Monday, September 5, 2011

Reinvention: Local Case of the National Scheme to Degrade Community Colleges

Back in early June, a significant piece of news was lost in the midst of all the commotion created by the naming of the new colleges’ presidents. On June 8, The Chicago Tribune reported about a group of Chicago business notables who were appointed to the board of President Obama’s Skills for America’s Future (SAF). ( SAF is part of a plan of the Obama administration to radically shift the focus of community colleges to perform direct training of students for an alleged abundant supply of “high-skills” manufacturing jobs that will materialize in the future. The Obama administration insists on calling this training higher education.

What is notable about these Chicago business notables is that half of them are part of the “Civic Leaders” who are the real directors (as in who really chooses the priorities) of the Reinvention. By picking these folks for his SAF board Obama has confirmed (as if we needed more confirmation) that Chicago is the laboratory for his administration’s schemes regarding education, and other critical social and labor issues.
The transformation of Community Colleges into the servants of industry
The SAF is really the brainchild of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). According to My San (, during a speech at the Northern Virginia Community College “Obama announced Wednesday [June 8, 2011] that the National Association of Manufacturers will help 500,000 students get post-secondary certificates in the next five years to help them find work in the manufacturing sector.” (emphasis ours.) Notice how the terms switch to post-secondary education, which is acquiring the meaning of anything you do after obtaining your high school diploma, and not necessarily higher education, which is traditionally associated with the completion of bachelor’s and graduate degrees.
Furthermore, on June 30th, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) announced the formation of the 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges ( According to PRNewswire, this is only the third time in the 110-year history of community colleges that their mission has been reevaluated with the intention of radically changing its direction. The previous two times were when,
“the Truman Commission (1947) challenged higher education to provide universal access based on its belief that then-junior colleges could broaden and further democratize their mission by becoming community colleges. Four decades later, the AACC Futures Commission (1988) set forward a reform agenda designed to strengthen the comprehensive mission the Truman Commission originally proposed.”
Thus in 1947, and then with increased emphasis in 1988 the community colleges mission was transformed to increase the accessibility of students to (democratize) higher education. The objectives of this third change in mission of the community colleges reverts these longstanding goals. It attempts to redirect the goals of the student body to narrowly tailored job skills to fit within the schemes of what remains in the U.S. of the manufacturing industry. PRNewswire reported that
“Over the next 10 months, the 21st-Century Commission will meet in person and virtually to examine the community college mission in light of current economic realities. President Obama has challenged community colleges to educate an additional 5 million students with degrees, certificates or other credentials by 2020.”
And that AACC President Walter G. Bumphus said “We do not intend to be timid or superficial in confronting the hard choices and need for innovative thinking our leaders face in the coming decades…”
The hard choices are the restructuring of the traditional mission of the community colleges into one that redirects students away from higher education into job training programs. The reader doesn’t need to take our word for it. The June 6th, 2011 issue of the Wall Street Journal ( transparently describes NAM’s agenda:
“The National Association of Manufacturers is leading a drive, partly funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation [that selfless Reinvention “partner”], to establish standardized curricula at community colleges across the U.S. with the goal of preparing students to qualify for certification in industrial skills ranging from welding to cutting metal and plastics. The association isn't pushing for an end to liberal-arts education, but has said bright students should be encouraged to consider alternatives that lead directly to jobs.(emphasis ours)
The business-oriented model infecting all of Higher Education
One could consider Obama’s and his business partners’ plans for community colleges ominous enough. However, this destruction of the humanistic and humane values and priorities of education is battling its way into four-year colleges and universities. For example, the flagship institution of higher education in Texas, the University of Texas at Austin (UTA) is under direct attack by Gov. Rick Perry. Perry wants to subject UTA and other Texas state universities to a business regime in which all aspects of education are treated as commodities or business costs. In an article titled “U. of Texas Adopts Plan to Publish Performance Data on Professors and Campuses,” The Chronicle of Higher Education describes the following (
1. “The plan unveiled on Thursday designates money to create a "dashboard"—an interactive, online database—to give students, parents, and legislators access to detailed measures of departments' and colleges' productivity and efficiency. Data on individual professors will probably also be included.
2. Florida's governor, Rick Scott, recently expressed support for Governor Perry's push for a more business-oriented model of higher education that would require more emphasis on faculty productivity.” (emphasis ours)
Just like our Reinvention mavericks, the proponents of the plan claim that the process is “data driven.” So in which direction will the masters of Reinvention take us? Well, on the first day of the District Faculty Development Week, Chancellor Hyman derided the critics of Reinvention by saying that we are claiming that she wants to turn the City Colleges into trade schools. For the record, she was taking pot shots at a straw man. PEARL has never, nor has any other serious critic, made this claim. Even in the NAM statement quoted above, the NAM officers don’t dare to declare the end of liberal arts education. It is the tiers of students that will be generated (some will move on to four year schools, while many others will be herded into job training schemes), the amount of funding that will be diverted and the demotion of the city colleges’ mission that is worrisome and unfair.
To claim that a welding certificate is the equivalent of a higher education degree is not only dishonest, but very harmful to our communities. There is nothing wrong with getting trained in the trades. These are honorable jobs. These are indeed important jobs in our society that have been decimated by the greedy rush of corporations to outsource manufacturing to countries whose governments were happy to oversee cheap-labor, poor-regulation business practices. But there is a historical path to access this training that has for the most part remained outside the purview and priorities of community colleges since the 1947 Truman Commission proceeded to expand liberal education after WWII.
Furthermore, there is one key aspect that is frequently ignored in this race to please businesses’ demands. That is the attempt by corporations to transfer of the cost of training their own workers, which industry has always undertaken, and placing it on the shoulders of public education institutions and of the students themselves. Now corporations do not want to pay to train their own workers, the way they refuse to pay taxes. Remember the revelations in the past year that huge and very rich corporations like GE and Bank of America do not pay federal taxes, or that two thirds of corporations in Illinois pay no state taxes at all, as acknowledged by members of the Illinois state legislature during the summer. The catering to the rich corporations and the establishment of a full-blown business model in the administration of public higher education institutions has become the current mantra among education bureaucrats and politicians. And under the heavy burden of high unemployment rates, it is being used as a form of blackmail under the pretext of job creation while at the end of the day what will be mostly created are increasing fortunes that the corporations will take laughing all the way to the bank.
What is the hidden truth about Reinvention that they are afraid to tell?
How far will the CCC administration go down the path of making the City Colleges subservient to the short term interests of corporations is something that they have not been willing to be candid about with the public. Well, the first and foremost goal of Reinvention comes to mind: the generation of “degrees” with “economic value.” Add this to the whining of the Chancellor during her address at the Faculty Development Week alluded to above, regarding the CCC being turned into trade schools (whose inconsistencies we also set straight above), and combine it with the email, reproduced below, that was sent by the “Reinvention Team” (???) to all faculty members just 11 days before the Chancellor’s remarks, and the fishy smell begins to feel like if you live next to a tuna factory:
July 29, 2011
Dear Faculty Members:

