Conference Blog

Day 1

conference attendeesConference attendees mix and mingle during a cocktail reception at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Read what some conference attendees have to say about college access issues.





Day 2


Provost Max Nikias

USC Provost Max Nikias

I am a great believer in the mission of America’s colleges and universities. I am a great believer that education is the greatest equalizer of society…it is what helps us to be fully human and to appreciate the full range of human experiences in our lives

Nikias noted that system of higher education is under immense pressure, and facing increasing cynicism and criticism of being too insular and inefficient.

“We have something to learn from this so we can envision a new relationship with our community, with our nation and with our world,” he said.

Nikias said the CERPP conference’s goal is to focus on “long-ranging action” with “challenging conversations and probing questions, and the willingness to consider new perspectives.”

Keynote Address

Jamie Merisotis

Jamie Merisotis

Jamie Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation, noted that currently the percentage of people between the ages of 25-34 who have a college degree is around 40 percent, and that percentage is the same for people between the ages of 55-64.

“In other words, we haven’t done any better with the current generation than with their parent’s in the span of four decades,” he said.

Merisotis said that higher education access is critical to an evolving economy. For generations, the U.S. economy created jobs that didn’t require higher education but these jobs are rapidly disappearing and may never come back, he said.

“The current recession has put this in stark relief. Frankly, it has been brutal. Unemployment among high school dropouts is approaching 20 percent and for high school graduates it isn’t much better,” he said.

He sees the key to the economic recovery is in higher-quality education for higher-quality jobs. Some ideas to consider that he mentioned:

  • State standards should align with college-ready standards to ensure students are prepared to succeed and graduate from college without remedial assistance.
  • Increasing college access among minority, low-income populations.
  • State and federal institutional policies and practices need to be in place so no student is denied access to higher education because it’s too expensive.

Merisotis also called for better metrics.

“Higher education needs to use quality data,” he said. “It’s difficult to have a full understanding of how many students are succeeding or failing. There really is no large-scale systematic way of following the progress of students as they transfer to other institutions and transition into the work force.”

Asked about the increasing role of “for profit” colleges and universities, Merisotis said they are here to stay and part of our educational future.

“Kaplan , Capella and a lot of others are doing interesting work that we need to pay attention to,” he said. “Higher education is a segmented market and they serve one element of the market and are probably eating the market share in some cases, so we see them as important and the ongoing concerns about measuring and ensuring quality is essential to that.”

Session 1 – The Reemergence of the Federal Government and What It Means for Educational Policy

The Obama Administration’s stated goal to reclaim the title of the “most educated country in the world” by 2020 (according to international standards) is fueling discussions over the proper way to do that. This panel discussed how Obama’s initiatives will impact higher education, including the federal role in advancing the nation’s collective educational goals.

Bryan Cook, Director of Policy Analysis, American Council on Education, noted that the federal government’s goal of becoming the “most educated country” glosses over some significant underlying factors. For example, changing demographics and immigration trends in the United States create greater challenges, especially when compared to countries that have smaller populations and less immigration. “I’m not stating either side on the immigration debate, but logic would dictate that without addressing immigration policies, attaining these (education) goals will be extremely difficult,” he said.

Cook also noted that educational policies shouldn’t be solely about reaching “numbers,” but in addressing quality over quantity. “Different benchmarks show that this isn’t fundamentally about reaching a certain number but about a national agenda that hasn’t moved significantly,” he said.

Ed Elmendorf, Vice President for Government Relations, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, also expressed concern about how funds are distributed in regards to student educational data and outcomes. “As an association we support the greater goal, and we don’t support and will not support a number set by the federal government or a number set by the state,” he said. “We would rather see there be a competition within the states for the funds that the states get.”

He also said that stipulations and standards may put colleges and universities in a difficult position in attempting to attain college access goals, making his point with a rhetorical question: “Do you admit only those that you know will be successful because it makes the institution look good and meets the goals set by the state – if the state imposes them – or do you apply what resources you have to make successful those who do come?” he said.

Don Heller, Senior Scientist and Professor of Education, The Pennsylvania State University, provided retrospect on the nation’s educational goals with a report card for the 2006 Spellings Commission, which called for a range of higher education improvements. These included expanding access, restructuring financial aid, and accountability and transparency, among others. Heller gave the government an overall grade of C+.

