Jones, Merisotis Offer Education Plan


Stan Jones, Indiana’s longtime commissioner for higher education, was the Indiana Chamber’s 2009 Government Leader of the Year (BizVoice story here). Jamie Merisotis is president of the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation for Education. The two teamed last Friday to deliver a clear message to the Obama administration: get newly appropriated funds to community colleges that do a good job taking displaced workers, helping them earn a needed certificate in a timely manner and putting those people back in the workforce.

Inside Higher Ed has an in-depth report on their proposal. Here are some key excerpts:

While Merisotis and Jones did not set a time limit, they generally praised as models programs that take a year, maximum, to finish – quite a contrast from the two-year norm for many associate degrees – assuming students enroll full time. If anything, the model Merisotis believes community colleges around the country should emulate is a rather old idea – that of a traditional vocational school.

In a handful of states – Ohio, New York, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin – there are technical institutions separate from community colleges. In Tennessee, for instance, 13 community colleges offer associate degree programs, whereas 27 “technical centers” offer only one-year certificate programs in high-demand fields. These institutions, like for-profit trade institutions, focus on getting students a credential and getting them out out in a short period of time.

Jones: "There’s nothing wrong with directed choice. … I call it kind of back to the future. They didn’t invent this yesterday; They’ve been doing this [in Tennessee] for 20 years. Some of the rest of us kind of discovered it – that they were on the right track for 20 years. Block scheduled, cohort-based, integrated – it’s highly effective.”

Jones and Merisotis believe the government should encourage the development of short-term, quick-hit programs like this at community colleges around the country with the $2 billion Community College and Career Training Grant program, which passed as part of the health care/student loan reconciliation bill earlier this year.

Additionally, Jones and Merisotis say that Congress should extend unemployment benefits so that anyone receiving them can attend college, as long as they are enrolled full-time in a one- or two-year degree program. Finally, they suggest that the government create a new program of “education stipends” to offset the tuition and living costs of going to college, essentially making the completion of a program the “job” of the recipient.