Presidents from each of Maryland's 16 community colleges signed a pledge to substantially increase their number of graduates at a "Summit of Completion" held at Anne Arundel Community College on Friday.
The summit was sponsored by the Maryland Association of Community Colleges (MACC) and was a follow up to the Oct. 5 Summit on Community Colleges held at the White House. Each institution brought 12 representatives—including faculty, students and administrators—to discuss strategies and best practices that would help students to move through college more quickly and actually complete a degree or certificate.
"We are ready to do our part and pledge a collective effort so the citizens of our state and our country can compete for jobs in this global economy," said Carol Eaton, president of Frederick Community College.
This call to action began in February 2009, when President Barack Obama created an agenda that would have America once again possess the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. In Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley set a goal of 55 percent of adult residents having a college degree (both two- and four-year degrees) by 2025. The governor also involved Maryland in Complete College America, a consortium of 23 states that will work together to come up with ways to ensure that six out of 10 Americans will have a college degree or professional certification by 2020.
Martha Smith, president of Anne Arundel Community College, said the effort won't be an easy one. "Life issues get in the way of many people completing their degrees with us," she said in a press conference during the Summit. "Our students are raising families, going to work. We need to find a way to help them stick with it. That's what we are doing here today. We are learning from each other about how to keep in touch with students and make sure they come back if they have to take a break."
The goal is ambitious, especially considering the increases community colleges are seeing in enrollment and the decrease in funding they are receiving from the state and their local governments, according to Ray Hoy, president of Wor-Wic Community College in Salisbury.
"This is not about funding," said Hoy. "There will be costs to achieving our goal, but that means that we will have to do things differently."
Defining a completion goal is especially challenging to community colleges, said Smith. "We serve students who are attaining GEDs, gifted high school students who are getting college credits early, high school graduates transferring to four year colleges after two years, workers updating their skills or changing careers altogether, so getting completion statistics is challenging."
In 2010, just more than 11,000 two- and four-year degrees were awarded by Maryland community colleges, and they hope to raise the figure to 18,600 by 2025, according to MACC Executive Director Clay Whitlow.
"We call this a stretch goal," Whitlow said. "It is ambitious but not unrealistic. It is definitely achievable."
To achieve their goal, the colleges will work collaboratively with each other, as well as their kindergarten through 12th grade education partners and business and political leaders. After the summit, each college will form a team and develop a strategic plan to meet their specific individual goals.
Those attending today's summit were pleased with what they had learned from each other and from the keynote speaker, Stan Jones, president of Complete College America.
"Alternative paths were definitely the words of the day," said David Croghan of Frederick Community College. "One size doesn't fit all when it comes to meeting the needs of our students."
"Today I learned about the importance of the placement of students in academic programs," said Mark Shore of Allegany College of Maryland in Hagerstown. "Without good assessments, students are placed in classes that are too challenging and they tend to drop out."
Charlene Dukes, president of Prince George's Community College who attended the White House Summit in October, said the cooperation among the state's community colleges is largely unprecedented.
"We are one of the first such coalitions in the nation to respond to President Obama's call to action," she said. "Together we can achieve our goals. We are fired up and ready to go."