“If this were a graduate level course, you would have to retake the course,” he said. “So I would argue that we haven’t yet achieved the goals of the Spellings Commission and the institutions need to look at those goals and how to accomplish them,” he said.

Zakiya Smith, Senior Policy Advisor, U.S. Department of Education, said that the federal government is increasing financial aid options so that students aren’t forced to “defer their dreams.” These measures being developed include increasing Pell Grants options and an income-based repayment plan for students who pay back based on how much they make. Under this repayment system, most students would get loan forgiveness after paying back their loans over 25 years, with loan forgiveness at ten years for graduates who pursue non-profit fields.

“The role of the federal federal government is more pronounced because of the fiscal situation. We have got a situation in which we need more high-qualified workers, but people on the other hand have been laid off from jobs that may not be there in 20 years. We need to start thinking about how we retool and retrain our workforce to be prepared for jobs of the future.”

Luncheon Keynote Speaker, Molly Corbett Broad. President of the American Council on Education

Molly Corbett Broad

Molly Corbett Broad

Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, said she sees the current educational landscape in the United States to be at a tipping point as global economic trends shift towards emerging powers such as China and India.

“For the first time in recent history we may produce the first generation of adults who have less education than the next-oldest generation of adults,” she said. “We are approaching a tipping point.”

Broad said that “new competitors and emerging super powers are on the horizon” and that quality education is critical in assuring the United State’s labor and economic future.

The combined population of China and India, which both have large numbers of young people, is eight times the population of the United States, she said. Broad also cited statistics showing that today Europe and the United States dominate slightly more than 50 percent of the global economy but by 2050, more than 50 percent of the world’s economic activity will come from Asia.

Both China and India are emphasizing greater college access for their young populations, Broad said. Young people from these countries, she said, “will clearly be the engines of their economies for many years go come.”

“The U.S. won’t be able to compete in the issue of quantity, but the quality of education is critical that it be the best in the world’s and that we have a work force that is educated – with creativity and innovation being front and center,” she said.

Broad shared statistics showing that the percentage of U.S. jobs requiring at least some post secondary education has grown from 28 percent in 1973 to a projected 63 percent in 2018.

“If we can’t produce individuals with this level of ability…the out-sourcing of blue and pink and white jobs may grow from a trickle to a flood,” she said.

She cited international rankings in which the United States now ranks tenth in terms of the percentage of adults with post-secondary credentials. Canada, which holds the top ranking, has managed to increase the percentage of adults (ages 25-34) who have post-secondary credentials from 39 percent to 56 percent.

Obama’s goals, she noted, are meant to increase the percentage of adults with post-secondary credentials from 40 percent to 60 percent.

She noted a part of the challenge is in addressing educational equity issues to ensure that all student groups have access to college. She cited statistics that indicate Hispanics, which are the fastest growing population segment, are less likely to have completed post-secondary credentials. Only 17 percent of Hispanics between the ages of 25-29 have at least an associate’s degree, according to the cited statistics.

The most recent development in response to some of these critical issues, she said, are national discussions about common “college-ready standards for high schools.”

Meanwhile, the United States will continue to face “incredible competition from other countries” as it attempts to maintain its economic strength in a rapidly changing global economy in which countries like China and India are becoming more dominant.

“I hope it gives you a sense of the importance and sense of urgency and a realization that higher education is literally a lynchpin to our economic future,” she said. “Because the administration recognizes this …higher education has enjoyed unprecedented federal support over past year, but we know this support is not unconditional. It comes with high expectations for performance and productivity.

Session 2 – In Sync: Linking State Higher Education Imperatives to the New Federal Agenda

Rod Chu, Chancellor Emeritus, Ohio Board of Regents, explained how over the past 25 years state funding per student in constant dollars has remained mostly flat. Meanwhile, he said, total state expenditures increased because enrollment rose. However, per student tuition doubled after adjusting for inflation.

Chu cited figures that U.S. spending on higher education is over $22,000, which is twice what the developing world spends. At the same time, he also noted that public four-year tuition and fees rose 50 percent faster than inflation from 1995 to 2005. Meanwhile, he said, the educational system hasn’t fundamentally changed. Some of his suggestions:

– Change the emphasis from “access” to “completion.” This means it may be all right for some students to take one course at a time as long as they complete their education.

