By: Logan Pierce, editor-in-chief
Community colleges play a pivotal role in President Obama’s plan to produce a new wave of highly skilled American workers.
Friends in high places
One of the most outspoken proponents for community colleges in the Obama White House is Dr. Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife. In 2007, Biden earned a doctorate in education from the University of Delaware. While newspapers generally use the honorific title of “Dr.” only for individual with a medical degree, Biden prefers to be addressed as “Dr. Jill Biden” in news releases and press announcements.
Biden’s connection to community colleges is her job as an educator. From 1993 to 2008, she was an English and writing instructor at Delaware Technical and Community College. Since 2009, she has been a professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College.
Obama and Biden were both present for the first ever White House Summit on Community Colleges, held Oct. 5, 2010. An ambitious goal was promoted there, which would call for an additional 5 million graduates from community colleges by the year 2020.
Beyond the Pell
Since then, plans have been put in motion. $2 billion have already been spent on competitive grants to reform community colleges. Obama also doubled the available funding for Pell Grants in an attempt to make college more affordable.
Forty years ago, America had the world’s highest rate of college graduates. Today, the U.S. has fallen to 15th place, while the graduation rates of other nations continues to rise.
To the Obama White House, community colleges are more than an education issue; they’re also an economic issue. Jobs remain scarce with an 8.3 percent unemployment rate, which increases to more than 12 percent when including people who have stopped looking for work.
The U.S. economy would need an additional 20 million jobs before being able to provide full employment. In spite of job scarcity, Obama is focusing on increasing the number of community college graduates, citing that having a two-year degree is better than no degree at all.
Working with what you have
“We want to make it easier to connect students looking for jobs with businesses looking to hire,” Obama said at a White House event, “We want to help community colleges and employers create programs that match curricula in the classroom with the needs of the boardrooms.”
Providing means for fiscally strapped students is not a new trend for Obama. Part of the 2009 stimulus bill included $3.5 billion in Pell Grants aimed at helping deserving community college students, with an additional billion spent on workforce training programs at community colleges.