Celebrating Excellence in Community Colleges

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

As a community college teacher, I know that excellence happens every day in community college classrooms and campuses across this country. Both in my classroom and when I’m on the road visiting community colleges, I am fortunate to see firsthand the tremendous impact these schools have on so many students. I see students striving, teachers inspiring, and administrators innovating – each doing their best to make the community college experience richer and more meaningful. President Obama has made community colleges a centerpiece of his goal to have the best-educated, most competitive workforce in the world.

Earlier today at the Newseum in Washington, DC, leaders in education and business congratulated Santa Barbara City College from California and Walla Walla Community College from Washington for being selected as co-winners of the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Kingsborough Community College – CUNY from New York and Lake Area Technical Institute from South Dakota were honored as finalists-with-distinction.

Dr. Biden at the Aspen Prize

Dr. Jill Biden with the co-winners of the 2013 Aspen Community College Excellence Prize: Santa Barbara Community College President Dr. Lori Gaskin (left) and Walla Walla Community College President Dr. Steven VanAusdle (right). (by Photo from Patrice Gilbert/Courtesy: The Aspen Institute)

Community colleges represent a uniquely American idea – that if you work hard and get a good education, you can get the skills you need for a good job and build a better life for you and your family. Community colleges are often unsung heroes in their work to expand opportunities, offer intensive preparation for careers, and provide an affordable and effective option for many students.  Education and job training are critical to that vision, strengthening the middle class and preparing our citizens to compete in the global economy.  Each and every day, community colleges are doing more to grow our middle class, equipping our citizens with the education and training that today’s jobs require.

Our Administration is working to advance locally-tailored solutions to fill in skills gaps where our local economies need them. Nearly three years ago, we held the first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges, where we announced the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

In the past few years, our Administration has taken important steps to make incentive prizes and challenges, like the Aspen Community College Excellence Prize, a standard tool for open innovation in every Federal agency’s toolbox. Federal agencies, in partnership with our private-sector and philanthropic partners, are using prize competitions to spur innovation, solve tough problems, and advance their missions. In fact, since its launch in 2010, Challenge.gov has featured more than 240 prizes offered by over 50 Federal departments and agencies.

The Aspen Prize is designed to honor and recognize excellence in community colleges through evaluation of academic and workforce outcomes in both absolute performance and improvements over time. By focusing on student success and lifting up models that work, the Aspen Prize honors excellence, stimulate innovation, and create benchmarks for measuring progress – highlighting the “best of the best” and giving other schools the opportunity to consider adapting those best practices to their own campuses.

In December 2011, Valencia Community College from Orlando, FL was announced as the first Aspen Prize winner and Valencia is now a model for other community colleges across the nation.  Last year, I had the opportunity to visit Valencia and learn more about the success they are having in improving student outcomes while they are in school at Valencia and when they graduate.

Josh Wyner, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program, shared more of what made this year’s winners exceptional: “At Santa Barbara City College, faculty and staff are providing students just what they need to transfer and complete a four-year degree – a rigorous classroom education surrounded by first-rate supports from remedial math to college level writing. Walla Walla Community College’s visionary leaders stay on top of local economic job trends and job growth, and the entire college provides the kind of excellent training that students need to access well-paying jobs and that employers know will ensure future investments in the regional economy will pay off.”

Congratulations to this year’s winners and finalists, and thank you to the Aspen Institute, the supporters of the Aspen Prize, and the many people who worked so hard to help these institutions get the recognition they deserve.

Dr. Jill Biden is the Second Lady of the United States and a lifelong educator. 

Silicon Valley Works to Improve Career Pathways for Community Colleges Students

Kanter at Google

Under Secretary Martha Kanter speaks with students during her visit to Google headquarters. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

With a putting green, 18 cafeterias, gardens and even a giant statue of a dinosaur, one may not associate Google’s massive headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., as a place where Department of Education officials, educators and business leaders come together to discuss career pathways for community college students.

Yet during a recent stop by U.S. Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter, the novelty of Google’s complex were the last thing on the mind as leaders from Google, Cisco Systems, Lockheed Martin—Space Systems and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group came together for a panel discussion on innovative strategies to improve career pathways for community college students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The 90-minute discussion – in front of a large audience comprised of regional industry leaders, community college presidents, K-12 educators, local policymakers and students – included Kanter’s detailed description of the Obama Administration’s support of STEM education at community colleges, highlighting the $2 billion Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College Career Training grant program that funds the pairing of community colleges with workforce partners to ensure that graduates are career-ready with the knowledge and skills that employers need.

