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January 05, 2011 1:40 PM Funding for “Degrees of Speed”

By Daniel Luzer

In the May/June issue last year the Washington Monthly published an article by Jamie Merisotis and Stan Jones. The piece, “Degrees of Speed,” argued that one of the biggest problems with community colleges had to do with the speed at which students can complete programs. Scheduling classes is complicated and time consuming and causes students to give up on their courses.

Accelerating existing programs would help a great deal. With a small infusion of federal labor money, community colleges could become effective training grounds for unemployed American workers. As Merisotis and Jones wrote:

Buried in the recently passed health care reconciliation bill is $2 billion for a grant program for community colleges, over which the Obama administration enjoys considerable discretion. The president should announce that in distributing these grants, his administration will give priority to community colleges that reengineer their one- and two-year degree programs to stress timely graduation, job placement, and tracking the careers of those who graduate. The leaders of several large community college systems have told us that with proper funding they can have accelerated degree programs up and running in six months. This means, we estimate, that hundreds of thousands of unemployed Americans could be enrolled in such programs within two years.

Well it looks like the administration may have listened. The Department of Labor has now stated that increasing the speed of completion is an important part of the $2 billion in TAA (Trade Adjustment Assistance for Communities) funds under the Community College and Career Training Grant Program.

According to an interview with Assistant Secretary of Labor Jane Oates in Community College Times, the grants should be used for:

Some of the things that community colleges are doing already…. Like truncating and accelerating industry-recognized credential acquisition and degree recognition by having classes not Tuesday and Thursday at 9:45 a.m. to 11:15 a.m., but by having classes Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a lunch break, and getting people where they need to be, academically and occupationally, in six weeks rather than 15 weeks—that’s the kind of thing that I think that our colleges know makes sense, but they just don’t have the resources to devote faculty to that kind of effort while they are bursting at the seams with traditional students.

It looks like acceleration is a key goal. Now this is a grant program, so the success of this effort hinges on the Department of Labor actually getting good proposals from states involving block-scheduled, job development programs. But it certainly looks promising.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer