The president and two trustees from Garden City Community College were among presenters at the recent 43rd annual leadership congress of the Association of Community College Trustees in Boston.
The gathering drew members of community college governing boards, chief executive officers and others from all 50 states for four days of presentations, discussions, focus sessions and networking, all under the theme, “Leveraging Student Success through Partnerships, Innovation and Evidence.”
In addition to the presentation from the GCCC representatives, and other segments throughout the conference, the gathering featured a keynote addresses by Sterling Sperin, president and chief executive officer of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation; and segments by Douglas Wood, Ford Foundation program officer; NASA Astronaut and space shuttle veteran Andrew Feustel, a community college graduate; and Byron Pitts, CBS News chief national correspondent and “60 Minutes” contributor.
Joined by Linda Fund, executive director of the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees, the GCCC presenters included Ron Schwartz and Terri Worf, both elected members of the six-person GCCC Board of Trustees, as well as Dr. Herbert J. Swender, GCCC president. Among others attending was GCCC Trustee Jeff Crist.
Their shared session, which drew an audience in Boston’s Hynes Convention Center on the second day of the conference, was entitled “Understanding the Impact of Pell Grants,” and it included a comprehensive PowerPoint and multimedia presentation, “Birds and Bees for Trustees – Understanding the Impact of Pell!” The conference took place Oct. 10-13, and also offered segments on philanthropic investments, collaboration, student success, trustee roles in program development, high school-collegiate partnerships, student success measurement, campus planning and a broad range of additional topics.
The GCCC segment was based on two comprehensive studies completed in February, both focused on the significance of federal Pell Grants for college students.
One study, conducted by GCCC and entitled “Powered By Pell: A Grassroots Perspective,” found that Pell Grants have become a major source of higher educational opportunity for American women, and that the combination of Pell Grant funding and access to community colleges has emerged as a vital source of opportunity for people in rural areas.
The study, which focused national attention eight months ago on GCCC, also showed that nearly half of college credit earned by students in rural areas is funded, at least in part, by Pell Grant dollars. GCCC initially produced the study for the KACCT and the 2012 Community College National Legislative Summit.
“As Kansas…illustrates, the rural colleges average much smaller enrollments than their suburban and urban neighbors, but the weight and spread of their number makes them equally important to the quality of life across the state,” Swender told listeners at the conference.
“Pell Grants are a big part of this picture in every state,” he added. “They combine with community colleges to raise upward mobility for both full-time and part-time students, as well as jobless workers who are studying toward a degree and striving for marketable skills.”
The presentation was underscored by video testimonials from two GCCC students, Pam Powers, Garden City; and Synthia Preston, Tribune, who each explained how Pell Grant dollars made it possible for them to attend college.
The four Kansas presenters called on their counterparts across the nation to conduct similar studies in every state, with Worf and Schwartz advocating that trends to be tracked on how Pell Grant receipt helps drive workforce development and makes women more competitive in the economy.
Fund, Schwartz, Worf and Swender also provided a template from the Garden City-based study of 17 Kansas community colleges, so higher education leaders elsewhere can jump start their own research.
The GCCC study of Kansas was completed in parallel with research compiled by the University of Alabama Education Policy Center, and it drew on input from Dr. Frank Mensel, a senior fellow with the center. The Alabama-based study is entitled “Pell Grants and the Lifting of Rural America’s Future.”
“Everyone serving community colleges should never forget two things about Pell Grants,” Mensel said. “In 40 years they have made community colleges the largest provider of undergraduate education and college credit, and they have made women the majority in all college enrollment.”
Mensel, whose insights were incorporated into the GCCC presentation, also cited Pell Grants and community colleges as “the largest engines of workforce development powering the American Dream, and the middle class of the future.” Mensel was a collaborator with the late Senator Claiborne Pell, Rhode Island, in creating the U.S. Pell grant program in the early 1970s.
“Without direct access to Pell Grants,” Fund told the crowd at the conference, “the results could be devastating for students and costly for rural and urban communities.” Swender noted that more individuals have benefited from Pell Grants than from Montgomery GI Bill funding for education.
Pell Grants are offered through the U.S. Department of Education to qualified students, as a way of creating greater access to college education. Eligibility varies, depending on income, assets and household size, with a current annual maximum allocation of $5,550 per student. In a typical year at GCCC, approximately 800 to 900 students receive Pell Grants.