Kanter speaks with educators at GoogleAfter the formal program and a Q-and-A session ended, many of the participants stayed to continue the discussion. Dennis Cima, senior vice president of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, an association of 380 Silicon Valley employers, talked about the value of linking K-12 schools, community colleges and businesses.

“We know how important it is to create connections between education and industry,” Cima said. “Because once those connections are made, then industry has the ability to really help education fill its own needs. This was an opportunity to open people’s eyes about how important those public-private partnerships are.”

Google’s director of education and university relations, Maggie Johnson, who was a panelist, said that she found the session to be a good start because it brought the right people together.

“I really liked the part that came out around how there are very many different sectors that need to come together and coordinate in order to really make something happen,” Johnson said. “We got the community colleges in the room; we have industry; we have government. So at least we got everybody in the room. Where it goes from here, we’ll have to see.”

Kanter’s assessment of the value was similar to Johnson’s. “I think it was the beginning of what I hope will become a call to action, so the different sectors of education, business, philanthropy, government, labor, and community partners can come together to say, ‘How can these stakeholders – working together across sectors – architect a plan for this region to lead the way, through innovation, to make sure that every student gets the best possible education and is prepared, college-and-career ready, for the jobs now and for the future?’”

Joe Barison is the Director of Communications and Outreach for ED’s San Francisco Regional Office.

It’s Never Too Late to Learn

Two young men, from different backgrounds, each tell a tragically similar story of their mistakes, which resulted in felony convictions and incarcerations. Their names aren’t important, but their stories are.

Both men are using education to take charge of their futures and be productive citizens.

During a recent trip to Iowa, Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier and I met these men and several more like them, trying to make positive changes in their lives through education. We spent a day learning about adult education and corrections training programs in Cedar Rapids, before traveling to Dubuque for the Rural Community College Association’s annual conference.

Group Photo

Deputy Warden Bill Sperfslage, Anamosa Education Coordinator Mary Feeney-Wilfer, Kirkwood Community College High School Completion Director Marcel Kielkucki, Deputy Director of Offender Services Jerry Bartruff (front row) Kirkwood C.C. Executive Director of Government Relations Steve Ovel, Warden John Fayram, Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann-Messier, Deputy Assistant Secretary John White outside the Anamosa State Penitentiary in Anamosa, Iowa.

Having served their sentences and exited the correctional system, these two men now support each other and their fellow classmates in Kirkwood Community College’s Kirkwood Pathways for Academic Career Education and Employment (KPACE) program.

Kirkwood seeks to help lower-skilled, low-income adults, the unemployed and underemployed advance to successively higher levels of education, employment, and financial stability through the KPACE program. KPACE weaves together basic skills and workplace-readiness training, academics and certification attainment with support services through partnerships with the United Way of East Central Iowa and community-based organizations.

Believing that everyone’s situation is unique, Kirkwood has taken bold steps beyond simply offering courses and certifications. Kirkwood and its community partners, including United Way, are working with formerly incarcerated adults to make a successful re-entry into society.

According to the National Reentry Resource Center, federal and state corrections facilities held more than 1.6 million prisoners at the end of 2010 – approximately one of every 201 U.S. residents. At least 95 percent of state prisoners will be released back to their communities at some point.

The U.S. Department of Education recently released a new resource, Take Charge of Your Future, to help justice-involved adults connect to education and training opportunities. ED also provides funding for efforts to reduce recidivism by supporting in-prison education services through two formula grant programs: the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006. A federal Office of Correctional Education was created in 1991 by the Perkins Act and currently resides in ED’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

Rapid increases in the U.S. prisoner population over recent decades have increased the need for educational services in correctional settings.

Inside and outside of Iowa’s Anamosa State Penitentiary, a maximum/medium security institution that currently houses more than 1,150 offenders, we witnessed the hope that literacy and job skills training can bring.

The Iowa Department of Corrections and Kirkwood Community College are working together to offer inmates opportunities to earn a GED, learn computer skills and programs, including the production and printing of books in brail for the blind, and trades that include welding and carpentry while behind bars.

Kirkwood is also working with its community partners to help ex-offenders find stable employment and housing—other key success factors—upon re-entry. Two hundred businesses have committed to hiring Kirkwood students, including ex-felons. The Corporation for National and Community Service’s AmeriCorps program and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) are providing social and educational services, and helping the community work on prison re-entry issues.

Community colleges have long offered innovative and valuable career training opportunities for youth and adults of all ages and in various stages of their lives. Kirkwood is offering solutions for safer communities through education and public-private partnerships.

John White is deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach at the U.S. Department of Education. 

From Farming to the Forefront of Education: A College President’s Story

Rend Lake College President Holds a Tree

Rend Lake College President Terry Wilkerson demonstrates a process to agriculture students in a photo from his teaching days. Photos courtesy of Rend Lake College

As a teen growing up on his family’s 1,000-acre farm in southeastern Illinois, Terry Wilkerson had no plans to go college.

“At that point in my life, I didn’t see the value of an education.  I just needed to get to farming and to making a living,” said Wilkerson, recently named the president of Rend Lake College in Ina, Illinois, site of Special Assistant for Community College Sue Liu’s Sept. 19 visit during the Department’s back-to-school bus tour.

However, he never completely closed his mind to the possibilities of higher education. After much hounding by friends and family, Wilkerson registered for some classes at RLC.

“I got curious to see what it would do for me,” he explained. “The college was close to home and the class times were flexible. I could still farm.”

Wilkerson meets with others

Wilkerson, right, speaks with Special Assistant for Community Colleges Sue Liu and RLC Applied Science and Advanced Technology Division Chair Chris Nielsen during a Sept. 19 visit to Rend Lake College as part of the Back-to-School Bus Tour. Photo courtesy of Rend Lake College

For the first time, Wilkerson found himself in a room full of people who were really interested in developing a deeper understanding of agriculture, and he realized that he wanted that too. It was a good fit:  he went on to earn an associates degree in applied science at RLC; followed by a bachelor’s degree in plant and soil science and a master’s degree in agronomy, both from nearby Southern Illinois University.

He continued to farm as he pursued his college education, and successfully used knowledge he gained in school to improve his farming practices. Wilkerson soon realized that he wanted to help other farmers and future farmers to also thrive in the changing agricultural industry. He’d stayed in contact with RLC staff members, and soon landed a faculty position in the agriculture program.

“Teaching is a lot like farming. Every year there’s a new crop, and you help it grow,” said Wilkerson. “I enjoyed bringing practical lessons I learned on the farm to the classroom.”

After teaching for 11 years and then serving 4 years as RLC’s chair of the Applied Science and Technology Division, Wilkerson was selected by the college’s board to serve as its president, beginning this past July. While he’d never dreamed of achieving his current position as a teen, he’s found that the same fundamental lessons learned from a lifetime of farming help him in his role as the top executive of Rend Lake College.

“If it’s time to plant corn, it’s time to plant corn. You can’t be stagnant and do nothing,” said Wilkerson, who still farms. “Education is like that. If you stand still, you fall behind.

Julie Ewart is the Director of Communications and Outreach in ED’s Chicago Regional Office. 

Day Two Iowa: Improving Rural Economies & Transforming CTE

Richard Rice, a Hawkeye Community College student, shows Secretary Duncan a sculpture he designed in class. Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

Richard Rice, a Hawkeye Community College student, shows Secretary Duncan a sculpture he designed in class. Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

“I hadn’t taken an algebra class in 40 years,” community college student Jennifer DeLange told Secretary Duncan yesterday morning at a White House Rural Council Roundtable in Waterloo, Iowa. DeLange spent years working in a plastics factory, but when the plant shut down, she found herself unemployed in a tough job market. With the help of Trade Adjustment Assistance, DeLange enrolled at Hawkeye Community College and is working her way through the school’s LPN program.

The Hawkeye roundtable discussion was the first event during the second day of Duncan’s visit to the Midwest, and included Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Executive Director for the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers at the Department of Labor, Jay Williams, as well as students, faculty and business leaders.

The roundtable discussion centered on the importance of improving rural economies by training and retraining workers for in-demand careers.  During the discussion, Williams spoke to the importance of career training, explaining that “not everyone is going to get a four-year degree, but you have to have skills beyond high school.” Read more about the Obama Administration’s Community College to Career proposal that would train two million workers for in jobs in high-demand industries.

Transforming Career and Technical Education

Duncan’s second stop of the day was at Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny, Iowa, where he joined Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education, to release the Obama Administration’s blueprint for transforming Career and Technical Education (CTE).

“It’s no surprise that rigorous, relevant, and results-driven CTE programs are vital to preparing students to succeed in the global economy of the 21st century,” Duncan said at the event.

Through a $1 billion investment in the Obama Administration’s FY 2013 budget, the Administration’s blueprint for reauthorizing the Perkins Act will transform the Perkins program in four key areas:

    • Alignment: Ensuring that the skills taught in CTE programs reflect the actual needs of the labor market so that CTE students acquire the 21st century skills necessary for in-demand occupations within high-growth industry sectors.
    • Collaboration: Incentivizing secondary schools, institutions of higher education, employers, and industry partners to work together to ensure that all CTE programs offer students high-quality learning opportunities.
    • Accountability: Requiring CTE programs to show, through common definitions and related performance measures, that they are improving academic outcomes and enabling students to build technical and job skills.
    • Innovation: Promoting systemic reform of state-level policies to support effective CTE implementation and innovation at the local level.

Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier, who outlined the four key areas above, explained that “our federal investment in CTE must be dramatically reshaped to fulfill its potential to prepare all students, regardless of their background or circumstances, for further education and cutting-edge careers.”

Click here to read more about the Blueprint and for related resources, read our post from day one of Duncan’s trip, and check out our Storify Story from day two.

Sharing Responsibility for College Affordability, Quality and Completion

One of the best parts of my job is the chance I get to meet outstanding academic and student leaders as I travel around the country.  For me, the best moments often come right before or after I deliver my formal remarks, when I get to visit with faculty, administrators and students at my speaking location one-on-one, find out who they are and learn about their challenges, hopes and dreams. These individual informal chats never last long enough for me, and they are the moments I remember most from each visit.

During my recent visit to Palm Beach State College, I had the opportunity to discuss the higher education proposals President Obama announced in his State of the Union address, with students, professors, policy makers, state and local officials, business and community leaders. I felt a great source of pride in describing what we’ve been able to accomplish in higher education over the past few years:

    • Reforming the student loan program,
    • Boosting the maximum Pell grant by more than $800 and dramatically expanding the number of Pell grant recipients from 6 million to more than 9 million students from our nation’s lowest income families,
    • Enabling Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) to build capacity with the $2.55 billion 10-year fund for MSIs, and
    • Providing $2 billion dollars for next generation job-training at community colleges over the next few years, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor.

As you can see, the President’s education vision for 2020 and beyond inspires me every day to build on this substantial progress and to breakthrough the obstacles ahead to keep college affordable for the middle class, to provide students more opportunities through campus based aid and work study reforms, to enable postsecondary institutions to innovate and implement those high impact strategies that will help more students succeed, and to support states to increase their support for higher education – all for the purpose of increasing our nation’s college attainment goal.

The President has proposed a $1 billion Race to the Top for College Affordability and Completion to help states and a $55 million First in the World fund for institutions. Why? We need states and institutions as well as the federal government and students themselves to share responsibility to meet our vision to produce a far better educated citizenry than we’ve had in decades past. We need a more highly educated workforce, and we need leaders at all levels of government, business, labor and the non-profit sector to bring our nation to a level of excellence in our global society that sadly we do not enjoy today.

In all of this work, please know it’s the series of tiny “aha” moments that, when taken together, create the momentum that move us forward. After I left Palm Beach State, I received an email from Carlos Ramos, the university’s Associate Dean of Math, Engineering, and Science who wanted to learn about a new resource I mentioned, a set of free high quality STEM-related college level textbooks that Rice University’s Connexions project is rolling out in the next few months in association with a new organization called OpenStax College.

For me, Dean Ramos’s communication was more than a simple email.  It was a statement that my visit mattered — and that because of my visit, Dean Ramos will now be able to help more students in more ways.  And that is the way real change happens, one by one, on the ground, by meeting individual student needs, one student at a time. Whether we call it “shared responsibility” as we heard in the State of the Union, or working together from the one to the many as Dean Ramos is doing, we will become a better nation if we all do our part to keep college affordable, increase educational quality at all levels, and help more students graduate from our colleges and universities with a world-class education, prepared for success in the 21st century!

Martha Kanter is the Under Secretary of Education

2013 Education Budget: What it Means For You

Continuing its commitment to education and an America built to last, the Obama Administration released its 2013 budget proposal to Congress today. It includes new education investments that will give U.S. students and workers the education and training they need for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

Budget ImageThe Department of Education is requesting $69.8 billion in discretionary funding for Fiscal Year 2013, an increase of $1.7 billion, or 2.5 percent, from 2012. The critical investments in education are part of an overall federal budget that abides by very tight spending caps that reduce discretionary spending by $1 trillion over 10 years and, including that amount, has more than $4 trillion of balanced deficit reduction.

But what, exactly, does this mean for you?

Job Training to Meet the Demands of the Workforce
Helping students, employers and communities.

Two million jobs are waiting to be filled in the United States, yet many Americans seeking work don’t have the necessary skills to fill those jobs. To close that skills gap and deliver employers the kinds of workers they want to hire, the Administration is proposing $8 billion for a new Community College to Career Fund.

These funds would help community colleges become community career centers where individuals can learn the skills that local businesses need. Additionally, employers would offer paid internships for low-income students to help them learn skills on the job and gain experience.

ED is also proposing to invest $1.1 billion to support the reauthorization and reform of the Career and Technical Education program to ensure that the training and education our students receive are in line with the demands of the workforce.

Boosting the Teaching Profession
Giving teachers the respect and support they deserve.

ED is proposing $5 billion in competitive funding to support states and districts as they pursue bold reforms that can help better prepare, support and compensate America’s teachers.

The Department would also invest $190 million for a new Presidential Teaching Fellows program that would provide scholarships to talented students who attend top-tier teacher prep programs and commit to working in high-need schools.

The budget also creates $620 million in new grants for states that would reward and support highly effective teacher preparation programs, help decrease STEM teacher shortages, and invest in efforts to enhance the teaching profession.

Making College Affordable
Ensuring that everyone gets a shot at higher education.

The 2013 budget seeks to make college more affordable and to help achieve President Obama’s goal of the U.S. leading the world in college graduates by 2020.  The budget proposes to sustain the maximum Pell Grant and increase the maximum award amount to $5,635, supporting nearly 10 million students across the country.

The Department is proposing to freeze the interest rate on subsidized student loans at 3.4 percent. Currently the rate is scheduled to double to 6.8 percent this summer if Congress doesn’t act.

The budget seeks to tackle college costs and quality by encouraging shared responsibility among states, colleges, families and the federal government. ED would invest $1 billion for a new Race to the Top focusing on college affordability and completion to drive reform at the state level and help students finish faster. This new Race to the Top would provide incentives for colleges to keep costs under control, it would double the number of work-study jobs, and it would increase by nearly $7.5 billion the amount available for Perkins loans.

Additional Budget Information:

Teaming Up to Support Rural Community Colleges

It’s no secret that community colleges are leading the way to achieving the President’s goal for the United States to once again have the highest college attainment rate in the world by 2020. Community colleges are hubs for career-training, re-training, adult education and for recent high school graduates seeking a pathway into the careers of their choice.

Secretary Duncan, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and their agencies are working together to support community colleges as they provide postsecondary education and career training in rural areas. Photo courtesy of USDA.

For many residents of rural areas, community colleges also provide the closest access to postsecondary education and a way to obtain the skills needed for existing jobs.  However, like some of their students, many rural community colleges are doing more with less as state budgets are being cut and new resources are becoming harder to find.

During the 2011 rural community colleges conference in Oklahoma, many attendees asked about funding and resources available from the Department of Education but few were as familiar with opportunities in other federal agencies. Some rural community college administrators were unaware of the significant infrastructure of support available through their USDA Rural Development state and local offices.

As the American Jobs Act languishes in Congress, preventing an infusion of $5 billion for modernization from reaching community colleges, the U.S. Departments of Education and Agriculture are working together to guide campuses serving high-poverty rural communities to existing federal resources.

