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White House Community College Summit Kicks off Today

Leaders from higher education, philanthropy, business, and policy are meeting at the White House today to put a spotlight on how community colleges fit into President Obama's goal of helping the nation lead the world in college graduates by 2020.

This afternoon's White House Community College Summit is being hosted by Jill Biden, a community college instructor for 17 years and wife of Vice President Joe Biden.

In a conference call previewing the summit, Melody Barnes, director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House, said the event will include the announcement of a new, $1 million annual Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence to recognize, reward, and inspire outstanding outcomes in community colleges nationwide.

The prize, beginning in the fall of 2011, will be presented to top performers and rising stars that deliver exceptional results in students' completion rates and workforce success; distill and share successful practices; and contribute to the development of high-quality consistent measures and benchmarks to assessing community college outcomes. Partners in the prize will include the Aspen Institute, the Joyce Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, and charitable foundations of Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase.

She also highlighted the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gift of $34.8 million in competitive grants to community colleges (see Monday's blog post) as an example of the administration's commitment to work closely with the private and philanthropic sector to support for community colleges.

President Obama took the concept of business-education cooperation a step farther on Monday, unveiling a new program called "Skills for America's Future" that links top companies with community colleges. Obama said the plan aims to improve industry partnerships with community colleges and build a nationwide network to maximize workforce development. The initiative has the backing of Gap Inc., McDonald's, Accenture, and other companies.

"We believe that strengthening the community college system is critical if we are going to provide America's workers, students just finishing high school and going on to community colleges, workers who are mid-career with the kind of innovative tools they need to compete in the global economy," Barnes said.

To reform and strengthen community colleges, Barnes said, the administration is committed to:

  • Building partnerships with businesses and corporations, including support for work-site education;
  • Expanding course offerings and promoting the transfer of credit to other institutions;
  • Improving developmental education and adult education; and,
  • Offering personalized services to help students plan careers and stay in school.

The summit, starting at noon, is expected to include U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen; Melinda Gates, co-chair and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and community college presidents from Florida and Michigan, as well as current students and graduates of community colleges.

I'll be there to cover it and plan to update the blog later today with news that comes up about college readiness, access, and transition issues.

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