Community college officials thrilled with Obama proposal


Published: July 16, 2009

The Daily Press

Local community college presidents were as close to gushing as decorum allowed Wednesday and were still digesting the possibilities opened up by President Barack Obama’s proposal of increased funding for their schools a day earlier. ”We give him an A-plus,” said Deborah DiCroce, president of Tidewater Community College.

Continuing his attempts to bolster the sagging economy, Obama unveiled a plan Tuesday to infuse $12 billion into the country’s community colleges over the next 10 years. The “American Graduation Initiative” includes $9 billion in challenge grants to qualifying schools for new programs, or expanded training and counseling; $2.5 billion toward facilities renovation and construction; and $500 million for expansion of online education.

The president spoke of the importance of giving unemployed workers opportunities to be retrained for jobs that are in demand and of the increasing need for career and technical skills. His goal is for an additional 5 million community college graduates by 2020, which is on top of the approximately 6 million students who attend such classes.

Community colleges are seeing record enrollments while at the same time seeing their allocation of funding from state budgets continue to shrink. So attention from the highest office couldn’t come at a better time.

“We’ve been looking forward to his announcement and are still studying the details, but we’re very excited,” said Alvin Schexnider, president of Thomas Nelson Community College. “This comes at a very good time.”

TNCC’s partnerships to provide workers to local manufacturers are the type of thing envisioned in Obama’s plan, Schexnider said. “Work force development’s really what this is all about, and I think this is a red-banner day for community colleges and the country.”

Both college presidents used the word “stepchild” in describing how community colleges have historically been viewed in the U.S. education system. DiCroce said Obama’s plan “claims community colleges in a way perhaps that they’ve never been claimed nationally.”

Obama’s administration has strong ties to community colleges. Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter is the first community college official to hold such high rank in the U.S. Department of Education. Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Jill, is a longtime community college instructor, most recently teaching at Northern Virginia Community College.

DiCroce said the proposed funding would allow TCC to respond to demands for both work force training and students who are preparing to continue on to four-year degrees.

“We are the on ramp to higher education, and we find ourselves with a demand that has never been greater, at a period in time where our resources are headed down,” DiCroce said.

Glenn DuBois, chancellor of the 23-member Virginia Community College System, said the emphasis on students earning degrees is most important because the next generation is less educated than the now-retiring baby boomers. “Essentially what he’s saying, and I agree, is it’s not just to get them in, but to get them a college degree or credential that’s worth something in the marketplace.”

Community colleges are not just the most affordable option to educating a work force, but are connected in each locality to everything from high schools to businesses, DuBois added.

“It’s a smart, wise, pragmatic move, and I would urge members of Congress to support it,” DuBois said. “This is the right, long-range thing to do. If we want to compete aggressively in the world market, this is the thing to do.

“We have to beef up our talent base, and that means 12th grade is not the finish line.”

Obama’s proposal

Main objective is

  • 5 million additional community college graduates by 2020
  • $12 billion for community colleges, including challenge grants for new programs; expanded training and counseling; facilities upgrades; and expanded online educational opportunities.



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