The term “Access” has acquired a bit of a Rodney Dangerfield complex since back in the day when I suggested: “If one word captures the range of compelling issues that the New England Board of Higher Education should focus its energy on at the start of the new century, the word is access.”
The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) wants you to know that access still deserves respect, even in an age when the focus on graduation rates makes the term “access” feel soft and fuzzy unless it’s coupled with “success.” It’s especially tricky navigating in the case of community colleges, where access is the name of the game, or was.
“Community colleges provide access to higher education for nearly half of all minority undergraduate students and more than 40% of undergraduate students living in poverty,” according to a new AACC policy brief called “Why Access Matters: The Community College Student Body.”
“But the open door philosophy found at community colleges is not being rewarded by policymakers focused on completion rates and success indicators buoyed by enrollment data that does not accurately capture what community colleges do and whom they serve,” says the paper funded partly by the Lumina Foundation.
More than eight in 10 community college students work while going to school and six in 10 work more than 20 hours a week. Holding a job can increase the chance that students do not successfully earn degrees.
“Community colleges offer higher education access to anyone who wants to learn, regardless of their income, status in life, age or ethnicity,” said AACC President Walter G. Bumphus. “We fear that success indicators focused on degree completion only, will lead to restricting college access to those who are the most likely to succeed, not those who need it the most.”