– Focus more on competencies, with an understanding of what education is required for our graduates in a 21st Century economy as well as what is needed for a free and democratic society.

– Make education more of a continuous process so that “graduates can begin working and come back for additional education as they need it to keep on learning and keep their current jobs.”

Daniel J. Hurley, Director of State Relations and Policy Analysis with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, painted a picture of the country’s economic landscape and the fiscal pressures and threats challenging higher education.

He noted that the federal stimulus money directed towards higher educational institutions “has been a lifeblood, especially for public sector institutions.”

But he said that 90 percent of state fiscal stabilization funds will be exhausted by June 30 of this year, and that means that “the fiscal year 2011 will make for the most fiscally interesting and austere (year)…perhaps in our history in terms of financing state public education and financial aid programs.”

Dennis P. Jones, President of The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, said that President Obama’s call to increase the number of college graduates (by 2020) “is not just about keeping up with Canada…It’s about the future of a democratic society.”

He said the goal adds up to handing out 11.7 million additional degrees by 2020. “That’s a stretch goal but not so audacious that we can’t get there from here, particularly when we talk about all degrees and meaningful certificates.”

Jones also advocates changes in how state money is allocated, with states focusing on goals and accountability and institutions having latitude in how these goals are achieved.

Jane Wellman, Executive Director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Costs, Productivity and Accountability, mentioned that higher education institutions need to look more closely into how they spend their money on administrative expenses.

“There has been a gradual increase in administrative spending. Institutions need to pay attention to what is going on there. Every one of those decisions that lead to incremental growth in administrative costs probably had a good reason behind it, but in the end of the day there is a pattern there behind it that doesn’t make sense, and we need to make sure resources go towards student academic success.”

Wellman also said that the first two years in students’ higher education experiences merit extra attention. “If we are to increase student success…we need to pay attention to see what happens in those first two years. That’s where we invest the least in their success, so we have got to do something about that.”

Keynote Address: A System of the Whole: How to Refocus America’s Educational System on K-16 Alignment

Martha Kanter

Martha Kanter

Martha Kanter, Under Secretary of Education, said the government would like to hear from higher education experts as the Obama administration defines what it means to have the best educated and most competitive workplace in the world.

The government will look for solutions to improve higher education at all grade levels, she said. For example, the Obama administration is interested in encouraging research in early learning with coordination of the Department of Health and Human Services “to get children ready to learn when they enter kindergarten.” This is part of the Obama administration’s “craddle to career” philosophy, she said.

“We are all thinking of this as a connected seamless system,” she said. “We have a huge problem at the high school level, and if we go backwards, 20 percent of kids are not ready to enter kindergarten.”

A part of the solution, she said, is working together to create a common set of educational standards.

“We have gotten 48 of 50 states to work on a common set of standards that everyone will agree upon and that are higher than what we have today,” she said.

She added that standards and accountability will impact teachers. “There are ways to tie student learning outcomes to teacher performance, especially in K-12, which is why schools of education are going to be tremendously important.”

Kanter said she said she appreciates input the higher education community can provide in these and other issues. She said she is encouraged by work being done to create a voluntary system of accreditation, and encourages the involvement of the higher education community to help define some of these parameters.

Kanter said she is concerned the immediate needs for work skills might overshadow the value of a strong liberal arts background. “The arts and the sciences work together to create a highly educated American public,” she said. “I think we lose that sometimes when we think about the immediate needs of a country and getting people back to work as soon as possible.”

Kanter concluded by saying that the government wants to move forward with direct lending programs for students , and that it takes about a month to convert a university to direct lending status.

Day 3

Morning Keynote Address by James Montoya, Vice President of Higher Education Relationship Development at The College Board

James Montoya

James Montoya

James Montoya spoke about the need to cross language, cultural and educational borders to eliminate barriers of access to higher education opportunities.

“It is very important that we implement policy that supports the notion of more low-income families understanding that college is accessible,” he said, while praising the work done by USC’s Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice. “Any student, whether inner city or rural or two-year or four-year, should have the opportunity to see him or herself as a global citizen.”