During a recent conference call with members of the Rural Community College Alliance and the American Association of Community Colleges, nearly 100 participants learned about USDA Rural Development programs and funding opportunities that can be used to improve facilities, support distance learning, and provide home ownership assistance as a recruitment and retention tool for faculty.

The USDA Community Facilities Program can be used for construction and renovation of classrooms and dormitories, and even to purchase transportation vehicles to serve campus facilities. The USDA Single Family Housing Programs provide homeownership opportunities to low- and moderate-income rural Americans through several loan, grant, and loan guarantee programs.

USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants can cover the cost of equipment for video conferencing and other distance learning equipment. USDA’s Community Connect program provides grants to build broadband Internet infrastructure and establish community centers to offer free public access in rural areas where broadband service is least likely to be available, but where it can make a tremendous difference in the quality of life for citizens.

These are a few of the ways that USDA can support rural communities, and the Department of Education is working to increase awareness of how college leaders can access these opportunities.

John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach

Recognizing the Excellence and Promise of America’s Community Colleges

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Community colleges play a critical role in preparing the American workforce for prosperity in the economy of the 21st century. Americans now more than ever need a postsecondary education to learn the skills they need to be successful in the workplace and to keep our businesses thriving in a globally competitive environment.

Community colleges are educating the next generation of American workers and leaders by providing more Americans than ever with training for success in a knowledge based economy. Our best community colleges are on the cutting edge of innovation, showing us what can happen when a college reaches beyond its campus to partner with businesses and four-year colleges in order to expand opportunity, provide intensive preparation for career, and ensure excellence leading up to graduation and into the workforce. As the unsung heroes of higher education, these schools are shining examples of what can happen when institutions work hard to improve student learning and increase degree completion.

We acknowledge the important work of our best community colleges in developing our citizens, our economy, and our nation. At the National Press Club on Monday, Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took time to salute to the finalists and winner of the inaugural Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. In these community colleges, our Administration has a strong partner in endeavoring toward the President’s 2020 goal to again lead the world in college completion.

The first-ever winner of the Aspen Prize is Valencia Community College from Orlando, FL. Demonstrating a strong commitment to completion, Valencia offers clear pathways to student success, from associate’s degree programs with guaranteed admission to the selective University of Central Florida to technical degree programs that have career advisers embedded in each program. The environment at Valencia is marked by professors and administrators taking responsibility for student success, consistently asking what they each can do to improve student outcomes. And with a strong data system in place, the graduation and workforce results are clear. These outcomes are important to Valencia’s diverse student body (about half are Hispanic or African American), a significant number of whom come from lower-income households.

Monday’s ceremony also shed light on the outstanding work of finalist institutions for the Aspen Prize. Through their applications, Lake Area Technical Institute (Watertown, SD), Miami Dade College (Miami, FL), Walla Walla Community College (Walla Walla, WA), and West Kentucky Community and Technical College (Paducah, KY) all demonstrated bold commitment to results in preparing students for academic and professional success. Each one is a leader in career preparation and student achievement, supporting strong pathways to successful completion of four-year degrees and jobs in their communities.

As leaders in innovation and outcomes, Valencia Community College and the four Aspen Prize finalists are blazing a trail of prosperity for more students in the 21st century. The President praises the important work of these community colleges as we strive toward graduating ever more students ready to compete in the 21st  century economy.

Melody Barnes is the Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.

Community College Educators Say American Jobs Act Will Fill Gaps

At a recent roundtable, the faculty of Wake tech Community College believed in their students.

“My students have to go out in the community and demonstrate what they can do. I know they’ve learned when I see a reduction in fire loss,” Wayne, a Wake Tech Fire Service Director, told ED Teaching Ambassador Fellows Angela McClary-Rush and Maryann Woods-Murphy, who led the session with Frank Chong, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges.

Wayne’s colleague, Tommy Edwards, from the school’s Law Enforcement Division agreed. “We also see the results in how much cardio training we provide. Our students saved 20 lives.”

The ED team led the one–hour round table event in an outreach effort designed to listen to the challenges and needs of teachers. The discussion immediately preceded the Secretary Duncan’s Town Hall at the community college in Raleigh, N.C.

David Yarley, the Director of Wake Tech’s Bio Network Capstone Center, said that he is happiest when he picks up the phone and one of his students announces he or she has found a job. Steven Hill, the Humanities Department Chair, just wants to “turn the proverbial light bulb on.” Diane Hinson, a Health Science Dean, is thrilled that Wake Tech students score more than ten points higher than the state test pass rates.

