NCAN Conference Plenary Speakers Hit Many High Notes

October 21, 2015
By Bill DeBaun, Program Analyst

The featured speakers at the September 2015 NCAN conference in Orlando were an inspiring and informative bunch. From good news about fee waivers to advice on increasing student success in college, they engaged the 850 attendees and demonstrated the importance of putting the needs of students first.  

David Coleman, President of the College Board: "We don't need more tests, we need more opportunity," Mr. Coleman told the crowd. In significant news for low-income students, Mr. Coleman announced that the College Board will automatically give CSS Profile fee waivers to any students who qualify for SAT fee waivers, rather than making them fill out the entire Profile form to find out whether they qualify. Mr. Coleman also announced an expansion of the College Board’s new free SAT test preparation partnership with Khan Academy: A new app that allows students to take a practice, paper SAT test and have it scored for free simply by taking a photo of their answer sheet. The score report will also give students a personalized link to a Khan Academy account where they can get individualized help to improve their scores.

Alberto Carvalho, Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools: Mr. Carvalho made it clear that large urban districts can make significant progress in raising academic achievement for low-income, underserved students. He described Miami’s journey as “from the impossible to the inevitable” and noted that “if you wait for the right time to make systemic change, you will never get to it.” He emphasized the need to hire or retain leaders and teachers with the right set of skills, will, and belief to make change and provide rigorous learning opportunities to all students. 

Jamienne S. Studley, Deputy Under Secretary, U.S. Department of Education: Dr. Studley called NCAN a “trade association of saints,” noting that “saints are also activists for change.” She said, “No organization was a more steadfast supporter of, or saw more value in, the College Scorecard than NCAN” and its members. The Scorecard makes data about college graduation rates, costs, loan repayment, and other outcomes available to students so they can more easily compare college options. She highlighted the challenge of implementing the new prior-prior year FAFSA by October 2016 and cited cross-sector collaboration among nonprofit, state, and education organizations to find solutions to problems facing students. She also called on NCAN members to help students and their families to use the tools available to them and to serve more “post-traditional” students.

Dr. Felicia Williams, West Campus President, Valencia College: “The college is how the students experience us, not how we experience them,” Dr. Williams said. This vision plays into a number of strategies for student success at the central Florida institution serving nearly 60,000 students. Dr. Williams noted that students are more likely to be successful if they “feel safe, welcome, and acknowledged; are both challenged and supported academically; [and] have a plan for completion.” This belief is a change from what Dr. Williams sees as a history of institutions not taking responsibility for student success; instead, Valencia attempts to help students “break the code” so that students know what they need to succeed. 

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