April 28, 2009 | last updated November 30, 2011 11:03 pm

Glenn Cummings heads to D.C. with a notion to move adult ed and community colleges to the fore

Photo/Courtesy Glenn Cummings
Photo/Courtesy Glenn Cummings
Glenn Cummings introducing a then-Sen. Barack Obama at a rally in Portland, Sept. 25, 2007

Reader comments

From Patrick

Lots of success to Glenn.

While higher ed is a vital area we must as a nation first do something to imorove learning at the K-12 level as we are now in 25th place internationally in both math and reading scores at the HS level.

Get that right and we are well on the way to gettgng back on top.

From Ann Bonner

Best wishes to Glenn! The community college system and Adult Basic Education appear to have earned appropriate support because of the economy and because of our standing in comparison with the other educated nations of the world.

From George Ryan

Good luck to Glenn Cummings, we need a person that understands the issues affecting Vocational & Adult Education. Not all will be able to pursue a higher level college education, these individuals will need to attain a trade to give them selves the opportunity to later seek a higher level education. During this period of time when the ranks of the unemployed are swelling, we need to concentrate our training efforts toward re-educating and placing these potential employees back to work in their fields or the newer renewable energy fields.

From David J. Rosen

Transition to higher education for adults who lack strong basic skills -- because they have been out of school a long time, because they are immigrants who need to improve their English skills, or because they never acquired strong basic skills in high school -- is one of the most important challenges we face. Adult Education and Family Literacy, Title II of the Workforce Investment Act, needs to increase funding specifically for college preparation programs for adults. We have too few of these now to meet the need. It is great to know that someone who understands that priority is going to be working on it in the U.S. Department of Education.

Glenn Cummings, a Portland Democrat and former Maine Speaker of the House, heads to Washington, D.C., next week to join the Obama administration, pledging to do his best to restore the U.S. to the top 10 countries with an educated populace. Cummings will be a deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

Currently a dean of institutional advancement at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, Cummings, 48, told Mainebiz he still doesn't know exactly what his duties will be once he begins his new job, but based on conversations he's had with people in the administration, he thinks most of his work will focus on adult education.

Adult education, he says, is a central part of the Obama administration's goal to increase the number of Americans with college degrees. He cites the fact that the United States has slipped in prominence when it comes to educating its citizenry. For decades after World War II, the United States lead the world in the percentage of citizens with college degrees. Not anymore. "We've lost that," Cummings says. "We're not even in the top 10 anymore."

Getting back into the top 10 is doable, but Cummings says it involves more than getting more recent high school graduates to continue to college. "We can't get back in top 10 if we can't get high school students to college and retain them, but we also need to get adults back in the work force through education."

To do so is a big job, but Cummings has some ideas of where to start. Working with adults to return to college includes a host of unique considerations. Older students need fluid course schedules that accommodate working schedules and financial aid packages that can help students who need to support families -- Cummings suggests looking at federal Pell Grants to pay for living expenses -- and focusing more attention on giving older students credit for things they've already experienced.

Cummings will also bring a program launched in Maine in 2005 as a model to Washington. The Maine College Transitions Program, which involves working with adult education directors to funnel older students into higher education, has helped move 6,500 adult ed students onto higher education, he says. "I think that model could be replicated across the country."

Cummings, who started in education as a history and economics teacher at Gorham High School, was heavily involved in the education debate during his time in the Maine House. In 2002, as House Chair on the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, he sponsored the bill that transformed Maine's technical colleges into the Maine Community College System. That bill has helped increase enrollment at the state's seven community colleges by 63% over the past six years.

His pick for the federal job and his experience with Maine's community colleges perhaps carries more weight than it first appears. A week before Cummings was chosen for his post, President Obama chose Martha J. Kanter, chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District in California, to be under secretary of education, the department's No. 2 post. Cummings says it's the first time in history that the undersecretary of education has come from the community college sphere rather than the halls of the country's four-year colleges and universities.

"We've seen across the country a large number of people showing up at doors of community colleges," Cummings says.

That includes SMCC. In January, the community college anticipated a 3% increase in full-time equivalent students, Cummings says. What the school experienced was an 11% increase. "We've seen enormous demand," Cummings says.

He was an early supporter of President Obama during the Democratic primary and co-chaired Maine's Obama Finance Committee with local entrepreneur and real estate developer Robert Monks Jr.

Cummings holds advanced degrees in education and public administration from Brown University and Harvard University, and is currently completing a doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania.


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