Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Obama Makes Historic Community College Announcement

Today, President Obama announced the American Graduation Initiative, a landmark proposal to provide new federal support for community colleges. Speaking at Macomb County Community College, the President said that "we have to make sure we are educating people for the new jobs of the 21st century.” He went on to note that “not since the original GI Bill have we taken such an historic step for community colleges .” Due to their size and principal focus on community colleges, the President’s set of proposals is unprecedented. AACC has released a statement that endorses the plan.

Briefly, the 10-year plan consists of:

• A “Community College Challenge Fund” to develop new and improved workforce training and other related programs. Funds could also be used for high school dual enrollment programs and improved articulation with four-year institutions, developmental education improvement and increased access to “wrap around” services such as tutoring and childcare to increase persistence.

• The “College Access and Completion Fund,” previously proposed by the Administration, to fund innovative efforts to increase college graduation and close achievement gaps. Funding for the two funds would total $9 billion over ten years.

• $2.5 billion of federal funds to spur $10 billion in community college facilities construction and renovation. The federal funds could operate as loan guarantees or seed money for capital campaigns. The funds would prioritize uses for high priority areas, such as green jobs, nursing, and building trades.

• A national “Online Skills Laboratory” would make grants for the development of open, free courses for high school and college career-oriented curricula. This program would be funded at $50 million per year over ten years.

More details of the plan are available from the Administration’s fact sheet. We expect massive media interest in these proposals and have prepared a set of talking points that will help you respond to press inquiries.

Obama’s proposals now move to Congress. The House Education and Labor Committee will act first on the legislation, possibly as early as next week, followed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, likely in September. The Obama community college proposals are expected to be considered as part of far-reaching budget “reconciliation” legislation, which grants it key procedural safeguards. (The reconciliation bill may ultimately be the vehicle used for pending changes in national health care insurance policies.) It appears that expenditures for the community college proposals will be “paid for” with savings from revamping the federal student loan programs.

The reconciliation legislation almost surely will include increased expenditures for Pell Grants, but not the full Pell Grant entitlement program proposed by the President and endorsed by AACC; a revised and expanded Perkins Loan program (not the career and technical grants); a new $500 million annual Fund for College Access and Completion grant program that the President proposed in February; and, possibly, dramatic simplification of the Federal application for student financial aid (FASFA) and related data elements.

The President’s proposals, as exciting and welcome as they are, mark just the start of what will very likely be extended legislative jostling. We ask for your ongoing support in our efforts to influence this legislation, and will be contacting you further about it shortly. In the meantime, we can feel proud that our contributions and potential have been recognized in such a dramatic fashion.