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White House Offers $100 Million in Grants to Connect Community College and Jobs

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The White House announced a new grant program Monday that builds on President Barack Obama's goal of making community college free for all students, offering $100 million in federal money for partnerships that link community colleges with employers or workforce training organizations.

The competition for "America's Promise Grants" will begin this summer, according to a White House press release. The grants will be funded by the Department of Labor's H-1B visa program, which allows employers to hire nonimmigrant workers in specialty occupations.

Vice President Joe Biden and second lady Jill Biden announced the new grants during an appearance at the Community College of Philadelphia, which created a free community college program last year, in response to Obama's push to make community college free.

Just before his 2015 State of the Union speech, the president unveiled a federal-state partnership grant program called "America's College Promise," to provide support for that vision. It was based on the idea that two free years of college should be a shared responsibility among states, the federal government, and the private sector to envision, design, and fund programs that provide the skills necessary for jobs in high-growth areas, such as manufacturing and health care. Students bear part of the responsibility, too: They're supposed to maintain good grades.

The new grant program is designed to engage employers in identifying the competencies needed for jobs in high demand regionally, and offer chances to build those skills through work-based learning, internships, or paid work experience. The program envisions community colleges teaming up with employers, and also organizations that provide job training

Grants aren't only for new projects; They'll be given to pilot and also to expand partnerships, the White House press release said.

The White House also used Monday's announcement to praise new programs created under the America's College Promise initiative, which is supported with state and federal money. Officials said that at least 27 programs have been created that use $70 million in public and private investments to help 40,000 students attend community college for free.

Programs differ from place to place, but the White House highlighted key elements of successful programs:

  • Requiring students to be enrolled in community college fulltime, or at least part-time, to maximize credit accrual and keep up their momentum for completion.
  • Requiring participating students to maintain a minimum grade-point average in college. (Students in the America's College Promise programs must maintain a 2.5 GPA.) Some of the programs also require students to be enrolled at least part-time, to promote credit accumulation and keep up momentum for program completion.
  • Requiring community colleges to ensure that the credits students earn will transfer to four-year programs.
  • Requiring students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Four in 10 community college students don't complete the FAFSA, even though they stand to quality for support.

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