On March 27th, the RAMC board gathered in Washington DC to meet with policymakers and discuss our goals for the next year. The pending reauthorization of the Higher Education Act provides us with an opportunity to address the needs and pathways of the 1.5 million students we represent.

In a letter just delivered to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, we encourage her to review our seven priorities below, and we will continue to work tirelessly to spread awareness of these goals to her, her team, and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

Indeed we are heartened by the bi-partisan interest in many of these issues, and as Congress works to reauthorize the HEA, we will continue to advocate for the following goals:

Restoration of Summer Pell for Part-Time and Full-Time Students: Access to Summer Pell is often critical for community college students seeking completion. We are pleased that this proposal has such bipartisan support in Congress. To truly address the needs of the vast majority of community college students, who are working adults in need of the flexibility of being a part-time student, any Summer Pell proposal by Congress should allow for less than full-time eligibility. Therefore, we highly recommend expanding access to Summer Pell for both full- and part-time students.

The Expansion of Pell to Include Workforce Pell Grants: At community colleges, Pell Grants are currently available to those working toward some credentials and associate’s degrees. However, many students can obtain higher wage employment and greater job security through courses designed to award short-term certification that is tied to employment as opposed to “completing” a two-year degree. Pell currently does not cover many of these short-term certifications, and RAMC advocates for an expansion of Pell to cover the costs of courses designed to award these certifications in employable fields. 

Risk Sharing/Accreditation Reforms that Address Data Quality and Student Loan Eligibility Concerns: Community colleges, like all higher education institutions, should be held accountable for their results. However, the underlying data used to assess outcomes in today’s higher education system is sorely lacking. This data, and how it is collected, does not consider the critical differences between four-year institutions and two-year institutions. For example, many students attend a community college for a specific class, credit, or certification—and are depicted in data as “not completing” college, when in fact, these students achieved exactly what they wanted. Also, many students take classes at a community college and then transfer to a four-year institution—these students should not be seen as statistical failures. In exchange for stronger accountability, we believe individual colleges should be given discretion to determine student loan eligibility based upon factors like program of study and student progress.

Recognizing Degree Attainment through Reverse Transfer Processes: We believe that success in higher education can be improved through what is known as “reverse transfer.” While reverse transfer pathways are varied, the phrase often refers to those who have attended community colleges, transferred to four-year institutions, finish their credit accumulation for a associate’s degree at the four-year institution and are awarded such a degree through the community college they previously attended. Unfortunately, there are barriers for students in this situation to receiving the degree they have earned. By setting up processes that make it easier to award these students with an associate’s degree, such students would become more competitive in the workforce. Institutional participation in reverse transfer programs provides more accurate data and helps students, which is why we believe that policies that help meet this goal should be furthered in federal legislation.

Improving the Gainful Employment and State Authorization Rules: Community colleges have had difficulty complying with the reporting requirements of the gainful employment rule, because this rule inadvertently lumps community colleges into efforts to police for-profit colleges. Criticisms of for-profit schools are not applicable to community colleges and should not be used to punish community colleges. Considerations should be given to exempting community colleges from gainful employment requirements or dramatically altering their compliance requirements. Community colleges do not deserve to be collateral damage in the quest to monitor for-profit colleges.

State Authorization: Community colleges have also had difficulty complying with the requirements of the State authorization rule adopted by the Obama administration. This rule has placed requirements on public community colleges that have added little to the oversight already conducted by states. We believe public community colleges should be exempted from this regulation, or that better compliance requirements be written to appropriately reflect the realities of community colleges.

Increased Federal Support and Investment in Career and Technical Education: Career and technical education (CTE) is the “no-brainer” solution to many of the issues facing the workforce and education pipeline. Many high-paying jobs exist but require some CTE, and therefore, remain unfilled. Community colleges are in an ideal position to provide career and technical education opportunities. We strongly believe state and local CTE systems should be strengthened through key federal policies such as the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.

RAMC’s mission is to build a stronger, more competitive workforce by increasing access to and success in higher education. We believe these seven priorities are key to helping community college students across the nation achieve their dreams of economic stability.