Pennsylvania's Community Colleges Poised to Meet Challenges Set Forth in Report

New report recommends a dramatic redesign of community college mission, student experiences to ensure U.S. competitiveness

Apr 24, 2012, 13:11 ET from Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges

HARRISBURG, Pa., April 24, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Pennsylvania's community college leaders said today that the 14 colleges are ready to meet the challenges set forth in a new report and are already implementing many of the recommendations the report proposed to strengthen the community college system and student success.

The report, "Reclaiming the American Dream: A Report from the 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges," released this weekend by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), calls for dramatic changes to America's community colleges to ensure U.S. competitiveness.

"This report provides an honest perspective on the community college system and its role in the future competitiveness of the United States," said Dr. Alex Johnson, president of the Community College of Allegheny County and a member on the board that helped develop the report.  "It is noteworthy that Pennsylvania's community colleges are already implementing many of the recommendations the report detailed, from improving college readiness to being held accountable for completion rates."

The report's recommendations center on "Three Rs" of reform: Redesign, Reinvent and Reset. These are defined as a redesign of students' educational experiences, a reinvention of institutional roles, and a resetting of the system to create partnerships and incentives for student and institutional success.

The strategic five-year plan developed by Pennsylvania's community colleges sets the stage for reforming and rethinking the colleges' role in higher education and their impact to the state and U.S. competitiveness. The following are some examples of steps already being taken by Pennsylvania's community colleges that align with the report's recommendations:

  • The report calls for the implementation of policies and practices that promote rigor, transparency and accountability for results in community colleges.  Pennsylvania's 14 community colleges participate in the National Community College Benchmarking Project and other collective efforts to develop and utilize student success measures which foster institutional accountability and transparency. 
  • Another report recommendation asks colleges to dramatically improve readiness by doubling the rate of students who complete developmental education courses.  Pennsylvania's community colleges recently adopted a proposal for reviewing how students are assessed and placed in courses over the next academic year. 

    The initiative will thoroughly examine the placement process across all colleges and make recommendations on how to improve the system.  National studies show that improvements to the placement system could result in student retention and degree completion.
  • The report also calls for community colleges to close the American skills gap by sharply focusing on career and technical education courses and to better collaborate with government and the private sector.  Last year, Pennsylvania's community colleges received a $20 million Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant to expand capacity and meet the skill needs of state or local industries while increasing attainment of college degrees and other industry-recognized credentials.  The colleges will focus on the industries of advanced manufacturing, energy conservation and healthcare information technology. 

    The colleges are also part of a statewide initiative called the Keystone Initiative for Network-Based Education and Research that, thanks to a federal grant, will connect K-12 education systems, institutions of higher education, health care systems, libraries, and economic development entities to high-speed broadband services.  This initiative will help increase collaboration across the community colleges and other participating members.
  • The report calls for an increase in completion rates while preserving access and quality.  Seven of Pennsylvania's community colleges are named "Leader Colleges" in the national Achieving the Dream Initiative, a effort focused on closing achievement gaps and accelerating student success nationwide.  To be eligible for Leader College distinction, colleges must show three years of sustained improvement of student success on at least one of the following measures of performance: completion of certificates or degrees, term-to-term and year-to-year retention, completion of college-level math and English courses, advancement from developmental to credit-bearing courses and/or course completion.

"Pennsylvania's community colleges have been engaging in much of this work over the past decade," said Dr. Karen A. Stout, President of Montgomery County Community College, one of the state's Achieving the Dream Leader Colleges. "We're examining where students encounter barriers to retention and completion, and we're developing strategies and interventions to eliminate or reduce the size of those barriers. Examples include redesigning developmental and college preparation courses, implementing mentoring programs, enhancing tutorial and other academic support services, and improving changing the way we approach new student orientation, registration, attendance reporting, and mid-term grade requirements, to name only a few."  

The report is the culmination of phase 2 of AACC's 21st-Century Initiative. The overall goal of the Initiative is to position community colleges to educate an additional five million students with degrees, certificates, or other credentials by 2020.  Phase 1 of the Initiative, a listening tour, gathered information from across the nation on student access, institutional accountability, budget constraints and ideas for the future.  Phase 3 will implement the recommendations across the nation.

The 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges is charged with comprehensively examining the challenges and opportunities facing the fastest-growing sector of higher education: community colleges. Its membership includes representatives from education, business, policy and communications.

Dr. Alex Johnson, president of the Community College of Allegheny County and Dr. John J. "Ski" Sygielski, president of Harrisburg Area Community College, both serve on the Commission.

A full copy of the Commission's report and recommendations can be found at under "Commission Report." Additional information on the various initiatives of Pennsylvania's community colleges can be provided by request.

Pennsylvania's 14 community colleges serve students from every county of the state.  The Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges is a volunteer membership association for Pennsylvania's community colleges. Its members include the college presidents, members of colleges' boards of trustees and key college administrators.  The Commission represents the interests and advocates the collective needs of the community colleges to federal and state policymakers.  For more information please visit

Media Contact
Jamie Yates, Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges

SOURCE Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges