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Appalachian Higher Education Network Meeting Summaries



November 2015
The Appalachian Higher Education (AHE) Network, a peer learning network among higher education access and resource centers in Appalachia, held its 2015 annual fall meeting November 18–20 at Shawnee State University (SSU) in Portsmouth, Ohio. AHE Network member and SSU Dean of University College Brenda Haas hosted the meeting, From Postsecondary Access to Postsecondary Success. She described how SSU uses monthly meetings with its feeder high schools to share data that will help strengthen and focus K-12–higher education partnerships.

SSU President Rick Kurtz identified the major challenges facing the university: population loss and changing demographics; students unprepared for college-level work; and the need to think about college access in different ways. Kurtz reported that he and SSU faculty are thinking strategically about what it means to be an open institution with a focus on retention and completion, and on advisory strategies that will keep students on task to graduate. Sarah Beasley, director of retention at Concord University in Athens, West Virginia, then addressed the question of what high schools and colleges should be doing to promote persistence and retention. She noted that research has identified certain characteristics about rural students that impact their educational futures, including that they are likely to live in an area without a college and to have parents who did not attend college. She highlighted other factors that also have an effect, including family attachment, individual concerns such as a lack of confidence in ability, and negative stereotypes about Appalachia. Families, Beasley noted, are the key factor. She encouraged high schools and colleges to work together to share student performance information, align curricula, and provide parental encouragement and support.

A visit to Northwest High School let network members learn about some approaches the school is using to build a culture focused on postsecondary education preparation, persistence, and retention. For example, after conducting a curriculum review, Northwest established a policy that students had to remain in Algebra 1 until they passed. Second, a large bulletin board in the hallway identifies where students are applying to college and where they have been accepted; the school found that once names were posted on the board, the number of college applications soared. Next, Northwest has built a team, in partnership with SSU, to credential instructors who can teach dual credit courses and work in a flipped classroom. Additionally, SSU financial aid staff come to the high school every Saturday in February to provide guidance and are also piloting a math ACT course. Finally, Northwest has ongoing discussions about career and schooling options for students not interested in going to college. A highlight of the Northwest visit was a presentation by senior Whitney Jenkins, who developed STEM 4 KIDZ, a program held in partnership with SSU that introduces Scioto County youth in grades K–5 to science.

A discussion with J.R. Roush, director of College Credit+ at Southern State Community College, reminded AHE Network members that success means something different to every student and therefore should not be pre-defined. He identified the advantages of dual-credit courses for rural high school students, as well as issues in rural America with teacher credentials and course location.

The meeting concluded with a discussion of the recent report Appalachia Rising, in which coauthors Patricia Kannapel and Michael Flory focused on the finding that high school graduation rates in middle Appalachia exceed the national average while overall educational attainment lags behind that of the rest of the nation. Open discussion among AHE Network members and area education stakeholders (such as school superintendents and principals, college faculty and staff, career and technical institution staff, and students enrolled at SSU) encouraged participants to engage in conversation on changing the narrative about postsecondary educational attainment in Appalachia.


June 2014
The Appalachian Higher Education Network held its first region-wide conference, "Increasing Postsecondary Education Attainment in Appalachia: Promising Practices/Enduring Challenges," June 10–12, 2014, in Asheville, North Carolina. Attended by teachers, principals, higher-education faculty and staff, workforce developers, and community organizers from the 13 Appalachian states, the conference served as a forum for learning about successful practices used in Appalachia's elementary and secondary schools, two- and four-year colleges, and workforce agencies, as well as in communities at large, to promote postsecondary education access and success.

The conference's opening event on June 10 was held in collaboration with the Community Colleges of Appalachia to help connect people and organizations in Appalachia working on postsecondary education attainment issues. At the event, American Association of Community Colleges President Walter Bumphus discussed current trends and key issues for community colleges, including accountability, and highlighted a new initiative focused on identifying best practices for connecting community colleges with high schools. Conference events that day also included a training session on how to develop, strengthen, and maintain partnerships, conducted by Tamara Thompson, founder and CEO of Mockingbird Education, an organization focused on working with low-socioeconomic and marginalized learning populations.

On June 11, Dennis Bega, director of regional operations in the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Communications and Outreach, facilitated a plenary discussion on the importance of connecting education, workforce development, and economic development. On June 12, Rural School and Community Trust Executive Director Doris Terry Williams gave the day's opening presentation, examining the importance of place in rural America and identifying leadership challenges to be addressed in rural schools and communities.

The conference's concurrent sessions focused on effective practices in promoting college going, progress, and success, and featured a presentation from U.S. Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid outreach staffer Maisha Challenger, who provided the latest information on the free application for federal student aid (FAFSA).

Key conference activities also included a series of small-group sessions that gave participants an opportunity to network with colleagues and hear from them about their achievements in promoting postsecondary education access and success. Information on the sessions, including associated presentations and handouts, is available on the Appalachian Higher Education Network's Web site.


April 2014
The Appalachian Higher Education Network convened its 2014 annual spring meeting April 27–30 in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the Institute for Educational Leadership's 2014 Washington Policy Seminar. Meeting sessions explored the theme "The Challenges of Ensuring Educational Equity and Excellence" and what is needed to provide a quality education for all children. On April 27, members of the U.S. Department of Education's Equity and Excellence Commission provided an overview of its February 2013 report For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence and discussed recommendations on how to address inequities in educational opportunity that lead to achievement gaps. On April 28, Population Reference Bureau Vice President of U.S. Programs Linda Jacobsen discussed demographic research on the living and educational conditions of children in the United States.

Noted scholar and University of Oregon College of Education Presidential Chair Yong Zhao gave the Institute for Educational Leadership's annual Jacqueline P. Danzberger Memorial Lecture on April 28. Entitled "Fatal Attraction: America's Suicidal Quest for Educational Excellence," the lecture examined challenges in the country's current education reform efforts.

Network members visited with their state's congressional representatives on April 29 to provide information on how their programs are increasing postsecondary education participation and completion. Other spring meeting events included a discussion with Shonda Goward, founder of First Generation University, on strategies for helping first-generation college students graduate, and a presentation from Doris Terry Williams, executive director of the Rural School and Community Trust, on leadership challenges in rural schools.


April 2013
Held April 21–24 in Washington, D.C., the Appalachian Higher Education (AHE) Network's spring 2013 meeting focused on topics including the current federal education policy environment, approaches to strengthening the network, and building relationships with economic development agencies. Network meeting participants joined the Institute for Educational Leadership's 2013 Washington Policy Seminar on April 22 to learn about the current policy-making environment in Washington and to explore the changing education governance landscape and its implications for both school reform and for education in support of democracy. Participants also attended the seminar's sessions on the prominent education issues of digital learning, federal innovation, expanded learning opportunities, teacher quality, and postsecondary education persistence strategies.

The AHE Network meeting sessions included an overview of federal grant opportunities available from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, the Federal TRIO Programs, and other U.S. Department of Education grant programs. On April 24, meeting participants attended a presentation (PDF: 272 KB) by Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, who stressed the connections between secondary and postsecondary education and affirmed the value of the AHE Network's efforts to partner with economic development agencies. He discussed his research on the employment implications for higher-education graduates of not only the academic degree they earn but also of their field of study, noting that in the current economy, STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) postsecondary-degree holders find employment much more easily than those with a liberal arts degree. The shift in the skills required of workers today, he said, has significant implications for students' decisions about the field of study they choose and requires that counselors and other school-based staff have knowledge of education and labor markets.

AHE Network members also began the process of developing a strategic plan at the April meeting. Members agreed that the network's mission is to increase postsecondary education attainment in Appalachia. At the summer 2013 meeting, to be held in conjunction with the Community Colleges of Appalachia's annual meeting, members will continue refining the strategic plan and will work to define the network's goals as part of that process.

The public is invited to follow AHE Network activities and discussions on Twitter at @AppalachianNetw.


July 2012
The Appalachian Higher Education (AHE) Network's 2012 summer meeting, held July 17–19 in Charleston, West Virginia, was hosted by the West Virginia Access Center for Higher Education at Bluefield State College. With the theme "The State of AHE Network Programs," the meeting was designed to help AHE Network program directors understand how their work fits with and contributes to state college-going efforts. It provided an overview of the pre-K–12 and higher education approaches to supporting college-going in West Virginia; identified national trends impacting college-going; and updated the status of programs in the AHE Network.

The meeting speakers included West Virginia State Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple, who spoke on college-going strategies in the state. Noting the long-lasting effects of poverty, Marple affirmed that "education needs to be about the whole child." She shared information on her three key goals for improving education in West Virginia: 1) Know: Expand the curriculum rather than cut it; 2) Behave: Teach and cultivate good citizenship and wellness behaviors; and 3) Accomplish: Identify and address learning needs. Marple's office is working on policy revisions in support of these three goals.

Two staff members of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission—Adam Green, senior director of student success and P-20 initiatives, and Sara Tucker, director of planning and research—identified key strategies the commission is using to help increase postsecondary education attainment. These include development of the Web portal College Foundation of West Virginia (www.cfwv.com), which provides one-stop shopping for college and career planning. Green and Tucker reported that the commission's recent environmental scan of college-access providers identified gaps in service and the need to strengthen school counselors' preparation.

College Board director of state policy and strategy Dane Linn noted that across the nation, higher education institutions are being challenged by the huge focus on the workforce, competition for fewer resources, and increasing numbers and diversity of students. He stated that higher education institutions need to work to "reclaim the agenda" and identified several trends that complicate this goal, including increased expectations of institutions but reduced capacity, and an increasing focus on outputs and outcomes.

The meeting's business discussions focused on center-specific sustainability progress and the identification of other college-going programs serving schools in Appalachia; on a process for identifying and codifying best practices; and on exploration of the results of a recent AHE Network survey to inform development of a sharper picture of the network and its programs.


April 2012
The Appalachian Higher Education (AHE) Network's 2012 annual meeting was held April 22–25 in Washington, D.C. Participants attended sessions on topics aimed at helping strengthen network members' efforts to increase postsecondary education attainment; explored national education policy by participating in the Institute for Educational Leadership's 2012 Washington Policy Seminar; and visited their state's congressional delegation on Capitol Hill.

A U.S. Department of Education (ED) briefing introduced participants to ED's rural priorities and resources. John White, deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach; Maisha Challenger, awareness and outreach specialist in the Office of Federal Student Aid; and Ben Miller, policy advisor with the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, identified resources, described competitive and formula grant programs, and provided Web site and contact information for ED staff. They also discussed a new database providing information on the number of students at individual high schools who complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). (Students who complete the FAFSA are more likely to pursue postsecondary education.)

AHE Network–specific sessions included training by the Foundation Center on applying for funding from corporations and foundations. The trainer introduced two Web-based services offered by the center: grantspace.org, a free resource including examples of winning proposals, and a subscription-based online database of funding sources. In addition, participants reported on the progress made in establishing program connections with economic development organizations, identifying additional funding sources, and addressing the overall challenges of sustainability.

The Washington Policy Seminar sessions immersed participants in education policy by exploring challenges related to reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the disagreements about the recent No Child Left Behind waiver process. Marc Tucker, president and CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy, spoke on lessons that can be learned from nations with the best education systems, including their emphasis on placing teacher quality at the core of education reform agendas.

Following the policy discussions, participants visited with congressional members and staff to share information on work serving their constituents.

Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland–Baltimore County, closed the meeting by sharing strategies that work in raising the education achievement gap and serving disadvantaged students.


April 2011
The Appalachian Higher Education (AHE) Network held its 2011 annual spring meeting April 3–6 in Washington, D.C. Participants attended sessions focused on rural programming in support of postsecondary education access and success, and joined sessions of the Institute for Educational Leadership's 2011 Washington Policy Seminar (WPS) to explore education policy making at the federal and national levels.

The meeting began with a session with Maria Kefalas, professor of sociology at Saint Joseph's University and co-author of Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America. Kefalas described the study and led a discussion on its implications for the AHE Network's programs.

In sessions focused on the network, each of the eight AHE Network center directors discussed sustainability challenges, with a focus on the development of business plans, annual reports, newsletters, brochures, and Web sites. They reported on their efforts to generate support for their programs through grant proposal writing, relationship building with potential donors and other stakeholders, and collection and analysis of data to demonstrate program effectiveness. In addition, they highlighted activities of their states' Principals Networks, which support the professional development of school principals in Appalachia.

The WPS sessions attended by the AHE Network members examined the actors, institutions, and forces influencing federal education policy making and featured speakers from a range of viewpoints. Representatives from the administration, congressional committees, and a lobbying firm provided insight into the likely timing and shape of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, provided an insider's view of Washington legislative processes, highlighting Congress's current efforts to reach consensus. Center directors spent the following day on Capitol Hill meeting with their state's congressional delegation and/or staff.

The meeting closed with a lecture by Freeman Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland–Baltimore County, on the leadership necessary to ensure a quality education for all of Appalachia's youth.