President and Second Lady Join Forces on Community Colleges

Original: October 12, 2010 Issue 4

By: Todd Freimuth Editor-in-Chief

 

President Obama and Jill Biden host the first-ever summit on community colleges at the White House. -- Photo: Stephen Weigel



President Obama wants you to graduate and he wants to help you do so. At the first-ever summit on community colleges on Oct. 5, 2010, Obama alongside Dr. Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, announced new funding and goals for America’s higher education learning.

Currently, the United States is ranked ninth in the world for the amount of students per capita that universities graduate. In 2000, the USA was ranked number one. President Obama hopes to have the country back to first place position by 2020 and sees community colleges as a vital part of that goal.

“As far as I am concerned America does not play for second place, we certainly don’t play for ninth,” Obama said.

Improvements must be made in the schools though, according to Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education. Only about 25 percent of people who enroll in community colleges graduate after three years of attending, according to government officials.

Community college staff and students, along with government personal, sat down and discussed the importance of community colleges in America. In six breakout sessions, groups of approximately 20 attendees discussed topics involving the state of community colleges today. Increasing the community college graduation rate and improving the financial aid system so it can better assist students were some of the topics focused upon.

The group’s members cited the use of technology and online classes as a solution to improve graduation rates. The concern that lack of discipline and inexperience with technology could possibly deter students was acknowledged to these solutions. Adding more instructors and shortening the amount of time it takes for students to gain the necessary skills were also prevalent subjects.

Sitting in on the discussion for the need to increase community college completion rates was Representative Brett Guthrie, RK.Y. Guthrie stressed the value of keeping students who are trying to balance both education and a job.

At the financial aid break out session, non-traditional students and the challenges that they face in acquiring federal student aid was introduced. Students, who are part time due to balancing their education with jobs and families, often do not meet eligibility requirements.

The Montgomery College Office of Student Life estimated that nearly 8,125 students who qualified for financial aid last year, but were unable to be awarded any aid, did not enroll.

“Think about all the kinds of sources, federal and state aid. They need to be aligned in a way that helps non-traditional students,” said Elisabeth Mason from SingleStop USA, a non-profit organization that works with people to obtain government funds and services. According to Jean Chatsky, the financial editor at the Today Show, sources like federal and state aid need to be better aligned in a way that helps non-traditional students.

Overall, the summit was touted as a large success.

“This is historical,” Duncan said,” We have never had this kind of attention at the white house nationally on community colleges.”

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