Grand Island is on the right track in its efforts to create a more comprehensive career and technical education program for high school students.

Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, said that community colleges all over the country are working with partner K-12 school districts to give high school students the opportunity to take dual-credit courses.

He said that in some cases, high school students are earning enough credits to earn an associate degree shortly before they earn their high school diploma.

Bumphus made his comments Wednesday morning to the news media shortly before attending the Nebraska Community College Association's annual meeting at Grand Island's Mid-Town Holiday Inn.

He was in Grand Island as part of his "Listening Tour" to gather information from community college representatives that will be incorporated into the work being done by the 21st Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges.

Bumphus said community colleges in many parts of the country have seen increased enrollment, with about 13.5 million students nationally attending community colleges.

He said some community colleges are coming up with new enrollment patterns to meet student needs. For example, some colleges have created "mini-semesters" for students who do not enter college at the beginning of a traditional semester.

Bumphus said he read an Oct. 26 article in USA Today about community colleges that are starting midnight classes to accommodate students with children and inflexible job schedules.

That same article said about two-thirds of community colleges are working, with many students working later hours.

Many community colleges were once known as vo-tech schools. Bumphus said community colleges still offer students the chance to learn skills to work in a manufacturing plant, as well as auto service and auto collision repair.

But he said community colleges are increasingly emphasizing STEM education, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math. As a result, students can go to community colleges to take pre-engineering courses.

The number of students enrolled in Allied Health programs also is increasing, Bumphus said.

He cited the example of Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania, where 43 percent of people in a student cohort preparing for careers in the National Institutes of Health already have either a bachelor's, master's or a doctorate.

Bumphus said that is not unusual because 10 to 15 percent of community college students nationwide already have some type of degree.

Transfer programs are another growing part of community colleges, he said.

Students who attend a community college and complete an associate degree and then transfer to a four-year college tend to have a higher grade point average and a higher graduation rate than students who began as a traditional freshman at that same four-year university.

That should be no surprise because students who have earned an associate degree are older and likely more mature than a traditional freshman.

However, it is critical for a person to either earn a certificate or associate degree before making the transfer, Bumphus said.

The success rate is not nearly as great for students who enroll in a community college for a short amount of time, then quickly transfer to a four-year school, Bumphus said.

Those students are likely to be listing "some college" on their r?sum?s when looking for a job, Bumphus said. However, "some college" does not qualify people for many careers.

Most transfer programs are traditional "2 plus 2" programs, which means two years of community college to earn an associate degree followed by two years at a four-year college to get a bachelor's degree, Bumphus said.

But he hailed the success of Maricopa County Community College, which has partnered with Arizona State University to create a "3 plus 1" program. Bumphus said community college students earn enough credits at Maricopa to be a junior before entering their senior year at ASU.

He said transfer programs are important because the lower tuition at community colleges helps maintain access to college. Even with declining state resources, community colleges continue to struggle to keep their tuition affordable.

He noted the overall cost is much lower if a student can attend two years at a community college, followed by two years at a traditional four-year college.

Maintaining college access — especially for first-generation college students and first-generation college students from immigrant families — is why Bumphus likes to call community colleges the "Ellis Island of colleges."

Still, he said community colleges must do a better job of retaining students who enroll in "developmental" or remedial courses. Too many of those students still drop out.

He said community colleges have a role to play in returning America to its No. 1 world ranking when it comes to having an educated work force.

Bumphus said students who earn college credit while still in high school are more likely to seek a college degree after high school graduation.

In that regard, he hailed the work done by Richard Rhodes, former president of El Paso Community College in Texas. El Paso developed the Early College High School Initiative, which allows students to simultaneously earn a high school diploma and an associate degree in four years.

Education reporter, Harold Reutter can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

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