Community college teachers, students, and administrators have been buoyed by Obama's continued focus on these historically under-appreciated institutions of higher education. Obama believes that community colleges must play a key role in helping America to recover from the recession and to regain its place as an educational leader in the developed world.
Obama's Ongoing Support for Community Colleges
When Obama and his vice president Joe Biden were sworn into office, community college administrators were hopeful that their institutions would finally receive more support from the federal government. Joe Biden's wife, Jill, is a professor at Northern Virginia Community College, and she called community colleges one of America's "best-kept secrets" at a speech in July.
The Importance of Community Colleges
Community colleges seem naturally appealing to Obama, as they are institutions where the desire to succeed is all that is necessary to take steps towards a better life. In a speech that he gave at New York's Hudson Valley Community College in September 2009, Obama rhapsodized about community college as places where "people of all ages and backgrounds, even in the face of obstacles, even in the face of very difficult personal challenges, can take a chance on a brighter future for themselves and their family."
The American Graduate Initiative
Obama's support for community college has extended beyond supportive words and symbolic visits. His American Graduate Initiative, which he unveiled at a visit to a community college in July 2009, shows that he intends to provide real financial support to community colleges and their students.
The plan, according to a White House press release, promises to:
- Modernize community college facilities. Obama proposes a $2.5 billion fund to support community colleges in revamping outdated facilities and expanding classroom space to meet the needs of their growing student populations.
- Fund efforts to build partnerships between schools and local businesses.
- Launch a national research center devoted to studying which community colleges are most effective in helping students learn, graduate, and secure employment.
- Finance programs aimed at increasing community college graduation rates.
- Support states in improving alignment between high schools, community colleges, and four-year colleges so that students can more easily navigate their states' education systems.
- Create a new database of online courses that would be developed by "teams of experts in content knowledge, pedagogy, and technology" and that would enable students everywhere to gain knowledge and possibly earn academic credit or credentials.
Potential for Much-Needed Reform
Obama's announcement of such wide-ranging support for community colleges were met with approbation from many who believe the current community college system needs to be doing more to help students succeed.
Education policy experts everywhere appear hopeful that the plan could spur real and lasting change in the way community colleges work, helping more students benefit from the educational opportunities these colleges have to offer. David Brooks, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times, noted with approval that Obama's plan will has the potential "to spur a wave of innovation." Such innovation, especially at the community college level, could play a key role in helping America to emerge stronger from these difficult economic times.