SUNY Chancellor, 21st Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges Release Report

April 23, 2012

Orlando – State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher joined colleagues from across the country this weekend for the release of Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future, a report by the 21st Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges.

Chancellor Zimpher was one of 36 individuals in the country appointed to the commission last year by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). The commission is comprised of individuals who represent a broad array of constituencies and expertise from education, business, policy, and communications.

“SUNY and its 30 community colleges, which serve more than a quarter of a million students annually, are an essential resource for higher education and economic development in New York State, just as community colleges are to states across the nation,” said Chancellor Zimpher. “It was an honor to serve as a member of the commission and I am confident that the product of our work will serve the country well as it guides community college development in the future.”

Since its formation in July 2011, the commission has examined the opportunities and challenges confronting the nation's largest and fastest growing higher education sector, and produced the report released this weekend at AACC’s annual meeting in Orlando, Florida. The meeting attracted more than 2,000 community college presidents and administrators as well as international educators, representatives of business/industry and federal agencies from across the country.

Community colleges currently enroll close to half of all U.S. undergraduates, according to AACC. The ratio is even greater at SUNY, where more than half (246,000) of the system’s students are enrolled at 30 community colleges.

“The impact that community colleges have on economic development cannot be overstated,” said Chancellor Zimpher. “By 2018, nearly two-thirds of the jobs in this country will require a postsecondary degree, and right now, we are under producing the college graduates needed to fill this capacity. The better educated our nation becomes, the stronger our economy will be, and community colleges can and should play a leadership role as we improve.”

The report calls on community colleges to “reimagine their purposes and practices in order to meet the demands of the future, optimizing results for individuals, communities, and the nation.” The commission makes seven recommendations, which support a vision for the future of community colleges that is grounded in “the three Rs” – Redesign Students Educational Experiences, Reinvent Institutional Roles, and Reset the System, as follows:

Redesign Students Educational Experiences

  1. Increase completion rates of students earning community college certificates and degree by 50% by 2020
  2. By 2020, reduce by half the number of students entering college unprepared for college-level work, and double the number of students who complete developmental education programs and progress to successful completion of freshmen-level courses
  3. Close the American skills gap by focusing on student preparedness for existing and future jobs in regional and global economies

Reinvent Institutional Roles

  1. Refocus the community college mission and redefine its roles to meet 21st century education and employment needs
  2. Invest in support structures to promote collaboration among multiple colleges, and partners in philanthropy, government, and the private sector

Reset the System

  1. Strategically target public and private investments to create incentives for colleges and students to support efforts to reclaim the American dream
  2. Implement policies and practices that promote rigor, transparency, and accountability for results in community colleges

AACC will now convene a nationwide implementation team to move the recommendations of Reclaiming the American Dream forward. The team will include several members of the original commission, as well as representation from SUNY by Senior Vice Chancellor for Community Colleges and the Education Pipeline Johanna Duncan-Poitier, Broome Community College President Kevin E. Drumm, and Suffolk County Community College President Shaun L. McKay.

This 21st Century Commission marked the third such effort to realign the community college mission to reflect national needs and changing times. 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.

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, with 64 college and university campuses located within 30 miles of every home, school, and business in the state. As of Fall 2018, more than 424,000 students were enrolled in a degree program at a SUNY campus. In total, SUNY served 1.4 million students in credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs in the 2017-18 academic year. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Its students and faculty make significant contributions to research and discovery, contributing to a $1.6 billion research portfolio. There are 3 million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunity, visit

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