Friday, February 17, 2012

Administration Officials Stress Community College Commitment, Call for Veteran Support at 2012 National Legislative Summit

Two Obama Administration officials stressed the President's continuing commitment to the community college sector and urged its leaders to support returning veterans during the 2012 Community College National Legislative Summit.

Roberto J. Rodriguez, special assistant to the President for education on the White House Domestic Policy Counsel, called community colleges "the largest and most nimble sector of higher education." Reiterating the Obama Administration's goal of 5 million more community college graduates by 2020, Rodriguez described the new $8 billion Community College to Career Fund proposed in the President's FY 2013 budget as a "doubling down on the [President's] commitment" to support colleges in their efforts.

"Securing this investment would give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers to ensure that employers have the workforce they need and that workers are gaining industry-recognized credentials that build strong careers," he said.

Rodriguez also pointed to the $5 billion the administration has proposed for community college facility modernization, as well as past collaborative efforts such as the 2010 White House Summit on Community Colleges, which he said had spawned such programs as the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence and Skills for America's Future.

"We need a new commitment to increase college success," he said. "We believe that community colleges can be the catalyst for that change."

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki told NLS attendees that veterans "have what it takes to succeed not just in the military, but in school and in whatever endeavor they choose." The retired Army general urged community college leaders to support the 950,000 veterans and family members currently enrolled in higher education programs, more than one-third of whom attend community colleges.

"I want to ask more of you," he said, urging community college leaders to provide meeting spaces and other services that would allow veterans to support each other as they adjust to their post-military lives. "Embrace our veteran students, and encourage them to organize themselves... Have them seize this collective responsibility of graduating each other."

Shinseki looked back to the post-World War II GI Bill, which "provided the leadership that catapulted our nation to the world's largest economy."

"Lightning is about to strike a second time," he said.

For a transcript of Shinseki's speech, click here.
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2012 National Legislative Summit Brings Together Cross-Section of Congress For Forum

The 2012 Community College National Legislative Summit brought together lawmakers from both houses and both sides of the aisle for its first-ever Congressional Forum. Held in the Capitol Visitor Center, the Wednesday morning forum featured frank talk on Pell Grants, workforce training programs, and the overall future of federal support in higher education.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) stressed the importance of continuing federal support for the community college agenda, asserting that "nothing reduces the deficit more than investments in education."

"We are committed to reigniting the American dream and building ladders of responsibility," Pelosi said. "Community colleges are an important rung on that ladder.... Let's take this debate to a higher ground, of consideration of what our values are as a country and the role that education plays in them -- and the roles that community colleges play in that." Pelosi thanked ACCT Chair Roberto Uranga, ACCT President and CEO J. Noah Brown, and Community College League of California President and CEO Scott Lay, as well as the American Association of Community Colleges, for their hard work.

Sen. Michael B. Enzi (R-Wyo.) addressed the growth of the Pell Grant program, warning that Pell will not be sustainable in the long-run "without addressing the underlying systemic forces that undermine federal aid programs." Federal support to higher education, he added, "is not going to go away -- but it will be less and less effective if we don't make meaningful changes now."

Enzi also questioned the Obama's Administration's pledge to provide new funds to community colleges. "Every new program we add means an existing program is going to suffer," Enzi said, urging community college leaders to "protect your existing programs, and come up with ways to make them better and fairer."

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) stressed his commitment to programs that "maintain and preserve your important work," including Pell and Perkins grants, as well as his own bill, the Job Opportunities Between our Shores (JOBS) Act, which would support partnerships between community colleges and advanced manufacturing firms. "The President wants to double exports," Hoyer said. "We will not double exports unless we make things in America."

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) drew from her own experience as a community college president who faced budget cuts to urge NLS attendees to "find ways to do the things you must do without more money."

"We have a real economic crisis in our country, and I want to challenge you as leaders in the community college system," Foxx said. "It can be done."

Foxx also discussed the ongoing work around reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), arguing that there is a need to consolidate the 47 job training programs currently overseen by nine federal agencies. "These programs can provide a boost to communities hard hit by the economy -- we all agree on that," she said. "But we have redundancies, waste, overlap, and multiplication of services. These sow confusion and are a detriment to the people who need them."

While the lawmakers made few direct references to their colleagues on the other side of the aisle, they drew comparisons in their comments. "We're going to have debates here in Washington with those who think educating our citizens is too expensive," said Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) "I represent the side that says that ignorance will cost our country more. There's no chance a country of 300 million people can compete with countries of a billion people unless we educate everyone to their full potential.... Community colleges are the best dollar we can invest in our nation."

Pointing to the need for increased completion rates, expanded partnerships with local industries, and services for returning military veterans, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) called on community college leaders to "redouble your efforts as you continue to innovate and adapt to our changing economy."

"We have a lot to do," Murray said. "It's not going to be easy, but our country has taken on challenges before and always come out ahead. And I'm pretty confident that community colleges are going to lead the way."
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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

2012 National Legislative Summit Examines Election-Year Priorities

One day after President Barack Obama unveiled his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year at Northern Virginia Community College, trustees and presidents convened in Washington, D.C., for the 2012 Community College National Legislative Summit fully aware of the election-year challenges ahead of them.

"We know we have a presidential election in November, which increases the hyperpolitical nature of what's going on in D.C.," said ACCT Director of Public Policy Jee Hang Lee.

Obama's proposed budget and earlier initiatives include unprecedented funding for community colleges, including $5 billion for modernizing community college infrastructure and an $8 billion Community College to Career fund that builds on the existing $2 billion Community College and Career Training Grant Program. With the odds of passage uncertain, NLS speakers urged community college leaders to not lose sight of programs already in place. For example, the CCCTG program has already survived several "minor but real" threats and is likely to face them again, cautioned Jim Hermes, AACC director of government relations.

Nowhere is preserving existing programs more critical than the $40 billion Pell Grant program, which serves 9.7 million students. Facing a $1.3 billion program shortfall, lawmakers recently made several significant eligibility changes, including the elimination of benefits for "ability to benefit" students who lack a high school diploma or GED, said ACCT Senior Public Policy Associate Jennifer Stiddard. "A lot of these changes disproportionately impact community colleges and working students," Stiddard said. "It's important that Pell be kept whole."

Looking ahead, the Pell Grant program will face an $8 billion shortfall in FY 2014, which is also the first year that it will be eligible for the across-the-board cuts required by the the Budget Control Act's sequestration provision.

Given the challenging budget climate, ACCT and AACC leaders urged community college leaders to continue stressing the impact of their institutions. "In budget parlance, there's a difference between consumption and investment," said David Baime, AACC senior vice president for government relations. "Education is an investment."

Earlier in the day, former U.S. Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah) urged NLS attendees to "tell the story of the enormously significant financial bargain that community colleges are."

"Community colleges are an undiscovered jewel in terms of the impact they can make in the lives of young people," he said.

Former U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) was even more succinct in his advice: "You have a terrific approach, with autonomy on the local level and serving the public in need," he said. "Don't let the politicians mess things up."

The 2012 Community College National Legislative Summit continues today with opening speaker Roberto J. Rodriguez, special assistant to the President for education, White House Domestic Policy Council, a Congressional Forum with a roster of Congressional speakers, and the 2012 Capital Awards Banquet, at which U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) will be awarded the 2012 National Education Service Award for his dedication to community and technical colleges.

For the full program, click here.
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