Why Completion Matters: Executive Director Goes on the Road to Promote Completion Agenda

“Roads Scholar” Dr. Rod Risley has logged more than 100,000 travel miles in 2011 as an advocate for college completion. Dr. Risley’s speaking engagements have ranged from presentations to community college audiences to keynote addresses delivered to the nation’s leaders in higher education.

Phi Theta Kappa has for many years provided benefits and programs that guide members toward completion. However, plummeting college credentialing rates around the world have moved completion and student success into an international spotlight.

In 2009, President Obama laid the groundwork in the United States for efforts to double the numbers of college credentials by 2020, and called on community colleges to play a key role. “Democracy’s Colleges – Call to Action,” a collation of the six most influential groups in the community college arena, including Phi Theta Kappa, was formed to answer this challenge. Others in the partnership are the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the American Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD), the League for Innovation in the Community College, and the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE).

Together these six agencies formed a coalition to develop strategies for increasing completion rates, with Phi Theta Kappa leading the involvement of students by creating the Community College Completion Corps (C4).

Montcalm Community College

Montcalm Community College commits to completion! In front of the commitment banner are, from left standing, Dr. Rod Risley, Phi Theta Kappa Executive Director; Alpha Tau Alpha chapter members Ashley Wazny and Stacey Kirby and alumna Jennifer Vanderslik; Jessica Snyder, Alpha Tau Alpha advisor; Dr. Robert Ferrentino, Montcalm Community College President; chapter member Katrina Soper; Janet Bloomfield, Vice President for Recruitment, Michigan Works! Consortium; Kari Kahler, Michigan Regional Coordinator; chapter member David Hansen; Debra Alexander, chapter advisor and Associate Dean of Student Services; kneeling, front, chapter member Breanna Lintemuth. Photo by chapter advisor Amber Jaramillo.

As the only student organization within the Call to Action, Phi Theta Kappa’s role in promoting college completion is especially essential, Dr. Risley said. “We are in the front lines of the battle to turn around college completion rates,” he said. “We lead the grassroots movement by attempting to engage all student organizations in the completion initiative. We must educate all students on the importance of completion, and we must enlist the support of the colleges, trustees, college administration, faculty and staff, local communities, business and political leaders.”

“Students must understand the benefits of completing a credential and the consequences of not. In community colleges we must move beyond a philosophy of open access with a right to fail, to institutions that support open access and the right to succeed.”

In his Keynote Address at the National Council on Student Development Conference in Denver, Dr. Risley stressed the connections between engagement, success and college completion. He was joined at the conference by Phi Theta Kappa’s Dean of Leadership Development Monika Byrd, Dean of Service Learning Jennifer Stanford and International Vice President Jeremy Mathis. Their presentation on the Community College Completion Corps was recognized as a winner of the Obanion Shared Journey Exemplary Award for demonstration of exemplary practices furthering student development in community colleges.

Dr. Risley’s most recent travels to deliver the message of college completion have taken him to Oakland Community College and Montcalm Community College in Michigan, to San Jacinto Community College in Texas and to the Maryland Association of Community Colleges’ Summit on Completion.”

Risley at ACCT

Dr. Rod Risley, left, and ACCT President and CEO J. Noah Brown lead a discussion at ACCT’s Town Hall Meeting. 2011 Association of Community College Trustees. Photo by Keith Weller

ACCT’s 2011 Leadership Congress in Dallas provided a completion “tipping point,” Dr. Risley said. “Community college trustees are leaders in their local communities – businessmen, elected officials, community servants. At the ACCT meeting, for the first time we were able to deliver the data they need concerning completion, which allowed the trustees to set goals and draft an action agenda.”

Dr. Risley conducted a breakout session on transfer at ACCT’s Symposium on Student Success, held prior to the Congress, to generate a policy action agenda. He was a leader for the Town Hall Meeting, where the agenda was presented to the entire Congress.

Why College Completion Matters

In his speeches and workshops, Dr. Risley frequently cites the following statistics to answer the question of why completion matters:

  • Among industrialized countries, the U.S. has fallen from number 1 to number 16 in the percentage of population that has earned a higher education credential. This means is that we no longer have a competitive workforce to compete in a global economy, and we do not have the skilled workforce to fill the jobs that are vacant today.
  • 85% of students enrolled in community colleges express aspirations to complete an associate or baccalaureate degree, but only 45% complete a higher education credential. Only 50% of community college students upon enrollment express aspirations to complete a baccalaureate degree. And only 10-20% actually complete a degree or certificate.
  • Today there are over 600,000 unfilled jobs in manufacturing industry. There are over 500,000 unfilled jobs in the health care industry. We do not have the workforce to fill these jobs. The jobs most difficult to fill have greatest impact on increasing productivity. Jobs are available but the people with the necessary skill to fill them are not there. We are spending public money on students who are not prepared to enter college, but think they are. We are training students for jobs that do not exist.
  • By 2018, 67% of all new jobs will require a higher education credential.
  • A person with an associate degree will earn $400,000 more in their lifetime than someone with no credential.
  • If a student has to enter the workforce unexpectedly due to life changes, if they hold an associate degree they are more frequently placed than persons without a degree.
  • If someone transfers from the community college without completing a degree, they are much less likely to complete a baccalaureate degree.

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