As part of Reinvention, we have researched some of our occupational programs; we are trying to understand how successful our students will be after they complete our programs.  We, specifically our task force members, have done early research through interviews with some of you, industry groups, and employers.  Some of you may have seen the early work of the task force, but you will be hearing much more in the coming weeks and months.

We conducted these early analyses in five major areas:
1. Computer Science
2. Child Development
3. Manufacturing
4. Health Care Practioners
5. Health Care Technicians

There is a great deal of work yet to be completed: we want to work with you to discuss and vet our findings to date, to develop the underlying credentials and courses and to get them approved by the faculty councils and by ICCB. 

We would like your help!  Now that we have this initial information collected, we are looking for volunteers to help us complete the work above.  We believe that we will not be successful in the work above unless it is led by faculty.

Some of the qualities we think will be important for the individuals leading the efforts above include:
* Expertise in the subject matter and with curriculum and program development
* Familiarity with relevant industrial certification/licensing processes
* Strong relationships with industry/employers, associations, and community based organizations in related fields
* Familiarity with clinical/internship opportunities for students
* Understanding of job market trends
* Willingness to learn/experience with use of economic and job market data
* Familiarity with any relevant government regulations

Please let us know if you are interested by emailing by 8/4/11 and indicating your area of interest from the five listed above. 

Thank you so much for your help.  We are looking forward to working with you!

The Reinvention Team (underlined emphasis ours)
The development of credentials and courses, especially as concerned with the major emphasis on manufacturing and job market trends is very revealing. Also the role of the Illinois Community Colleges Board (ICCB), whose approval will be required, is very significant. This is particularly true now that another of Arnie Duncan’s basketball buddies, the bankster Alexi Gioannoulias, has been appointed as the chairman of the ICCB ( Arnie was so ecstatic that the Sun Times quoted him as saying:
“I want to commend Gov. Quinn for choosing Alexi Giannoulias for this critically important job. Alexi is a passionate believer in public education, and I’m confident that his leadership will help the community colleges of Illinois do a better job of preparing young people to compete in the global economy.”
As you may remember, PEARL reported back on March 31st that Giannoulias was being considered by Emanuel to become the Chairman of the Board of the CCC. But in the end Giannoulias turned out to be more useful at the helm of the ICCB to guarantee that the “new credentials and courses,” especially those of “economic value” (i.e., narrowly designed job-training programs) are expediently approved by the ICCB, and to extend the Reinvention logic to the rest of the state’s community colleges.
So what are the new credentials (degrees, certificates) that will be created, and which existing ones will be sacrificed in the name of “economic value”?


  1. What else can we expect from a president who has allowed the ultra-rich to skip taxes? If he were really committed to education, he would have taken someone who truly understands pedagogy and social needs, like Bill Ayers, as Secretary of Education, instead of his basketball buddy. But Ayers was too controversial; and so was Rev. Jeremiah Wright. As Obama denied being a friend of those dangerous liaisons, he sided more and more with the Chicago Club and Wall Street, betraying every one of his campaign promises. I never expected that the institution where I teach would be turned into a trade school by the president I voted for. The result will be a nation of tea-partiers ignoramuses. Coffee anyone?

  2. Anonymous,

    Thank you for your comments. Through this blog we hope to promote yours and other comments, to have a spirited and candid discussion about the Reinvention, its driving forces, its consequences, and its beneficiaries. Are aspects of the Reinvention that are worthwhile? Yes, but our research indicates that the main thrust of the Reinvention is harmful to the students and their aspirations, and to the bulk of ordinary people that labor every day at the City Colleges of Chicago.