interest in non-cognitive skills was indicated by presidents who are seeing tenacity, grit and conscientiousness as something that can be nurtured to support students, especially under-represented, and first-generation students. Additionally, civic engagement and service learning opportunities are predicted for expansion. When looking at programming, it is clear the leaders have a core focus on STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Several respondents expressed plans to expand facilities in programming in these fields to meet industry demand.
“We will more than double our certificate completions and open a new facility designed primarily for industry-based training.” – Community College President
Learning ModelsCollege presidents understand existing models will not be sufficient in helping them reach their completion goals. How students learn is a focus that has leaders innovating with integrated models of personalized, adaptive, competency-based, and blended delivery.
“Working harder at our current model isn’t going to cut it.” – Community College PresidentMany colleges are examining, exploring and experimenting with hybrid models that include on-site instruction coupled with online outreach and support, or flipped classrooms. While many presidents are willing to lean into these innovative models, they are facing challenges with scaling, in part due to limitations in the traditional framework of their LMS or ERP. This may hold back rapid broad scale adoption of some technology-enhanced models.
Structural Issues & IncentivesOne of the biggest concerns for college presidents is the dramatic decline in public funding at a time when they must increase access, completion, improved student learning outcomes, all while trying and testing new models of instruction. Some see increasing compliance and regulatory requirements as onerous; and the proliferation of performance-based funding is creating a need for better metrics and demonstrations of student success. The challenges are daunting.
“I think that most institutions will be reeling from compliance fatigue.” – Community College CEOSurveyed CEOs show a shared concern for the disadvantaged and lower middle-class students who may be priced out of the mix as institutions are forced to find ways to finance the college in the face of dwindling public support.
Working in the Regional Ecosystem
“We are at the end of more with less – it’s now less with less.” – Community College PresidentWhile struggling with the frustration of doing more with less, innovative college leaders have found success and solace in creating highly-leveraged educational networks from K-12 through the community college, to university and corporate partnerships. Curriculum alignment and defined pathways are key to success. Cross-sector partnerships can help attract and retain students along the educational journey. In addition to educational networks, college presidents and CEOs are now expected to be adept at fundraising and development, generating additional income for their operations.
Data & Analytics
“We’ve always used data for decision support. What that really meant, however, is that we’d work hard to find data to support the decisions we already made.” – Community College PresidentData has been a key trend cluster in the survey for many years, though a significant shift in how data is being used has arisen in this report. While presidents still see the need for data to meet required regulatory reporting, they are increasing looking to analytics to improve their initiatives and interventions. They want to use analytics to tune their existing work, leveraging what works and identifying programs that no longer serve the changing landscape. They are looking not only to historical data, but also to predictive analytics as they move away from one-size-fits-all best practice models. Many see the value in using predictive analytics to empower students to own their journey and make better-informed decisions about their own success.
Future Ready Work
“No more new initiatives! We need to focus on the initiatives we have! Mission focus, not mission creep!” – Community College CEOIn the midst of all of this change, colleges are also forecasting significant infrastructure change, including improving their ERP, LMS and analytics infrastructures. Faced with serious initiative fatigue, college leaders looking to scope, try, and test initiatives need a new skill set not previously required of their predecessors, most of whom had longer tenure in office. The acceleration of the change is creating a need for robust professional development, and leadership development academies and institutes for the new CEO in the changing landscape of the community college. The League has stated that community colleges are not at a crossroads, but in the fast lane, and the acceleration of that lane does not appear to be declining any time soon. Despite that, they advocate for taking a moment to slow down, assess the situation and make sure the directions will net the outcomes needed.