President Obama’s proposed American Graduation Initiative has its roots in a report produced by The Brookings Institution, “Transforming America’s Community Colleges.” The Brookings report considered the community college sector as an asset through which the federal government needs to expand its investment in very specific ways. President Obama has drawn on those recommendations to frame his larger goal: by the year 2020, the United States will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.
As a subset of the 2020 college attainment goal, President Obama has challenged the nation’s community colleges to produce five million additional graduates by the same year. To support such an increase, he has called for a federal investment of $12 billion over 10 years in the community college sector.
The magnitude of this proposal cannot be underestimated. In announcing the Graduation Initiative in July at Macomb Community College in Warren, Michigan, President Obama declared that community colleges would play an important role in preparing America’s workforce to better compete in a world of rapid technological change and global competition.
“Not since the passage of the original GI Bill and the work of President Truman’s Commission on Higher Education—which helped double the number of community colleges and increase by seven fold enrollment in those colleges—have we taken such a historic step on behalf of community colleges in America,” President Obama said.
Community College of Philadelphia will seek to insure that this initiative, which also must be approved by Congress, becomes reality. On September 3, the College’s Board of Trustees adopted a resolution that formally endorsed the American Graduation Initiative. A copy of that resolution was sent to our federal legislators, the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of Community College Trustees.
At a time when our College has experienced an 11 percent increase in enrollment and when community colleges across the nation are also experiencing double-digit percentage increases, the president’s initiative is crucial. If adopted by Congress, it would provide community colleges with $9 billion for challenge grants designed to improve student completion rates and train the skilled workforce of tomorrow, provide $2.5 billion for infrastructure and facility improvements and make $500 million available to develop online courses and programs. Funding would largely come from cost savings expected from the Obama administration’s plan to overhaul current student aid programs.
In the coming weeks, I will join other presidents from community colleges across the nation in highlighting the benefits of community colleges and the importance of the president’s initiative. Should this legislation be enacted, it would open the door to extended partnerships with business and local workforce investment boards, expanded dual enrollment opportunities for high school students, additional transfer opportunities and improved remedial and adult education opportunities. We could also bring our degree completion efforts to greater scale, progress toward a significant overhaul of our science laboratories and develop an even stronger online education program.
The American Graduation Initiative could truly change the playing field for us, not just because of the dollars involved, but also because of the national spotlight placed upon our commitment to access and quality education. Mayor Nutter has changed the level of discourse in Philadelphia through his announced education agenda. President Obama can do the same at the national level if he is successful in implementing his proposed initiative. We are joining with sister institutions across Pennsylvania and the United States to raise our voices to Congress in support of the president’s proposal.