Montoya said that research, policy and practice must reflect the increasing number of under-represented students who educators would like to see enter the college pipeline. This means, he said, understanding the differences and unique backgrounds that constitute the “under-represented” communities in higher education such as African-Americans and Latinos.

“We have come to understand that they must be viewed not just as one monolithic community, but the experiences of each sub-group must be appreciated and the communication with these sub-communities be meaningful,” he said.

Monotoya said this is part of the reason why the College Board and trustees have come out in support of the DREAM Act, which would provide more equal access to higher education for undocumented students.

Monoya said that community colleges have a critical role to play in addressing educational inequalities.

“They are a great innovation of American higher education and they will play an even more important role as we move forward,” he said.

He pointed out that tuition and fees for community colleges are about 36.2 percent less than that for the average four-year college. Even though this may be viewed as a bargain, students in community colleges often struggle to transfer and stay in school. Only 25 percent of community college students who indicate they wish to get a four-year degree actually do so, he said.

“Many four-year year institutions will only let them enroll as full-time students,” he said, noting that universities ought to consider new ways to serve this segment of the population.

Session 3 – Standardizing Excellence: The Path Toward a Common Set of State Academic Standards

Chris Minnich, Strategic Initiative Director, The Council of Chief State School Officers, provided an introduction to the national Common Core State Standards Initiative, which will begin with English and math.

Minnich emphasized that these standards are voluntary and so far 48 of 50 states have joined the movement. The two states that are not a part of this process are Texas and Alaska, he said.

The standards have been undergoing a public review process and a final draft is expected to be released the first week of February, he said. In late February, a validation committee of 30 standards experts will take a look at the proposed standards.

“We are asking for a quick turn-around. The ‘Race-to-the-Top’ program has put the adoption of these standards for states as one of the criteria to (achieve) points on the application,” he said.

More information on the standards is available on:

Roy Romer, Senior Advisor with The College Board and former Governor of Colorado, emphasized that the end-results of the standards initiative should not lead to a “test-driven-system.” Instead, it should be heading towards a “curriculum-driven-system.”

“If you let the tests dictate the quality of instruction then it won’t let you get to where you want to go,” he said.

Instead, he said, standards should provide the framework for curriculum and professional development that can lead to the desired educational results: “I want to underscore the critical issue of how you move from standards to assessment and how we have to really get the curriculum and professional development leading the way.”

Romer also noted that the national educational standards movement is remarkable in the context of U.S. history and coordination. “We have 15,000 separate school districts, 50 states and a history of state rights that says there shall be no congressional or presidential action that dictates to us how we teach our kids,” he observed.

Cyndie Schmeiser, President and COO of the Ed. Division, ACT, Inc. explained how rigorous research went into determining what should be included in the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

“Application of knowledge has guided the common core efforts,” she said. “The research we brought to bear in the process…we hope will contribute in some small way to develop core standards that are based on what matters and on what is experienced in working day in and out with our students.”

Schmeiser explained how decisions on what to include in the standards included performance data and feedback from instructors to determine whether specific items were essential. She said it will regularly be improved on to ensure the standards align with college success.

“This is an evolving process and this is just the first edition,” she said. “There will be second, and a third…but it needs to be impacted with a common agenda between post-secondary and K-12 that examines the evolving relation between college readiness and college success.”

Christine Tell, Director of State Services, Achieve, Inc., talked about how the state standards initiative has its roots in a growing national trend to toughen graduation requirements. She shared data that demonstrated how the number of states adopting more rigorous math graduation requirements has increased from 2005 to 2009.

According to the 2005 data, 30 states didn’t have specific math standards. Ten required Algebra I and nine states required Geometry. Two states required Algebra II.

Four years later, 18 states didn’t yet have specific math standards. Six required Algebra I, seven required Geometry, and a total of twenty required Algebra II.

“That is a significant movement,” she said, and it underscores how “local control of what (skills) a high school graduate should have is changing.”

Keynote Address by Jack O’Connell, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Jack O’Connell

Jack O’Connell

Jack O’Connell, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, talked about the state’s opportunity to earn about $700 million in “Race to the Top” federal funds.

“We really are at a crossroads,” he said. “With ‘Race to the Top’ we have been afforded an opportunity to really move from the past or spring in a new direction.”

