CAHS Report Highlights Important Role of Community Colleges in State’s Economy

The Connecticut Community Colleges (CCCs) should be at the forefront of the state’s educational planning for the future, according to a report recently published by the Connecticut Association for Human Services (CAHS). The authors of the report entitled Connecticut’s Challenge: Preparing Our Workforce...Strengthening Our Community Colleges note that "those who advocate for maintaining—and when there is less stress on the state’s financial stability, increasing—the state’s postsecondary education funding believe that a skilled workforce is the very thing that will impart new life into the state’s economy."

Similar encouragement to increase public funding to educate a skilled workforce is included in the Obama administration’s American Graduation Initiative, part of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, while surging enrollments at Connecticut’s Community Colleges give clear indication of the potential of community colleges to reach large numbers of students seeking higher education and improved job opportunities. In the Spring 2010 semester, there are 55,030 students enrolled in the CCCs, up 9.2 percent from spring 2009. All 12 CCCs saw increases in headcount, with half at or approaching double-digit percent increases. Full-time equivalent enrollment around the System of CCCs is 11.7 percent above spring 2009. Three Rivers Community College in Norwich and Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport have the largest increases in full-time equivalent enrollments of 19 percent and 17.3 percent, respectively.

"Connecticut’s community colleges can play a critical role in building the state’s workforce of the future with forward-thinking leadership and sufficient resources",the CAHS report asserts. The report’s recommendations center on access, student success, and data-based strategy development to improve educational and career outcomes. Several examples of successful efforts in each of these areas are described below. They illustrate the benefits of efficiency improvements and investment of resources, largely from federal or foundation funding, that are designed to improve student access to and success through higher education.

Access-Access is one of the first steps to increasing the number of adults available for middle-skills jobs, the report notes. As one approach to increasing access, the Connecticut Community Colleges introduced an innovative online financial aid system which streamlines the application and award process through a centralized processing system. Now considered a national best practice, the centralized system processes all student financial aid applications, freeing college staff to counsel students and parents and provide them with information needed for federal, state and college-based aid. Over 90 percent of the CCCs’ financial aid applications are now completed through this online service while financial aid applications have increased by 108 percent since the system was begun.

The CCCs are also partners in KnowHow2GO Connecticut, a public education campaign funded by the national Lumina Education Foundation to increase access by encouraging and assisting middle school and high school students to plan and prepare for college, with particular outreach to low-income students and those who are the first in their families to pursue higher education.

Student Success-Student success is another keystone of the Connecticut Community Colleges' mission. New success measures developed by a cross-state data work group from Achieving the Dream, a national grant-funded initiative that includes Connecticut, have expanded reporting on graduation rates to include new students first enrolling in 2003, both full-time and part-time; students who earned degrees or certificates within six years; students who continued their studies through transfer with or without earning an associate's degree or certificate, and students who were still enrolled after six years having earned 30 credits or more.

41.7% was the overall success rate for all first-time students in the 2003 cohort of students using these measures. 33.4% of this cohort left college without reaching these benchmarks but still achieved academic success as reflected in GPA. These students who left in good academic standing without transferring attained skills that would make them more valuable in the workforce or eligible for transfer at a later date. This equates to 75% of the cohort who achieved academic success at a community college. In addition, the success of students who complete occupational programs can be gauged by the numbers who find or retain employment and increase their annual earnings within six months of completion. In the most recent report from the Connecticut Employment and Training Commission, produced in partnership with the Connecticut State Department of Labor, 78% of community college graduates who live in Connecticut are employed in Connecticut at the time of graduation, with six of the 12 colleges showing employment rates exceeding 80%. Approximately 91% of these graduates are still employed six months later with average earnings increasing by $25,000 annually. In the most recent report, Connecticut Department of Labor records indicate that earnings for students in the degree programs targeted by the Nursing and Allied Health grant from the United States Department of Labor (Nursing, Respiratory Care, Physical Therapy Assistant, Radiologic Technician and Medical Assistant) increased from $23,626 in 2005 to $57,740 in 2008 – a 144% increase.
Source: CT Dept. of Labor –2009 Bridges to Healthcare Report

The System of Connecticut Community Colleges and two member colleges, Housatonic and Norwalk, were selected by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation to continue the development of innovative remedial education programs to help the 60%-70% of CCC students entering degree programs who require developmental courses in English and/or mathematics as a foundation for success in college-level work. Connecticut was one of only five states awarded this grant.

The CAHS report affirms that "Connecticut community colleges have started to institute many of the ideas articulated in American Graduation Initiative (AGI), part of the larger Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act which supports President Barack Obama’s call for an increase of five million additional community college graduates nationwide by the year 2020.

"AGI will present state policymakers with the opportunity to lay the groundwork for future investments in and advancement of our community college system, according to the report." Such work must be supported by adequate resources.

Also recommended in the report is that the Connecticut Workforce Advancement Grants for Education (CT-WAGE), established by the Connecticut legislature in 2007, be expanded to include community colleges in order to encourage student persistence, completion, and success.

Connecticut’s Challenge: Preparing Our Workforce...Strengthening Our Community Colleges can be viewed on the CAHS website at www.cahs.org. For more information on the Connecticut Community Colleges, visit www.commnet.edu.

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News Item Posted On: March 12, 2010
For Additional Information Contact: CCC Communications Officeat 860.244.7605