Get Them In, Get Them Out

A pair of education advocates urged President Obama to prioritize the distribution of funds from the recently created Community College and Career Training Grant program to those institutions that radically remodel their certificate and degree programs to emphasize speedy graduation and job placement.

Jamie P. Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation for Education, and Stan Jones, president of Complete College America, made the pitch Friday during a discussion moderated by The Washington Monthly to James Kvaal, who will take over as deputy under secretary of education next month. Many community colleges, they argued, cannot get displaced workers a credential and back into the workforce fast enough.

“Many of these programs, quite bluntly, simply take too long to finish – particularly for families already under financial pressure,” Merisotis said. “Time is a major factor for many of these individuals – adults and traditional-age students. It forces them back into, if they can find them, low-wage, low-skills jobs that simply intensify the need for more and often costly education down the road.”

While Merisotis and Jones did not set a time limit, they generally praised as models programs that take a year, maximum, to finish – quite a contrast from the two-year norm for many associate degrees – assuming students enroll full time. Though community colleges offer low-cost programs, they do not, Merisotis argued, offer students the “quicker-to-graduation curricula and job-placement” of the best for-profit institutions. But Merisotis does not think the answer to what he suggested was community colleges’ inefficiency is found in brand-new institutional design. If anything, the model Merisotis believes community colleges around the country should emulate is a rather old idea – that of a traditional vocational school.

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