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Obama Announces Historic Investment in Community Colleges

by Kevin Hart

Saying that America must once again lead the world in the percentage of citizens graduating from college, Pres. Obama laid out a plan this week to invest $12 billion in the nation’s community colleges to fund innovations and enrollment increases.

Obama announced his American Graduation Initiative Tuesday at Macomb Community College, located 15 miles north of Detroit in an area hit hard by the economic recession. Obama said his goal is for America’s community colleges to graduate an additional 5 million students by 2020, which is double current projections.

“Time and again, when we have placed our bet for the future on education, we have prospered as a result,” Obama said.

Obama said the $12 billion would be used to encourage community colleges to partner with businesses; to help community colleges retain students, many of whom start programs but never earn a degree or certificate; to renovate and rebuild classroom facilities; and to create an open-source clearinghouse of online courses community colleges can offer.

The Obama Administration plans to pay for the program by ending subsidies to private banks and lenders that offer student loans.

Community college funding is under strain nationwide as states look to shore up budget shortfalls. Obama said he hopes the additional federal funding will allow community colleges to begin to grow and offer innovative new programs to train American workers for the high-demand jobs of the future.

“Community colleges are an undervalued asset in our country,” Obama said. “Not only is that not right – it’s not smart.”

National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel praised Obama's commitment to community colleges.

“Community colleges serve a vital role by opening their doors to a wide range of students, including those looking to advance in their jobs or learn the skills they need to compete in a difficult job market," Van Roekel said. "Providing community colleges with adequate tools and resources will help open their doors even wider, expanding access to 21st century skills for millions of Americans. Increasing the number of students attending colleges, and providing additional opportunities, will create a stronger, more competitive workforce."

On the NEA Today Facebook page, educators from across the country shared several ideas on how best to invest in community colleges. Suggestions included keeping tuition affordable, providing childcare so lower-income parents would be able to attend classes, and hiring and retaining more full-time faculty.

Obama said he is tapping Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joseph Biden, to help promote and look for ways to strengthen community colleges. Dr. Biden been a college educator for 16 years and currently serves as an adjunct professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College.


Text of Pres. Obama's Speech on Community Colleges

Statement from NEA Pres. Dennis Van Roekel