Insights & Outlooks

Community College Leaders Band Together to Advocate for Today’s Students

The Higher Education Act, Today's Students
Community College Leaders Band Together to Advocate for Today’s Students

The characteristics of individuals enrolling in postsecondary education today are significantly different than they were when the Higher Education Act was first passed by Congress in the 1960s. Over 70 percent of today’s postsecondary students can be described as “non-traditional”—balancing work and family obligations while attending classes. 

At the community college level, this trend is even more pronounced. Community colleges serve over 9 million students annually, with an average age of 28. Additionally, 68 percent of community college students work full-or part-time, 15 percent are single parents and 5 percent are veterans. These students often have a different set of needs and objectives than first-time, full-time students between the ages of 18-24, who have historically been the focus of our nation’s higher education policies. 

Over the past few years, there has been increasing energy among federal policymakers and the Administration to reauthorize the Higher Education Act—which has not been updated by Congress since 2008—so that it works better for today’s students. In response to this momentum, community and technical college systems across 17 states—including Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia—have banded together to support the Community College Compact—a set of four policy proposals developed by the National Skills Coalition and aligned with the priorities of the Today’s Student Coalition. 

The compact prescribes the following policy changes: 

Eliminate the bias against working learners in need of federal financial aid 

Community and technical colleges are working to increase access to high-quality, short-term programs that lead to in-demand credentials. However, most federal financial aid is reserved for students who are enrolled in programs that are at least 600 clock hours over 15 weeks—an outdated policy that fails to account for the needs of all students. 

In response, community college leaders are urging lawmakers to consider legislation such as the JOBS Act (S. 839; H.R. 3497), led by Senators Kaine (D-VA) and Portman (R-OH) and Representatives Richmond (D-LA-02) and Gonzalez (R-OH-16), which would expand Pell grant eligibility to students enrolled in high- quality programs that are at least 150 clock hours of instruction over 8 weeks. 

Make higher education outcomes data comprehensive and transparent 

Since higher education is closely linked with labor market success, data about the outcomes of postsecondary programs should be available to students, employers and policymakers. However, existing legal restrictions on the collection of student-level data hinder the accessibility of this information. 

To help improve data and relieve institutions of duplicative reporting requirements, community and technical college administrators have called for action on the College Transparency Act (S.800; H.R. 1766). Introduced by Senators Warren (D-MA) and Cassidy (R-LA), and Representatives Mitchell (R-MI- 10) and Krishnamoorthi (D-IL-08), this bipartisan bill would establish a secure student level data network administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, to which colleges would be able to safely 

and easily report their data. The data would then be available as a decision-making tool for current and prospective students. 

Ensure the success of today’s college students by strengthening support services 

Community college leaders recognize the importance of robust support services like career counseling, childcare and transportation assistance. While higher education administrators across the country are working hard to implement career pathway models that provide non-traditional students with these services, their efforts receive little support at the federal level. 

To address this issue, community and technical college leaders are calling for the consideration of the Gateway to Careers Act (S. 1117)—legislation introduced by Senators Hassan (D-NH), Young (R-IN), Kaine (D-VA) and Gardner (R-CO). This bipartisan bill would make federal grant funding available to institutions that are working in partnership to serve students experiencing barriers. 

Provide targeted funding for valuable partnerships between community colleges and businesses 

Community college leaders work with industry every day to provide high-quality training and academic instruction to future workers. However, Congress has not invested in these types of partnerships at a scale that would sustain economic competitiveness since the expiration of the Trade Adjustment Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program in FY 2014. The purpose of the TAAACT grant program, which allocated $2 billion in funding to states from 2011-2014, was to increase the capacity of community colleges to address the challenges of today’s workforce through job training. 

Due to the proven impact of these partnerships, community and technical college leaders are calling for legislation that would support these collaboratives, like the Community College to Career Fund in Higher Education Act (S. 1612; H.R. 2920). Introduced by Senator Duckworth (D-IL) and Representative Kelly (D-IL-02), this legislation would provide academic institutions and businesses with funding so that they can continue to work together to deliver valuable programs to students.