These educators do everything they can to get their students engaged in learning and “use muscles they never knew they had,” said Jessica Facciolini, North Carolina’s 2011 Teacher of the Year, who joined the group from ED at the round table and later at Secretary Duncan’s Community College Town Hall.

But even though these faculty members feel that the Wake Tech is the “pulse of the community” and that “college for the real world” has a vital role, they were asking Washington to support to help maintain such successful programs.

Faculty spoke of large class sizes and of facilities with limited equipment for the students to practice their skills. “If you have two beds in a room full of students, they are only going to get limited hands-on training,” said a nursing teacher. “If we’re going to teach students the latest technology for the 21st Century, we can’t use old machines. They’ve got to have what’s out there in the work place.”

Dianne Hison sighed as she moved forward in her seat, “Not one thing we have on our plates is unreasonable, but when you put it all together, it’s impossible.”  Her colleagues shook their heads in agreement.

The faculty were grateful to know that the American Jobs Act, if passed, would provide relief to schools that have facilities needs and would create jobs for educators, including $5 billion specifically set aside for community colleges.

“Ask Washington to keep listening to us,” said one faculty member, “we’re doing magnificent things that help our students. We need support.”

Read more about the American Jobs Act

Maryann Woods-Murphy

Maryann is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Allendale, NJ.

Helping Community College Students Get Back on Their Feet

What do an out-of-work mother, a high school dropout, a woman in the middle of a career switch, a professional musician, and an African immigrant have in common? They are all are trying to carve out a successful future by going back to school by attending or aspiring to attend St. Louis Community College (STLCC). After speaking at the National Council for Continuing Education and Training/National Council for Workforce Education’s Joint Annual Conference last Tuesday, I stopped by STLCC to tour the college’s Nursing Simulator Lab and to hold a community roundtable with students, college officials, and local employers.

Dann-Messier and STLCC Students

Brenda Dann-Messier (in green) with STLCC students.

STLCC and consortia partners throughout the state of Missouri recently received a $20 million grant under the  Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program. The program supports partnerships between community colleges and employers to develop programs that provide pathways to good jobs, including building instructional programs that meet specific industry needs.

Officials at STLCC are using the grant to expand partnerships with area hospitals that provide clinical training and future employment for students in the school’s nursing program.

The Nursing Program at STLCC has done an outstanding job of developing effective partnerships between students, educators, and employers.  Their collaboration model is critical to getting people back to work during these tough economic times. While some of the students were in the school’s nursing program, some were still trying to get their GED so they could begin their postsecondary education. For many of the students, getting to where they are today wasn’t easy, but they’ve persevered in the pursuit of their dreams.

One woman, for instance, lost her family mortgage business and was forced to sell her home while another student aspired to one day get her PhD after dropping out of high school several years ago. They had the common goal of completing the education necessary to achieve their newfound path in life. None of them could afford to attend a more expensive state school and were thankful for the many opportunities provided by STLCC.

“I couldn’t have gone back to school if it weren’t for STLCC,” said one student. “They have been instrumental in helping me get back on my feet.”

Brenda Dann-Messier is the Assistant Secretary in the Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

Arne on the Income-Based Repayment Program and Community Colleges

Arne took time last week to answer a couple of questions he received on his Facebook page. Daniel had a question on the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) program and the President’s recent pay-as-you-earn proposal. Secretary Duncan encouraged Daniel and others with student loans to look at switching to the current IBR program. “Depending on your income, you could save literally hundreds of dollars every single month,” he said.
 
You can get an estimate of how much you could save by visiting our IBR page, and check out our IBR calculator that will give you an idea if IBR will lower your monthly payments.

Arne also responded to Lesley who left a great comment about her success as a community college student. Lesley, who now has her doctorate, talked about the power of education and how it can change lives.

“Community colleges, I continue to believe, have this ability to transform young people’s lives, adults’ lives, [and] older people’s lives in very profound ways,” Duncan said. He also highlighted the Obama Administration’s unprecedented commitment to community colleges, including the proposed American Jobs Act that would provide $5 billion for renovation and upgrades to community colleges across the country.

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