WASHINGTON – President Obama called community colleges “the unsung heroes of America’s education system” at the first White House Summit on Community Colleges Tuesday.
The summit, chaired by Second Lady Jill Biden, gathered together community college representatives and those invested in the future of these institutions to discuss their role in the lives of students and the country as a whole.
The opening ceremony included remarks from Biden as well as Obama.
The President emphasized that community colleges are significant because they help students complete an education that will prepare them for jobs and improve their lives, while also contributing to the overall improvement of the country’s economy.
He also mentioned his newly-launched “Skills for America’s Future” initiative, which calls for collaboration between businesses and community colleges to give students adequate job training.
The summit corresponded with the announcement of a five-year initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help increase community college graduation rates. Another announcement revealed a prize for community college excellence provided by The Aspen Institute, along with other foundations.
The summit included six separate sessions, each dedicated to a specific topic relating to community colleges.
The session entitled “Increasing Community College Completion” targeted issues relating to student retention, the value of the education provided at community colleges and strategies for the increased use of technology. A student from Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana also pointed out the value of peer mentors.
Another session focused on financial aid for community college students and included a discussion about how to help students best apply the funds they receive.
The “Industry-Community College Partnerships” session focused on partnerships that create closer ties with businesses and prepare students to enter the workforce.
“We need to be not just a gatekeeper for the workforce but a continual trainer,” said James Jacobs, president of Macomb Community College in Michigan, as he emphasized the importance of long-term goals in the “Community Colleges in the 21st Century” session.