OCTAE Connection - Issue 193 - April 24, 2014

OCTAE Newsletter

                                April 24, 2014

Secretary Duncan Speaks With Community College Students About Their Needs

The Department has been holding an ongoing series of conversation between students and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan so that students can engage with the secretary and senior staff to help develop recommendations on current education programs and future education policies. Last month, such a session was held with student leaders from the American Student Association of Community Colleges, who were in Washington for their annual national Student Advocacy Conference. The conversation focused on the importance of community colleges.  

The discussion began by noting that, often, the idea of going to college brings to mind attendance at only a traditional four-year college or university. For many, community colleges are an after-thought or simply not an option. This is true even though community colleges constitute the single largest sector of the U.S. higher education system, comprising almost half of the nation’s undergraduate enrollment. Community colleges provide access to obtaining associate degrees for millions of students to, prepare students for a degree at a four-year institution, train or retrain them for the 21st-century global economy, and contribute much more in the field of education. 

The conversation focused on how to provide high-quality instruction, accreditation for degree and certification programs, and strengthening transition programs. Students raised a variety of issues from their personal experiences. These included the uncertainty some felt about being successful at a four-year institution, finding a special program that helps first-generation students navigate the college environment and its processes, and learning a different system from those they had previously experienced. Those experiences include the transition some students face who have immigrated to the U.S. from another country or from a military background to more independent living, and finding ways to negotiate requirements, for example the inevitable deadlines that do not align well with their needs.

One of the Department’s senior staff who attended the conversation, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges Mark Mitsui, stated, in conclusion, “These systemic issues show that the community college systems that we need, now more than ever, to work with students on campus to create locally driven solutions aided by a national dialogue.” 

You can read the full series of student conversations with Secretary Duncan at Student Voices Series.

Information Sought to Help Develop Career Pathways Systems Response Period Begins April 23 for 45 Days 

The departments of Education (ED), Labor (DOL), and Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced the release of a Request for Information (RFI) to support the development of high-quality career pathways systems. The RFI solicits information and recommendations from a broad array of stakeholders—those in the public and private sectors, as well as in state, regional, tribal, and local areas. OCTAE stakeholders are encouraged to review and respond to the information provided in the full RFI. The RFI is for information and planning purposes only and should not be construed as a solicitation or as an obligation on the part of the participating federal agencies. The response period is open for 45 calendar days, starting April 23, 2014. 

As detailed in the RFI, “… ensuring robust economic growth, a thriving middle class, and broadly shared prosperity will require a significant expansion of the skills and knowledge of American workers over the next few decades.” To that end, ED, HHS, and DOL are exploring opportunities to improve the alignment of their programs at the state, tribal, and local levels so as to support robust career pathways systems. The three agencies will analyze the information collected through the RFI to inform and coordinate their policy development, strategic investments, and technical assistance activities and to improve the coordination of federal policy development with investments at the state, tribal, and local levels. 

This RFI marks the first time that the three departments are jointly collecting and analyzing information on “…the benefits of and challenges to aligning diverse funding streams, programs, and stakeholders around career pathway systems; and the current and potential future use of career pathways systems to help at-risk populations gain skills and access the middle class.” At-risk populations identified in the RFI include low-income youths and adults, low-skilled youths and adults, out-of-school youths, individuals with disabilities, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) recipients, tribal communities, English learners, immigrants, rural populations, veterans, currently and formerly incarcerated individuals, dislocated workers, and trade-affected workers. 

Career pathways systems are seen as a promising strategy for meeting the skills challenge by offering distinct but complementary workforce, education, and support services that are aligned with the needs of business and industry. These systems have also demonstrated promise for meeting the individual—and complementary—goals of the three federal agencies. This RFI builds on the 2012 joint letter to promote interdepartmental career pathways approaches and on related efforts across the federal government to improve the coordination and cost effectiveness of workforce investments and economic development. 

As stated in the RFI, it is expected that the analysis period will not only deepen the departments’ shared vision and understanding of career pathways systems, but will also generate essential information that can “inform policy development and the next generation of investments and technical assistance by providing us with greater clarity on the facilitators and obstacles to career pathways systems development.” 

A webinar about the RFI will be held May 1 from 2 to 3:15 p.m. EDT. (Look on the right, near the bottom of the page.)

            ACT Report on College Readiness

The importance of being prepared to succeed in college is the subject of a 2013 ACT report titled Readiness Matters: The Impact of College Readiness on College Persistence and Degree Completion. In an era when college degrees provide recipients advantages in a variety of dimensions associated with happy, productive lives and when America’s standing in the world depends heavily on an educated populace, successful completion of college is important both from an individual and a national perspective.   

Sixty-eight percent of high school graduates enroll immediately in two- or four-year institutions, according to this study, but a much larger percentage of graduates aspire to earn college degrees. Even among those who enroll immediately, completion rates need to be substantially improved. Not being college-ready upon completion of high school has a negative impact for both groups.  

This study examines the impact of college readiness on success from four perspectives: (1) academic preparation in high school, (2) using multiple measures to determine readiness, (3) college readiness as a means of reducing gaps between ethnic and racial groups and across income levels, and (4) the effects of early mentoring on college- and career-readiness.  

Academic Preparation. The ACT-developed College Readiness Benchmarks are the minimum scores on the ACT that indicate whether students have a high probability of success in the basic college courses of English composition, algebra, biology, and introductory social science. After controlling for the postsecondary institution attended, students who achieve these individual benchmarks have significantly higher persistence and graduation rates than those who do not meet the benchmarks.  

Multiple Measures. ACT recommends that multiple measures be used to predict success in college. For example, high school grade-point averages may measure both cognitive and noncognitive aspects of college readiness, whereas the ACT exam is designed to measure cognitive knowledge and skills.  

Racial/Ethnic and Family Income Gaps. Persistence and graduation are much more likely for students who meet more of the ACT benchmarks than for students who meet fewer of them for each family income and racial/ethnic group. Smaller racial/ethnic and socioeconomic gaps are seen when college readiness is addressed for all students.  

Early Monitoring. Students benefit from early monitoring, according to several studies by ACT, so that interventions may take place as soon as they are needed.  

Based on its study of ACT-tested 2012 high school graduates, ACT projects that if all high school students graduated college-ready, almost 92,000 more of them would immediately enroll in college and that approximately 124,000 more would complete a college degree within six years of enrolling.  

ACT postulates that multiple strategies and programs will be necessary to increase the college and career readiness of many of the nation’s high school graduates. This study recommends five actions to bolster the academic preparation of these graduates:  

  1. Evaluate the rigor and content of high school courses in English, mathematics, reading, and science and align them with college readiness standards and related skills.  
  2. Regularly monitor student progress towards becoming ready for college and intervene as needed early in this process.  
  3. Help students learn and develop strong academic habits.  
  4. Provide guidance so all students  
  • understand the essential link between current preparation to future success;  
  • explore career options based on their personal skills, interests, and goals; and  
  • have and use resources about the college admissions and financial aid processes.  

       5.  Establish longitudinal data systems to monitor student performance from elementary school through college and careers to support the cohesion of the education system.