Tuesday, February 15, 2011

2011 National Legislative Summit: Second Lady Jill Biden, Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis Emphasize Administration Support for Community Colleges

The Obama Administration was represented at the 2011 Community College National Legislative Summit Tuesday by U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis and Second Lady Jill Biden, both of whom acknowledged the financial challenges ahead while reiterating the President’s ongoing commitment to community colleges.

“President Obama is committed to community colleges because he knows, as we all do, that community colleges are critical to getting the economy back on track,” Biden told NLS attendees Tuesday evening. “They are the key to the President’s goal of having the most competitive workforce in the world.”

Earlier in the day, Solis told attendees that her experience as a community college trustee helped prepare her for the financial decisions the Administration now faces. “One thing I learned is that you have to be adaptable and flexible in hard times,” she said. “And now is no different from then in many respects. We are faced with some very tough decisions and economic challenges.”

With 14 million people out of work -- and more than half of those unemployed for six months or more -- community colleges must mirror the Administration’s focus on putting people back to work, Solis said. “You must be able to to provide training that is transferable to a job,” she said. “The criteria isn’t a certificate anymore, but to cultivate your relationships with businesses to [ensure] a smooth transition. Most of you in this room have those relationships. Now it’s about moving a little further and thinking about the opportunities in 15 or 20 years.” As the economy improves, Solis urged community college leaders to help meet the workforce needs of employers who are “coming back online,” as the automotive industry has already begun to do.

Solis also touted the $2 billion Community College and Career Training Grant Program (CCCTG), which recently began soliciting applications for $500 million in grants in its first year. “This money will help you in terms of building capacity,” she said, urging community college leaders to collaborate with businesses, non-profits, and each other to maximize the reach of the program -- and to emphasize results in conversations with lawmakers. “The money is there for a short time -- and money doesn't last for a long time here in Washington," she said. "I can tell you we have to make the case that your programs work and can provide the best training for employers.”

Administration officials are also following up on ideas generated during the White House Summit on Community Colleges last October, according to Biden, who stressed that the Administration will continue to advocate for education needs as lawmakers turn their attention to financial issues. “We know we will face some tough choices in the future, but we are working hard to build consensus about what we must do to provide a world-class education, both for K-12 and higher education,” Biden said. “Every American should have the opportunity to take advantage of a community college education.”

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