White House Bolsters Support for Community Colleges
October 5th marked the inaugural summit on community colleges, hosted by Dr. Jill Biden, adjunct professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College and wife of Vice President Joe Biden, at the White House. Representatives from business, government, philanthropy, and educational institutions came together for a discussion of the important role community colleges play in preparing students to enter the workforce. With budgets tight and many individuals searching for alternative methods to earn a degree other than through a traditional four-year university, community colleges “now educate almost half of all college students,” according to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, including “about half of all first-generation college students and minority students.” As a schoolteacher, Dr. Jill Biden is a particularly vocal champion of community colleges. In her remarks, she lauded these institutions of higher education for being, “flexible and innovative” and “a model to increase workforce preparedness and college graduation.”
Like all higher education institutions, community colleges will face challenges in the next few years. One of the most important imperatives community colleges work to meet is aligning the skills learned in K-12 schools with what is taught in the postsecondary world. The two venues of learning must match up for students to enter higher education institutions confidently prepared to take on new challenges, and later, to graduate with the skills and knowledge needed to contribute and strengthen the economy. Community colleges also need to continue addressing the challenges working adults face when entering or returning to higher education. Lastly, community colleges must ensure that the skills and training programs offered in their classrooms align with actual jobs. This last step is crucial to bridging the gap between schools and the workforce.
To this end, President Obama has announced a new initiative run by the Aspen Institute called Skills for America’s Future, which will pair up private businesses with community colleges to align curricula with skills needed in the workforce to ensure that graduates are prepared for jobs.