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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Spot Light On Community Colleges

Dr. Jill Biden Holds First-Ever Summit on Community Colleges

All Administration hands on board: Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis (standing) joins Dr. Jill Biden (right) and Melody Barnes,
Domestic Policy Adviser and the Director of the Domestic Policy Council, at the White House Summit on Community Colleges. Photo/CD Brown.
Dr. Jill Biden, a teacher for nearly three decades, has taught for 17 years at a community college.  She currently teaches at Northern Virginia Community College, and is a champion for community colleges. 

"Community colleges are the way to the future", Dr. Biden explained.

Seen by some as "baby colleges" by some, the first-ever White House Summit on community colleges focused on bringing together businesses and community colleges and improving partnerships between them.

Dr. Biden was asked by the president last year to help promote community colleges.

"For more and more people, community colleges are the way to the future", said Biden.  "They’re giving real opportunity to students who otherwise wouldn’t have it.  They’re giving hope to families who thought the American Dream was slipping away.  They are equipping Americans with the skills and expertise that are relevant to the emerging jobs of the future.  They’re opening doors for the middle class at a time when the middle class has seen so many doors close to them."

Many community colleges serve non-traditional students, a fast growing demographic that includes older students, students returning to college, students with families of their own, and students who work full-time.

Those participating in the White House community colleges summit included an 82 year old who recent college graduate.

The President's Initiative
"Community colleges are critical if we're going to train our workforce and meet the president's goal.” - White House Domestic Policy Adviser, Melody Barnes
America has been lagging behind other countries in education and currently ranks 13th behind countries like China. The president has set a goal to lead the world in producing college graduates by the year 2020.
President Obama president believes that goal is attainable and charges community colleges with helping to reach community colleges.

"And I believe community colleges will play a huge part in meeting this goal, by producing an additional 5 million degrees and certificates in the next 10 years", said Obama.

Adding that community colleges "aren’t just the key to the future of their students, they’re also one of the keys to the future of our country, the president emphasized that "we are in a global competition to lead in the growth industries of the 21st century. And that leadership depends on a well-educated, highly skilled workforce."

On March 30, 2010, the president signed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, which provided $2 billion over four years to fund the Community College and Career Training initiative.

"We know, for example, that in the coming years, jobs requiring at least an associate’s degree are going to grow twice as fast as jobs that don’t require college. We will not fill those jobs or keep those jobs on our shores without community colleges", said Obama.
"They’re giving real opportunity to students who otherwise wouldn’t have it. They’re giving hope to families who thought the American Dream was slipping away.  They are equipping Americans with the skills and expertise that are relevant to the emerging jobs of the future.  They’re opening doors for the middle class at a time when the middle class has seen so many doors close to them."

Melinda Gates, (of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), involved with students from K-12 for ten years said, "About two years ago, we looked at education and where else we would go? We looked at a host of things, and Bill and I just came back to the fact that education is the great equalizer in this country.  We asked, 'How can we not look at the community college system?”

The Foundation has announced its Completion by Design, a competitive grant program is a $35 million investment over five years to 3-5 multi-campus groups of community colleges in nine states serving the largest populations of low-income students that includes Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, New York, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington.

Educational spending in the U.S.
America ranks 4th in secondary education spending, behind European countries, spending just $10, 821 dollars a year, according to an OECD report.

America ranks 4th in secondary education spending, according to OECD report.
The Obama Administration, along with the Department of Labor, in close cooperation with the Department of Education, will award approximately $500 million to community colleges over the coming year to help increase completion of degrees, certificates, and other industry-recognized credentials.

What People Are Saying
Breakout discussion sessions on the day included topics like Pathways to Baccalaureate, Increasing Community College Completion, Obtaining Financial Aid, The Importance of Community Colleges to Veterans and Military Families, Community Colleges in the 21st Century, Industry Partnerships.

We interviewed a few participants to get their thoughts on the President's and Dr. Biden's community colleges initiative.

"I think the President is absolutely right on target today to focus on what needs to be done in community college sector", said Jack Quinn, president of Erie Community College in Buffalo, NY. Quinn said he was "very encouraged."

"This was the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people to bring this to the national fold", said Noah Brown, President and CEO of the Association of Community College Trustees.   "And we're excited and we're committed to doing the heavy lifting that is required to really make sure these institutions are resourced and recognized, and that they can do the work that they are able to do on behalf of the nation."

When we asked Brown what he thought about the focus being put on community colleges right now he said, "I think it's fabulous."

"If you look at all the economic trends in this country, particularly income trends and what we need to do, we need to start making sure we make the types of investments necessary to really rebuild the educational and workforce infrastructure in this country", Brown explained.

For Brown, the summit had an even more appeal. "For me it's really about a standard of living and maintaining it in the future", said Brown.  "The only way to do that is invest in on-the-ground education with the people who do the work in this country."

Brown, who admits he did not attend a community college himself, told us, "What's so gratifying is that I can  devote my intellectual energies and talents in a sector that helps people who did not have the privileges I had." 

The initiative of the Obama Administration seeks to bring together community colleges and businesses making it easier to connect students looking for jobs with businesses looking to hire.

The Today Show's financial analyst, Jean Chatzky (also not a graduate of did not attend a community college) said of the alliance, "I think it's terrific!  Particularly the new alliances with businesses that will help students in community colleges get the right coursework instilled that they need to get jobs to find employment as soon as they get out."

Ivy Tech Community College student Michael Rice couldn't agree more. 

"I think it's going to be a great initiative recognizing community colleges because community colleges provide opportunities for those who may not have had that opportunity otherwise", said Rice.

Rice, a nontraditional (he's a single father) sophomore majoring in Business, will graduate in May of 2011 and plans to transfer to Indiana University afterwards.

Ivy Tech president Tom Snyder, said Rice was the perfect example of what the president is trying to do, and called the initiative "an important step for the country, that's long over due."

"Seven million students, five million for industry training, it's critical."

Watch video of the significance community colleges play in  America.

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