During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to "create a Community College Partnership Program to strengthen community colleges by providing grants to a) conduct more thorough analysis of the types of skills and technical education that are in high demand from students and local industry; b) implement new associate of arts degree programs that cater to emerging industry and technical career demands; and c) reward those institutions that graduate more students and also increase their numbers of transfer students to four-year institutions."
Buffeted by a difficult economy, the Obama administration has actively engaged community colleges over the past two and a half years over how to better prepare workers for skills needed in emerging industries. What the administration has done in relation to community colleges doesn't track the specifics of this promise exactly, but the efforts have been extensive.
The U.S. Labor Department, in collaboration with the Education Department, announced a series of competitive grants for community colleges, requiring that two-year colleges have strong employer partners and that the colleges meet industry needs. The grants -- funded by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, signed by Obama on March 30, 2010 -- will provide $500 million in 2011, and a total of $2 billion over four years.
"The grants will enable eligible institutions to expand their capacity to create new education or training programs — or improve existing ones — to meet the needs of local or regional businesses,” the Labor Department said in announcing the grants. "By statute, every state, as well as the District of Columbia and the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, will receive at least $2.5 million each year in grant awards.”
Courses developed with the grants would be available online for free. "These learning tools will help schools and students tailor education so each worker can have a better opportunity for success in the classroom and job market," the Labor Department said.
Meanwhile, Obama announced expansions to a program called Skills for America"s Future during a June 2011 visit to Northern Virginia Community College. Skills for America"s Future is an effort to encourage industry partnerships with community colleges to "maximize workforce development strategies, job training programs and job placements.”
The Manufacturing Institute, a non-profit affiliated with the National Association of Manufacturers, announced that it would help provide 500,000 community college students with industry-recognized credentials to help them secure jobs in the manufacturing sector. The effort aims to overcome the current lack of a standardized credentialing system when filling new and vacant jobs.
Finally, Jill Biden -- a professor and the wife of Vice President Joe Biden -- hosted a widely attended White House summit on community colleges on Oct. 5, 2010. The summit produced recommendations that are now in process.
The administration"s efforts to work with community colleges have been extensive, and, even though what"s been done doesn't track perfectly with the promise, we think the administration has taken many steps toward its underlying goal of helping community colleges and industry work more closely -- to aid students entering or re-entering the job market. It"s a close call, but we'll call this a Promise Kept.