O’Connell said that the state is already making progress. He said that over the past seven year test scores are up in almost every grade level and more students are proficient or above-proficient in reading. Greater numbers of students are taking the SAT, he said, and the state recently saw a slight 1 percent dip in the high school dropout rate.

“We can accelerate our progress in these key areas and it’s an unprecedented opportunity for future system reform,” he said.

He said that California’s diverse needs and population creates special challenges, while at the same time serves as a model for driving educational policy for the rest of the country.

“I think that ‘Race to the Top’ will help us with that,” he said. “We will all be on the same page, looking at the same evaluations of standards.”

Session 4 – Making it Work: Our Commitment to Systemic Progress and Productivity

Charles Reed, Chancellor, The California State University System , spoke about some of the work being done by CSU to improve higher education opportunities.

He said that CSU started a program six years ago called “Super Sundays” that involves doing outreach at African American churches to encourage students to take the right classes to succeed in college. During the summers, he said, CSU offers to pay for Algebra 1 workshops for African American students. Reed said the ministers provide the laptops and CSU provides the faculty. Over the past three years, he said, the system has seen a 12 percent increases “year over year of African Americans applying to go to CSU.”

Another program is aimed at middle school students’ mothers who meet nine times a semester to talk about how to support their children’s education. The women are honored during a graduation ceremony and their children receive an ID card that allows them to use college facilities. The outreach is also meant to remind the children that if they take certain courses they can attend a CSU of their choice.

“Those of us in higher education need to get out of the ivory tower and off the campus to the real world, to where the real people and the students who are coming to America’s higher education live,” he said. “It’s about going out to the communities.”

Jack Scott, Chancellor of the California Community College System, said that community colleges and universities need to think more about productivity and operating more efficiently. This means prioritizing what they offer and avoiding “mission creep,” he said. Some of his ideas:

– Prioritize the curriculum

– Allow for an easier transfer between community colleges and four-year institutions. “There is a great deal of waste going on when community college students take courses that don’t transfer on to the four-year institutions,” he said.

– Better assessments for basic skills so that high school students can spend their senior years “catching up” to be college-ready. “Right now 70-80 percent of students who come to community colleges are deficient in either English or math or both so we have tremendous basic skills issues,” he said.

– Consider ways to use technology to become more efficient.

Christopher Steinhauser, Superintendent of Schools, Long Beach Unified School District, talked about the partnerships that are taking place in Long Beach to ensure that K-12 students continue their education in college.

He said higher education partnerships include coordination with LBCC and CSULB. He said the district has an agreement with CSULB that makes it possible for students in the district who meet certain course requirements to pursue their higher education at the university.

“The data is showing that they are great students and doing very well,” he said.

The district also plans on providing students a tuition-free semester at LBCC starting in 2011.

Another program started by the district involves paying high school students who are proficient or advanced in Algebra 2 to teach students in Algebra 1 who need assistance. The program has also served to provide struggling students with positive role models, Steinhauser said.

Karen Symms Gallagher, Dean of the USC Rossier School of Education, spoke about the development of the MAT@USC program, an online master’s program to meet a nationwide demand for new quality teachers.

Gallagher said that large numbers of teachers above the age of 50 are expected to retire in upcoming years. However, the number of new teaching credentials in the state has dropped every year for the last five years and enrollees in teacher preparation programs has declined by 33 percent.

The Master of Arts in Teaching degree uses interactive technologies such as streaming video, animation and other Web 2.0 tools, she said. The program combines online learning with carefully selected field-based experiences, and provides ongoing support for new teachers, including job placement assistance and significant tuition reimbursement opportunities. The program can be completed in as little as one year on a full-time basis, or can be spread over two to three years part-time. Students may complete the online program from anywhere in the country. For more information:

Closing Address by Jerry Lucido, Executive Director of the USC Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice

Jerry Lucido

Jerry Lucido

I am left with this impression that our time has come as educators – and now the question is what will we do with it,” he said. “I’m feeling extremely optimistic. Have we ever seen time when there was more political willingness in place, despite the conditions we face, to push forward.

Lucido concluded with a wrap-up of upcoming research from the Center. One is an assessment of the college-going environment at schools in Long Beach and Fresno. It will include data from surveys of students. The Center is also working with Indiana University to study how the internal structures of colleges and universities encourage college completion. The Center is also studying the role of enrollment professionals.