Community colleges are being hailed as the saviors of the future of America's economic and academic stronghold. However, these institutions still fight against a slew of challenges, including drop-out rates of nearly 50% and an overall perception that a community college education is less valuable than a degree from a four-year university. President Obama, along with Dr. Jill Biden, have attempted to at least address some of those challenges in the first-ever community college summit held at the White House this month.
Purpose of the Summit
This community college summit was scheduled to meet a very specific purpose, according to information found at WhiteHouse.gov. President Obama organized the gathering to bring experts together to discuss the role community colleges will play in training a competent workforce for the future. Community colleges are also imperative to help President Obama successfully reach his lofty goal of leading the world with the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.
This website states that community colleges provide the largest portion of higher education in this country, with an enrollment of more than eight million students during the last academic year. Statistics support the fact that these institutions are in a prime position to raise the bar on workforce training in this country overall.
Dr. Jill Biden, who has taught in community colleges for 17 years, understands this concept better than anyone. That is exactly why President Obama appointed Dr. Biden to oversee the summit to determine how community colleges can become the best institutes of higher education they can be.
Benefits of Community Colleges
According to the College Bound Network, community colleges offer unique advantages over their four-year counterparts, including:
- A more affordable education allows many more high school graduates to take advantage of the opportunities college can provide.
- These institutions educate about 40% of the entire student population in the higher education realm.
- Additional funds earmarked by the Obama administration may be used to bring even more students into community colleges and provide a higher quality of education overall.
There is little doubt that community colleges have the ability to become a significant factor in the future success of our country. The summit at the White House merely served to draw the attention to community colleges that they deserve, as well as brainstorm possible solutions for some of the challenges these institutions of higher education face today.
Results of the Summit
During the summit, the administration revealed three new initiatives to promote cooperation between community colleges, businesses and non-profit organizations, according to a report on Education Week:
- Skills for America's Future – An initiative to promote industry partnerships with community colleges, which is backed by large companies like McDonalds, Gap, Inc. and Accenture
- A $34.8 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation earmarked for community colleges that are willing to provide innovative solutions to make schools more responsive to the needs of their students
- A $1 million Aspen Institute prize for the community college that demonstrates excellence in higher education, with one prize per year awarded beginning next fall
In addition, the summit touched on the need to integrate high school preparedness with community college success. Discussion topics included dual enrollment and early skills assessment in high schools so students are better prepared for the rigors of higher education.
Richard Kazis, the senior vice president for Jobs for the Future, told Education Week, "There was a huge amount of energy for, and specific suggestions about, ways for community colleges to work more closely with K-12 so you have fewer students coming to community college needing remediation."
Educators were excited about the prospect of bringing community colleges to the forefront of the education discussion in this country. J. Noah Brown, the president and chief executive officer of the Association of Community College Trustees, said the idea of community colleges playing a significant role in the economic stability of this country is an exciting one indeed.
"This administration has put us in the spotlight like none other – I can't overstate the importance of this," Brown told Education Week. "The rest is up to us. Shame on us if we don't get something done after today."
While the summit was mostly symbolic in purpose, the focus on community colleges will not soon be forgotten. With a goal of graduating more than 5 million students from community colleges over the next 10 years, these institutions of higher education are expected to continue to play a significant role in the educational and economic success of this country.