College News

Obama initiative could impact CCCC

Obama initiative could impact CCCC

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 Dr. Bud Marchant, CCCC president

07.16.2009College & CommunityCollege General

SANFORD - President Barack Obama’s new 10-year, $12 billion “American Graduation Initiative” could mean help for Central Carolina Community College and colleges like it across the nation, if it becomes law, according to Dr. Bud Marchant, Central Carolina C.C. president.

In a speech Tuesday at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich., Obama said the workforce education that community colleges provide is essential for the nation’s recovery from the current recession and for its prosperity in the future.

The AGI calls for an increase in  community college graduation rates, expanded access to courses, upgrading of physical facilities, job-ready curricula, and open-access online courses.

Marchant applauded the president’s recognition of the critical roles and needs of community colleges.

“We have been working on similar initiatives at the local level, constantly seeking new and innovative ways to carry out our stated mission of meeting the educational needs of the residents and employers in Chatham, Harnett and Lee counties,” he said.

Obama’s initiative encompasses four proposals: a Community College Challenge Fund, Community College Completion, Community College Facilities Fund, and a national Online Skills Laboratory. Each could have a positive impact on Central Carolina if the initiative is passed by Congress and funding is obtained by the college, Marchant said.

Obama’s four proposals:

1. Community College Challenge Fund

The Community College Challenge Fund, $9 billion over 10 years, would be a competitive grant program for innovative, results-oriented strategies at community colleges. The schools could use the funds to build partnerships with employers to match education with the workforce needs, expand course offerings, improve basic skills adult education programs, provide support services, and other strategies.

“We are already focused on results-oriented strategies at Central Carolina Community College,” Marchant said. “For example, our workforce training programs work closely with local businesses and industry, so we know where and what jobs are available. Representatives from business and industry sit on our program advisory boards, so course offerings respond quickly to changes in workforce needs.”

As for basic skills, Marchant pointed to the college’s large Adult Basic Skills program, which, during the academic year 2008-09, graduated almost 500 students with  high school or GED diplomas. Many are now continuing their educations in college-level programs.

2. College Access and Completion

Included in the Community College Challenge Fund is money for his College Access and Completion proposal to increase graduation rates and close achievement gaps at colleges, including community colleges. Obama called for America to once again lead the world in having the highest proportion of college graduates. He set a goal of 5 million more community college graduates by 2020, well prepared for jobs in the changing global economy.

Obama said that less than half of students who enroll at America’s community colleges to earn an associate degree or complete a university transfer program achieve their goal. At Central Carolina Community College, during the 2007-08 academic year, 69 percent of students in all award-granting curricula graduated with an associate degree, diploma, or certificate; transferred; or continued enrollment.

“We applaud the president’s recognition that community college students are often in need of help to complete their programs,” Marchant said. “Often family, work and other situations make it difficult for them to do so. We are constantly looking for ways to help our students complete their programs of study.”

3. Community College Facilities Fund

Obama proposed a $2.5 billion, government-backed loan program to catalyze $10 billion in investment to renovate and rebuild college classrooms and buildings.

“Even without federal funds, the state and Chatham, Harnett, and Lee counties’ boards of commissioners have given strong support to make it possible for Central Carolina Community College’s physical facilities to grow,” Marchant said. “The challenge is that we have a number of old buildings and our student population is growing beyond the counties’ means to support as much renovation and rebuilding as is needed.”

He noted that the Jonesboro Center, an old elementary school that has housed the college’s Adult Education programs in Lee County, is in such poor condition that the programs are in the process of being moved to portable classrooms at the W.B. Wicker Business Campus.

“A federally backed, low interest loan from the American Graduation Initiative could provide for renovations and rebuilding that would make a significant difference in some of the buildings we use,” Marchant said. “We look forward to getting more information about the loans.”

4. Online Skills Laboratory

The initiative proposes expenditure of $500 million over 10 years to create a national online, open-source clearinghouse of courses so that more classes will be offered without building more classrooms.

Central Carolina Community College has been offering distance education courses since 1997, Marchant said. Spring enrollment was more than 4,000 (duplicated count), a 26 percent increase over spring 2008.

The hope is that the federal government will look to states such as North Carolina, where the community college system already has a Virtual Learning Community of courses, for ideas in creating the clearinghouse, rather than duplicating efforts. Central Carolina faculty have helped in the creation of some of the VLC courses.

 “The online programs continue to grow in both curriculum and continuing education, with more students enrolling all the time as they find distance education meets their needs,” Marchant said. “The ability of students to match their learning times with their schedules, routines, jobs, and family responsibilities means that distance education will increase as a major platform for delivering education. We look forward to seeing the implementation of President Obama’s proposal.”

Obama said the American Graduation Initiative would be paid for by ending subsidies to banks and private lenders that make student loans. The House Education and Labor Committee is expected to shortly release a draft of the bill.