Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Obama Kicks off White House Summit on Community Colleges, Introduces Building Skills for America's Future, Completion by Design Programs

Saying that community colleges “provide the gateway for millions to a better life,” President Barack Obama kicked off Tuesday’s White House Summit on Community Colleges by painting support for community colleges in economic terms, as other speakers described two new high-profile initiatives intended to help community colleges with completion and workforce development.

“We are in a global competition to lead in the growth industries of the 21st century. That depends on a highly skilled workforce,” Obama told an assembled group of leaders from community colleges, foundations, and a broad array of government agencies during an opening session at the White House.

Pointing to the American Graduation Initiative, which calls on community colleges to provide an additional 5 million students with certificates or degrees in the next decade, Obama said that additional federal support and financial aid for students “will help ensure that we lead the global economy, but only if we maintain the support.”

Obama announced the new Building Skills for America’s Future initiative, an effort to bolster community college industry partnerships and workforce development initiatives in partnership with the Aspen Institute.

“The private sector is eager and willing to help,” said Penny Pritzker, chairman/CEO of Pritzker Realty Group and a member of Obama’s economic advisory board. Already Accenture, Gap Inc., McDonald’s, PG&E and United Technologies have pledged to support the program, which will ensure that every state has at least one “high impact” partnership between a community college and industry. “We hope to spark a movement nationwide to spark the nation’s workforce,” Pritzker told attendees.

Melinda Gates introduced Completion by Design, a $35 million grant program announced Monday by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to “redesign every aspect of the college experience,” with an eye to sharing innovative practices, such as streamlining enrollment, speeding up remediation programs or simplifying the transfer process.

“The next step for community colleges is to put all the pieces of the puzzle together,” Gates said, stressing the potential of technology to create new hybrid learning opportunities. “We’re committed to community colleges as they do the hard work of changing so they can... disseminate the best ideas of what’s actually working.”

“Let’s get busy,” Obama said at the conclusion of his remarks. Breakout sessions currently underway are focusing on six areas: industry partnerships, college completion, pathways to baccalaureate degrees, financial aid, military and veterans programs, and the community college of the future.

The summit’s closing session will be broadcast live at 3pm at www.WhiteHouse.gov/live. The summit is being led by Dr. Jill Biden, who told attendees the newfound attention would forever change the community college movement.

"For years, I have said that community colleges are one of America's best-kept secrets," Biden said. "With the President shining a light on us, that secret is out."

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