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Minding tomorrow, with an eye on yesterday.

In a presidential election determined by moral values, a virtually jobless economic recovery, global terrorism and Iraq, community colleges may lament that issues from access to excellence did not assume more prominent roles. Based on brass-tacks policy analysis, however, President Bush's successful education campaign strategy, like it or not, rested in large part on the No Child Left Behind Act and, for the first time in history, on targeting America's most prolific institutions of higher learning --community colleges.

Dr. James E. Samels, a nationally recognized higher-education industry analyst and community-college advocate, believes "higher education, especially community colleges, should keep a close watch on how the new Congress responds to the next wave of presidential higher-education funding initiatives."

After praising community colleges in his State of the Union address, the president is now poised to kick off his second term with several major higher-education policy proposals pending review, authorization and appropriation by Congress.

Workforce Development

In his fiscal 2005 budget, the president put his money where his mouth is by earmarking $250 million for a Community-Based Job Training Program. By encouraging employer-driven partnerships with community and technical colleges, the program would provide credit-based, industry-specific, high-demand training for incumbent, dislocated and entry-level workers.

The program's conduit, the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, has circulated a preliminary draft implementation strategy that imposes a miniscule 5 percent limit on administrative or indirect costs incurred by the community college. These workforce-development partnerships, which must include employers, the public workforce-investment system, community colleges and the K-12 system, must match at least 30 percent of the award through cash or in-kind investments.

The U.S. House of Representatives has proposed just $50 million for the initiative, and although the full U.S. Senate still must vote, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported its version of the bill with the full $250 million. As a second-term president, Bush can push for the reconciliation of the House and Senate versions to fully fund the $250 million proposal and, as a result, be remembered fondly for his presidential commitment to the community-college role in workforce development.

To complement the Community-Based Job Training Program, Bush has proposed additional monies for Innovation Training Accounts, flexible accounts that allow workers to select training that best satisfies their needs. The president also has proposed cutting federal red tape by providing governors with about $300 million to distribute workforce-training funds with more flexibility.

As the implementation strategy evolves, however, beware of resistance from some colleges and universities to using the Perkins Act definition of community colleges. Whether or not this definition adequately serves all institutions heavily invested in workforce development will become a point of contention.

According to Dr. Joseph L. Kennedy, president of SUNY-Canton, "While opportunities for workforce development and first-responder training abound, one wonders whether the continued lack of federal resources will limit our role."

SUNY-Canton workforce-development and educational offerings focus on science, agriculture and applied technologies by offering seven baccalaureate-degree programs, 27 associate's-degree programs and nine one-year certificates.

Pell Grant Plus

Encouraging students to take more rigorous high-school courses, the president's Pell Grant Plus Act proposes an additional $1,000 of Pell Grant funding for low-income students who complete the proposed State Scholars curriculum. Under Bush's 2005 budget, the maximum Pell award, without the State Scholar incentive, would remain at $4,050 for the third year in a row. Advocates have called on the administration to raise the maximum Pea Grant to at least $5,100 for first-year students--a promise Bush made during his first campaign.

While the president and Congress have increased funding for Pell Grants to $12.9 billion, the program is actually running in the red because more student applicants became eligible during the recession. In fact, the current maximum Pell Grant award is less than it was in 1976 after adjusting for inflation.

Community colleges have a lot at stake since they ultimately benefit from around one-third of all Pell Grants--almost 15 percent of community-college students receive Pell Grants. Eventually coupling the Pell Grant increase with the State Scholars program, some observers believe Bush's proposal would provide little, if any, extra help to the many community-college students who work full time, have been out of high school for some time, or are returning to college to re-skill or up-skill for today's workforce demands.

Dual Enrollment

Bush's plans also encourage dual enrollment, which provides high-school students the opportunity to take postsecondary courses at community colleges. The president's proposal will provide $125 million in grants to community colleges that partner with local school districts to promote dual-enrollment programs. Additional incentives will be provided to states that facilitate the transfer of credits earned at community colleges to four-year institutions.

Of the 47 states with dual-enrollment policies, several expect the local school district and/or student to fund the partnership. For this reason, how the $125 million will be divvied up will capture the attention of both community-college and school-district leaders.

Keeping It In Perspective

Bush hasn't yet promulgated proposals for his more innovative higher-education financial-aid policy initiatives. Along the campaign trail, several measures were suggested to eliminate restrictions that prevent adult and part-time students from receiving federal student aid--including financial-aid eligibility for short-term training programs, competency-based credit recognition, 12-month Pell Grant awards, an eLearning clearinghouse of Web-based programs and Personal Re-employment Accounts.

As we anxiously await the unveiling of all these policies, some are justifiably concerned about the strings attached to these student-aid funding sources.

Given the current demands of increased performance and accountability from the public, college leaders and lobbyists must wonder whether the administration will redirect its focus towards intensifying federal oversight of affordability and performance of American higher education. For now, post-election endgame pundits must wait and see what comes out of the next Congress.

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Title Annotation:point of view
Author:Weaver, Jason
Publication:Community College Week
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 22, 2004
Previous Article:Note to President Bush: help community colleges, and they'll help us all.
Next Article:Blue East, meet the red West.

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